Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Burnside Demands Fredericksburg's Surrenders

Burnside's Headquarters
When McClellan was removed from command he was replaced by Ambrose Burnside. Burnside had long been a commander in the Army of the Potomac, and although he was a friend of McClellan and did not want the command, he was eventually persuaded to take it. Rather than following McClellan's example of slow movement, Burnside instead would move very quickly. His plan was to move to Fredericksburg, cross the river, and get around Lee's flank. Burnside was successful in arriving at the river before Lee, but his plan went awry in a critical area – the pontoon bridges to actually cross the river did not arrive. He had to remain there waiting for weeks while Lee could slowly decide where he could place his troops. For a while he had to cover many crossings as he did not know where the Yankees would cross, but by the time Burnside actually did cross at Fredericksburg he would have all his troops in position. The failure of Burnside to insure his pontoons arrived on time, or to move on without them, cost him an easy crossing. He wrote:
Had the pontoon bridge arrived even on the 19th or 20th, the army could have crossed with trifling opposition. But now the opposite side of the river is occupied by a large rebel force under General Longstreet, with batteries ready to be placed in position to operate against the working parties building the bridge and the troops in crossing.
Outskirts of the town
On November 21st, 150 years ago today, Burnside demanded the surrender of the town. Fredericksburg was one of the oldest towns in Virginia, and George Washington had lived just across the river. A bombardment of the town would be a catastrophe, deadly to the non-combatants in the town. This crisis was avoided for the moment when the Yankees relented from their treat upon Lee's assurance that he would not occupy the town. However, the citizens knew the armies would come their way sooner or later, and so the exodus from the town began, long lines of women and children leaving the town, carrying with them what good they could. Lee wrote of their conduct:
History presents no instance of a people exhibiting a purer and more unselfish patriotism or a higher spirit of fortitude and courage than was evinced by the citizens of Fredericksburg. They cheerfully incurred great hardships and privations, and surrendered their homes and property to destruction rather than yield them into the hands of the enemies of their country.


Post a Comment