Monday, November 19, 2012

November 19, 1862

November 19, 1862: Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside, in command of the Army of the Potomac, had a simple plan that looked as if it ought to work famously: That the army was to slip off to the east, leaving the bulk of Lee’s army in the Warrenton-Orange area, and by forced march move swiftly to the banks of the Rappahannock opposite Fredericksburg, cross the river before Lee can get there, and then strike south for Richmond on Fredericksburg’s good road. If he can get the Union army across the river in bulk before the arrival of the Rebels, then he has a good chance of dictating the course of the war: Lee would have to attack him (and at unfavorable odds) or retreat toward Richmond, which would make it only a matter of time till The End. However—the key part to Burnside’s Plan is to get a train of pontoon boats down to Falmouth (on the opposite bank of the river from Fredericksburg) in time for the troops to cross swiftly and in large numbers to gain control of the town, there on the south bank.

Even though Lee knows that Fredericksburg is Burnside’s target, the Southern commander has pretty much decided that Burnside will beat him to it, since Longstreet is to the west, focused at Culpepper Court House, and Jackson is even farther west in the Shenandoah Valley. Longstreet’s division are immediately dispatched eastward, hoping to block the crossing of the Anna Rivers farther south, and to strike Burnside’s advance. But Burnside is not across the river. What Lee does not count on is the bureaucratic snarl that results from Gen. Burnside’s orders: the train of pontoon boats goes in the wrong direction, and then take way too long to get to Falmouth. So, Sumner arrives in Falmouth with his two corps two days ago, and other troops are arriving every hour, and yet the Federals have no good way to cross the river, which has become a raging torrent by now, due to heavy rains. All other possible crossing places, at the fords, are flooded. Lee begins to hurry troops to Fredericksburg.

—William J. Bolton, of the 51st Pennsylvania, having been badly wounded in the mouth at Antietam, has been promoted to Major, and is nearly fit for duty. Bolton records the events of the day, including their march to Falmouth for the Fredericksburg move:

Spent the day pleasantly. Regiment broke camp at 6 o’clock A.M. marched throiugh Falmouth and arrived opposite Fredericksburg about 4 o’clock P.M. and pitched our tents about one mile from the old camping ground we had occupied the August before, but with sadness, I must state, with our ranks very much reduced—one half at least, of the number that we left here with three months before. The bloodstained fields of Manassas, Chantilly, South Mountain, Antietam, and Sulphur Springs, and the many skirmishes we ahd passed through with in those three months, has been the cause.

—Capt. William Thompson Lusk, serving in the Union Army of the Potomac with the 2nd New York Infantry, writes home to his mother, complaining mildly about petty regimental politics:
Near Fredericksburg,

Nov. 19th, 1862.
My dear Mother:
Here we are at last on familiar ground, lying in camp at Falmouth, opposite to Fredericksburg. I have been unable while on the march for the few days past, to write you, but am doing my best with a pencil to-night, as one of our Captains returns home to-morrow, and will take such letters as may be given him. It was my turn to go home this time, but my claim was disregarded. You know Lt.-Col. Morrison has command of the Regiment in Col. Farnsworth’s absence, and Morrison never omits any opportunity to subject me to petty annoyances. I am an American in a Scotch Regiment, and in truth not wanted. Yet I cannot resign. The law does not allow that, so I have to bear a great deal of meanness. . . . I have borne them of late without complaint, hoping the efforts of my friends might work my release. In the Regiments of the old Division I think no officer had so many strong friends as I. In my own Regiment I may say that I am friendless. . . .

—1st Lieut. Charles Francis Adams, Jr., serving in the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry Regiment, writes to his younger brother Henry, who serves their father (the U.S. Ambassador to Britain) as legation secretary, and complains about Army politics, especially in regard to the dismissal of Gen. McClellan:
The army believed in McClellan, but the Generals are jealous and ambitious and little, and want to get a step themselves, so they are willing to see him pulled down. We believed in him, not as a brilliant commander, but as a prudent one and one who was gradually learning how to handle our immense army, and now a new man must learn and he must learn by his own mistakes and in the blood of the army. It is all for the best and the Lord will in his own good time bear witness for us; but oh! the blunders and humbug of this war, the folly, treachery, incompetence and lying!!! They tell me here that Halleck is a very strong man, and that his touch is already felt in the West and soon will be in the East, and that the winter will restore our fortunes. I hope it may prove so, but my theory is that there will be much more fighting this year in Virginia. . . .
Charles Francis Adams, Jr., (hatless) with fellow officers in camp

—James A. Seddon, of Virginia, is appointed as the new Secretary of War for the Confederate States of America.

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