Even in the worst of wartime situations soldiers often reveal compassion for the enemy. Such was the case at Fredericksburg for Confederate Sergeant Richard Kirkland. On the morning of December 14 in front of the stone wall at Marye's Heights where thousands of Union troops had been shot, hundreds remaining on the battlefield alive but suffering terribly from their wounds and a lack of water.
Fredericksburg, Virginia was one of the most lopsided Confederate victories of the Civil War. Even with a superior number of forces it was virtually suicidal for the Union to attack Lee in a strong defensive position.
Marye’s Heights dominated the battlefield and was protected against Union assault at the foot of the heights by Georgia sharpshooters who helped repulse as many as fourteen separate, piecemeal Union assaults on December 13, 1862.
Before the battle of Fredericksburg, Robert E. Lee asked General James Longstreet if the Confederate artillery was prepared to fight off the anticipated assault of 114,000 Federals. Longstreet replied, “General, we cover that ground now so well… a chicken could not live on that field when we open on it.”
At 4:45 am, Thursday, December 11, 1862, Union engineers began constructing five pontoon bridges across the Rappahannock, while under intense fire from a brigade of Mississippi sharpshooters stationed in Fredericksburg. After hours of delay, Burnside ordered his artillery to shell the town in order to silence the Confederate sharpshooters.
On Tuesday, December 9, 1862 General Ambrose Burnside ordered his Union commanders to report to army headquarters at noon, by which time they would have alerted their troops, supplied each man with sixty rounds of ammunition, and started to issue three days’ cooked rations.
On Monday, December 8, 1862, President Jefferson Davis wrote Lee at Fredericksburg, “In Tennessee and Mississippi the disparity between our armies and those of the enemy is so great as to fill me with apprehension.” Davis explained to Lee that he must leave Richmond and visit the western states, if for no other reason than to bolster the flagging confidence of the Confederate people of that region.
On Sunday, December 7, 1862, Confederate forces under General Thomas Hindman attacked the Federals at Prairie Grove, twelve miles southwest of Fayetteville, Arkansas. Hindman knew that Union forces were stretched thin, defending both Missouri and Arkansas, and he hoped to engage and destroy the Union forces. However, Union troops after a hard march from Missouri reinforced Arkansas’ Union force and prevailed against Hindman’s Confederates.
During Ulysses S. Grant’s drive from Memphis, Tennessee toward Vicksburg on the Mississippi River, after successfully assaulting the town of Oxford, Mississippi, Union forces pursued the retreating Confederates toward the town of Coffeeville.
Why was it taking so long for Burnside to attack the Confederates at Fredericksburg? Burnside initially wanted to ford the Rappahannock at Skinker’s Neck, ten miles beyond Lee’s right flank, and march directly on the railroad in the Confederate rear. That would force a retreating Lee to protect his supply lines. However, the Union balloon corps reported that Lee had moved sufficient troops to cover his right flank, which stalemated Burnside’s intentions.
Early in December 1862 both the Union and Confederate armies clashed in a series of skirmishes in the East. In Tennessee forces of Rosecrans* and Bragg skirmished at Nolensville. Grant in Mississippi attacked Oxford, Hudsonville, and Mitchell’s Cross Roads on his relentless drive toward Confederate held Vicksburg.