This illustration, maintained by the Library of Congress, shows how the Union Army had to cross the Rappahannock River on the morning of December 13, 1862. Kurz & Allison, Art Publishers, from Chicago copyrighted this artwork in 1888 (but that copyright has long-since expired). Click on the image for a full-page view.


The battle went badly for the Union soldiers and for the Virginia town which was massively damaged. The Union’s Irish Brigade, commanded by General Thomas Meagher, was especially hard hit.

Frederick Lyman Hitchcock, a Union officer, later wrote a book about his experiences in the civil war.  Of the Fredericksburg campaign, he says this:

I can truthfully say that in that moment I gave my life up. I do not expect ever again to face death more certainly than I thought I did then.  It did not seem possible that I could go through that fire again and return alive.

... One may ask how such dangers can be faced.  The answer is, there are many things more to be feared than death.  Cowardice and failure of duty with me were some of them.

... I said to myself, "This is duty. I'll trust in God and do it. If I fall, I cannot die better." ...The nervous strain was simply awful. It can be appreciated only by those who have experienced it. The atmosphere seemed surcharged with the most startling and frightful things. Death, wounds, and appalling destruction everywhere.  (Frederick Lyman Hitchcock, War from the inside, pages 117-118.)

Sgt. Richard Kirkland, a 19-year with the 2nd South Carolina, heard the anguished cries of wounded Yankees begging for water. Listening till he could bear it no longer, and totally disregarding his own safety, Kirkland scaled the stone fence and brought relief to his enemy. His selfless deed is remembered today with a battlefield monument.

Burying the dead at Fredericksburg, after the “Wilderness Campaign,” was a grim job. Thousands more were wounded.

Clara Barton, who became known as an angel of the battlefield, helped doctors tend some of the Union’s wounded at Chatham Manor (where George Washington and Robert E. Lee had courted their future wives). The beautiful home had been turned into a hospital.

With his men fallen all over the battlefield, General Burnside had no choice but to retreat. He telegraphed President Lincoln with the bad news. The Fredericksburg battle had revealed some of the General’s flaws, leading to the federal rout. Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant later said of Burnside:

[He was] an officer who was generally liked and respected, he was not, however, fitted to command an army. No one knew this better than himself.

Not surprisingly, Burnside believed that his commanders had let him down at Fredericksburg. A notable exception was Maj. Gen. Edwin (“Bull”) Sumner who had kept his troops back across the Rappahannock River.

But ... it was Burnside who had decided to delay the river crossing. And that had led to deadly consequences.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5197stories and lessons created

Original Release: Feb 01, 2003

Updated Last Revision: Jul 07, 2019

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"FREDERICKSBURG: DEATH AND MERCY" AwesomeStories.com. Feb 01, 2003. Jun 02, 2020.
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