Day 4:    Frolickin in Fredericksburg

Main Page > 2004  Eastside !!!! The Ed Sheehy Memorial Tour


An ugly, gray Morning in Manhattan

As good as the weather had been on Friday and Saturday, Sunday was a stormy, humid affair that did not sit well with the Boys with their heavy heads and the realization of the ensuring seven hour drive back to Richmond ! Quickly booking out of the City, it poured all the way down to Delaware where it let up enough for the Boys to pull off for a really bad Waffle House for Breakfast around 11:00 AM.

Belching breakfast for the remainder of the ride they quickly shot through Washington and on into Virginia where the Boys had their only stop of the day, the Battle of Fredericksburg.


Federal Troops finally capturing the Sunken Road from the Battle of Fredericksburg

Mike and Bone had stopped in Fredericksburg on the way down, but did not get a chance to visit one of the most tragic battles of the Civil War, Fredericksburg, where thousands of Union troops where sent needlessly up a hill just out of the City against an impregnable Confederate line, as a result of incompetent Union leadership under Ambrose "Bonehead" Burnside.

An unmitigated disaster  Embarrassed by General McClellan's repeated defeats and apparent lack of commitment in prosecuting the war, Lincoln replaced him on November 7 with General Ambrose Burnside, who at best was a weal leader. Through pressure from Lincoln, Burnside launched a winter campaign against the Confederate capital, Richmond, by way of Fredericksburg, a strategically important town on the Rappahannock River. The Federal Army of the Potomac, 115,000-strong, raced to Fredericksburg, arriving on November 17. There were only a few thousand Confederates on hand to challenge them, yet the Federal advance ground to a halt on the eastern bank of the Rappahannock, opposite the city. Burnside's campaign was delayed for over a week when material he had ordered for pontoon bridges failed to arrive. Disappointed by the delay, Burnside marked time for a further two weeks. Meanwhile, Lee took advantage of the stalled Federal drive to concentrate and entrench his Army of Northern Virginia, some 78,000-strong, on the high ground behind Fredericksburg. 

With the arrival of the pontoons, Burnside crossed the river on December 11, despite fierce fire from Confederate snipers concealed in buildings along the city's river front. When the Confederates withdrew, Federal soldiers looted the town, from which the inhabitants had been evacuated. By December 13, Burnside was prepared to launch a two-pronged attack to drive Lee's forces from an imposing set of hills just outside Fredericksburg.

The main assault struck south of the city. Misunderstandings and bungled leadership on the part of the commander of the Federal left, Major General William B. Franklin, limited the attacking force to two small divisions - Major General George G. Meade to lead; Major General John Gibbon in support. Meade's troops broke through an unguarded gap in the Confederate lines, but Jackson's men expelled the unsupported Federals, inflicting heavy losses. Burnside launched his second attack from Fredericksburg against the Confederate left on Marye's Heights. Wave after wave of Federal attackers were mown down by Confederate troops firing from an unassailable position in a sunken road protected by a stone wall. Over the course of the afternoon, no fewer than fourteen successive Federal brigades charged the wall of Confederate fire. Not a single Federal soldier reached Longstreet's line.

On December 15, Burnside ordered his beaten army back across the Rappahannock. The Union had lost 13,000 soldiers in a battle in which the dreadful carnage was matched only by its futility. Federal morale plummeted, and Burnside was swiftly relieved of his command. By contrast, the morale of the Confederacy reached a peak. Their casualties had been considerably lighter than the Union's, totaling only 5,000. Lee's substantial victory at Fredericksburg, won with relative ease, increased the already buoyant confidence of the Army of Northern Virginia, which led subsequently to the invasion of the North the following summer.

Mike and Bone visited the Sunken Road where Longstreet pummelled the Union brigades into submission. Chastened by the unnecessary loss of life, the Boys left the Battle Site quietly reflecting on what would have been like to be a Union solider trapped on that hill.


Trip, Postscript: A Race to Richmond

Much like the Union forces, the boys needed to race to Richmond. Bone was staying in town, Mike however had a 6:00PM flight back, and it was 4:00 PM, with still an hour and a half drive !! Worse yet it was the last flight back for the day !! Moving much faster than McClellan, Burnside, Hooker, or even Grant, the boys broke most of the Commonwealth of Virginia's speed limits in order to drop Mike off at 5:30 PM, leaving Mike to run full speed to the counter in order to check in with less than a minute to go. Thus hurriedly ending the 2004  Eastside !!! Ed Sheehy Memorial Tour.