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The reasons for this action of the President must have been sufficiently apparent from what has been previously related of General McClellan's military career. Admirable as an organizer of an army, a skilful engineer, and possessing no mean knowledge of theoretical military science, he seems, from a constitutional cautiousness, to have been unsuited to play the many-sided part of an active commander in the field; and in great emergencies, such as the attack of Lee upon his communications, and the seven days' fighting on the Chickahominy which succeeded, he utterly failed in that quickness of apprehension which detects the weak point in an opponent, and changes a threatened defeat into a success. From the moment he got his army upon the Peninsula, he seemed to have made up his mind to maneuvre it and conduct the campaign with the precision of an instructor in military art, illustrating his remarks by the movement of automaton figures. Beyond this pedantic style of warfare he never advanced, and hence each crisis found him wanting in every quality-except that of organizing escape-which the crisis demanded. His plans once deranged, he became bewildered and disheartened. In addition to his incapacity as an active commander, he bad displayed a dilatoriness and unwillingness to obey his superiors in command, and a reluctance to aid a brother general when hard pressed, which excited grave suspicions in some quarters. The President had, with singular patience, already overlooked many instances of flagrant disobedience, and the result was seen in the failure of the Peninsula and Maryland campaigns. A new campaign was about to commence, the issue of which, to judge from the events of the few previous weeks, would be very similar. But the country ill relished the idea of fresh defeats, and McClellan was removed.
Burnside in Command. - Change of Plan.-Pontoons Delayed.-Plans of Crossing.
Two Attacks.-Franklin's Movements.—Seizure of Fredericksburg:-Sumner. Terrible Slaughter.-Repulse on the Right.-Inaction. Withdrawal of the Army.-End of Campaign.-Intrigues.-Order No. 8.-Burnside Relieved.
GENERAL BURNSIDE having assumed the command of the army, the plan of operations, at his suggestion, underwent an entire change. Instead of moving upon Richmond by the Gordonsville route, it was determined to make a direct attack by the way of Fredericksburg. That city is situated on the south side of the Rappahannock, and is connected with Richmond, sixty-five miles distant, by a railroad which has a double track forty-two miles to Hanover Junction. Thirty-seven miles from Fredericksburg, the railroad crosses the Mattapony at Milford, and three miles further the Pamunkey. Thus between Falmouth on the north bank of the Rappahannock, opposite to Fredericksburg and Richmond, there are two main and two minor lines of defence. The banks of the Rappahannock, above Falmouth, are lined with high hills, which, with the narrow fords and rocky bottoms, make the crossing very difficult for large bodies of troops. Below Falmouth, the river spreads, winding through spacious plains, forming numerous necks of land that command the south bank of each water stretch. In front of Fredericksburg, the northern bank commands the southern shore, which is a plain running back one and a half miles, and then rising into a succession of heights, which command the plains to the river. After the new plan of advance became known to the enemy, they occupied those heights, taking advantage of every natural means of defence. Their position then consisted of two lines of batteries, one a mile in the rear of the other, and both overlooking the city. They extended in a semicircle, from Port Royal to a point six miles above Fredericksburg. The right, under Jackson, held the line from Port Royal to Genning's Station, on the railroad. Longstreet, in the centre, reached to the Telegraph road; and the left, under Stuart, was west of the Massaponax Creek. The reserves were under A. P. Lee.
