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December 13, 1862 - The Army of the Potomac is defeated at the Battle of Fredericksburg (right). Appointed to command the Army of the Potomac in November 1862, Major General Ambrose Burnside was strongly encouraged by President Abraham Lincoln to mount a fall campaign against General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Moving south, Burnside hoped to sidestep Lee by moving through Fredericksburg, VA, crossing the Rappahannock River, and advancing along the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad. Requiring speed for success, Burnside's plan began to unravel when an administrative error prevented the pontoons needed for crossing the river from arriving at the Rappahannock with the first troops. Unwilling to listen to his subordinates who favored fording the river, Burnside halted the advance to wait for the pontoons. This delay allowed Lee and his army to reach Fredericksburg and occupy the heights west of town. Finally crossing the river on December 11 & 12, Burnside's men formed for battle the next day. The fighting opened south of town where initial Union attacks met with success before being halted by Lt. Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's corps. To the north, Union troops attempted to storm Marye's Heights and were bloodily repulsed. Unwilling to concede failure, Burnside ordered repeated charges on the heights all of which failed. The battle proved a stunning defeat and saw the Union suffer more than twice the number of casualties as the Confederates.

Civil War in the East - 1862:

Photograph Courtesy of the Library of Congress


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