BURNSIDE'S SECOND PLAN
His advantage squandered by the pontoon fiasco, Burnside cast about for
another plan. On November 26 he met with President Lincoln aboard a
steamer in Aquia Creek. The commander-in-chief suggested moving the
army downstream to Port Royal and crossing there. A separate
forcean expedition Lincoln was fitting out in New York just then,
under Nathaniel Bankscould simultaneously proceed up the Pamunkey
and cut off Lee's retreat. Burnside argued that jockeying so many troops
into place would consume too much time, putting the campaign too far
into winterjust as Lee had proposed to his own chief executive.
Ultimately General Halleck agreed with Burnside on that point, so
Lincoln laid away his idea and General Banks took his troops to
Louisiana, but the president told Burnside not to feel that he must be
hasty about fighting his legions.
Burnside had but one option, and that was to push ahead on the line
he had already taken before winter was too for advanced.
Burnside knew better, however. Judging from the public reaction to
McClellan's indolence the previous year, he could hardly turn his troops
into their winter quarters. Nor, after all the disheartening changes of
base the army had already endured, could he move to another theater of
operationslike the James River peninsula, where the cold and rain
would impede him less. That would have discouraged soldiers and
civilians alike, as General Lee fully realized. Burnside had but one
option, and that was to push ahead on the line he had already taken
before winter was too far advanced.
Faced with strong resistance at Fredericksburg, Burnside looked for
another crossing more than a dozen miles downstream, at a place called
Skinker's Neck. The ground still lay to his advantage there, and the enemy had not yet
thrown any force in his way, so Burnside began corduroying the roads to
that more isolated location. Further rain had only worsened the clay
Tidewater byways, and until Burnside could secure a landing on the
opposite bank he would have to supply himself overland from Aquia Creek
and Belle Plains. At the same time, engineers designed a line of
entrenchments opposite Skinker's Neck. The preparations alerted Lee's
pickets, however, and early in December Burnside detected the arrival of
Confederate troops to cover that crossing, too. These Southerners proved
to be the vanguard of Jackson's corps, for Lee had finally completed the
concentration of his army.