On Monday, December 22, 1862 President Lincoln conferred in Washington, D. C. with General Ambrose Burnside as recriminations continued over the Union debacle at Fredericksburg. A number of Union officers privately called for Burnside’s removal, and the beleaguered general surprised the president by announcing that he would draft a letter taking full blame for the Fredericksburg defeat.
On December 20, 1862, Confederate troops under General Earl Van Dorn raided Ulysses Grant's supply depot at Holly Springs, Mississippi. Van Dorn’s forces fell on the Union supply depot, driving the defenders away after capturing fifteen hundred Federals.
The Confederates then destroyed approximately one and one half million dollars of military supplies. Van Dorn’s Confederates remained in the area a few more days, cutting rail and telegraph lines, before fleeing in the face of pursuing Union cavalry.
Even as Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry was successfully harassing Ulysses Grant’s supply lines, Grant’s army was formally reorganized for the drive against Confederate held Vicksburg on the Mississippi River.
William Tecumseh* Sherman was given the Fifteenth Corps, Stephen Hurlbut was assigned the Sixteenth Corps, and John McClernand was assigned the Thirteenth Corps. The latter appointment ended any separate command for McClernand, who had been appointed by Lincoln as head of a second Union army to operate against Vicksburg.
On Friday, December 19, 1862 a caucus of prominent Republican Senators, including Charles Sumner, demanded that Lincoln remove Secretary of State William Seward because of Seward’s alleged indifference to the existing war.
The actions of these senators inferred that Lincoln was not in charge of the executive branch of government, a perspective unfortunately cultivated by Secretary Seward himself since he wanted the nation to believe that he, not Lincoln, was in charge.
Union General Ulysses Grant from his headquarters on Wednesday, December 17, 1862 issued his very controversial, General Order no. 11, expelling all those of the Hebrew faith from his area of military command. Illegal speculation, especially in cotton, was widespread along the Mississippi River, and Grant apparently equated those of the Jewish faith with the peddlers and speculators that plagued his camps.
Throughout December 1862, Nathan Bedford Forrest led a successful Confederate cavalry raid into west Tennessee to disrupt the communication of the Union forces under Ulysses Grant, who was driving toward Vicksburg, Mississippi. Forrest led thousands of Union soldiers in west Tennessee on a "wild goose chase" to try to locate his fast-moving forces.
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.