This was the position which, after consultation between Generals Burnside, Halleck, and Meigs, November 12, at the head-quarters of the former, it was determined to assail. It was then settled that the line of operations should be transferred from Warrenton to the rail. road to Aquia Creek, where supplies could arrive by water, and the crossing of the Rappahannock be aided by the gunboats. General Burnside stated that his plan was “to concentrate the army in the neighborhood of Warrenton; to make a small movement across the Rappahannock, as a feint, with a view to divert the attention of the enemy, and lead them to believe that we were going to move in the direction of Gordonsville, and then to make a rapid movement of the whole army to Fredericksburg ;', for the reason that “we would all the time be as near Washington as would the enemy, and after arriving at Fredericksburg we would be at a point nearer to Richmond than we would be even if we should take Gordonsville.” It was indispensable to any sudden movement of this nature that the army should be provided with a complete pontoon train, and directions were at once sent to Washington for a sufficient number of pontoons to be sent to Aquia Creek to enable the army to cross the Rappahannock. Generals Halleck and Meigs then left for Washington to perfect their part of the operations, and the army commenced its march early on the 16th, General Sumner having the advance. The whole command now underwent reorganization. The Second and Ninth Corps formed what was called the right grand division, under Sumner; the First and the Sixth, the left grand division, under Franklin; the Third and Fifth, the centre, under Hooker. The Eleventh Corps was in reserve, under Sigel. The advance of the army, under Sumner, reached Falmouth on the 17th, but as the promised pontoons did not make their appearance until the 12th December, or nearly four weeks after the time anticipated, all hope of surprising the enemy had to be abandoned, and the important question of where and when to cross was debated in council. Several plans were proposed, but General Hooker opposed all that involved a division of the army, and urged that the whole force should cross at the United States Ford, twelve miles above. On the arrival of the pontoons, General Burside, governed by informa. tion that the enemy had thrown a force down the river, and by the consequent hope of cutting the enemy's centre, decided to cross in two places; one at Fredericksburg, and one four miles below. In this view, he detached the command of Franklin with two divisions of Hooker's command, altogether fifty to sixty thousand men, to the lower crossing. The orders to Franklin were, that the whole command was to be kept in readiness for a rapid movement down the old Richmond road, and while one division should seize the heights on the north side of the Massaponax, taking care to keep its line of retreat open, another column was to be sent to occupy the heights at the junction of the plankroad and the Telegraph road. The whole command was to be kept in readiness to march as soon as the fog, with which the day opened, should lift. On Friday, December 12th, the bridges being laid without much resistance from the enemy, the crossing took place, and the troops occupied Fredericksburg with little opposition. On the morning of the 13th, the attack on the heights commenced. The right of Franklin rested on the outskirts of the city. The centre was advanced about a mile from the city, and the left rested on the Rappahannock, about three miles below. The attack of Franklin was made by the division of Meade, four thousand five hundred men, supported on its right by that of Gibbon, five thousand, and on the left by Doubleday. Birney's Division of Stoneman's Corps was formed directly in the rear of Meade. The attack was made with the utmost vigor, and skill, but failed, for the reason that the enemy were in much greater force than had been supposed, and because Franklin, though having more than half the whole army under him, sent an inadequate number of men into action, and failed to support these properly. Both Meade's and Gibbon's Divisions were badly cut up, and the first was replaced by Doubleday's. Those of Howe and Brooks held the right, protecting the bridges, and the enemy accumulating force towards three o'clock, handled them very severely. The men held their ground with a determination and heroism beyond all praise. The enemy then made a forward movement, under General Hill, and were repulsed with severe loss, but returned upon the left in such force as to threaten its safety. At nightfall, by dint of severe fighting, Franklin's extreme left had gained a mile of ground, though at a fearful sacrifice of life. The attack upon the left was intended by Burnside to be the main operation of the day. The greater part of the Federal troops had been massed there, and upon the success of this wing depended the operations of the right and centre. The failure of Franklin to accomplish the part assigned to him is thus commented upon by the Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War :
"The testimony of all the witnesses before your Committee proves most conclusively that, had the attack been made upon the left with all the force which General Franklin could have used for that purpose, the plan of General Burnside would have been com. pletely successful, and our army would have achieved a most brilliant victory."
Meanwhile the right wing of the army had also been hotly engaged. The Confederate forces occupied the woods and hills in rear of the city, in a very strong position, and at ten o'clock the division of
French, supported by that of Howard, was ordered to drive them out at the point of the bayonet. A stone wall ran across the plain in front of the ridge held by the enemy. The line advanced steadily until close to the wall, when there poured forth from it a murderous fire, which threw the column into some confusion, and it retired to the cover of a ravine. It was here re-formed upon its supports, and again advanced at the double-quick, but the space which it was obliged to cross to reach the wall was now swept by a terrific fire of musketry and artillery, which thinned the ranks with fearful rapidity, and finally its centre broke and retired. With marvellous determination the line again formed, and again the storm of shot swept through it. Steadily the ranks closed up on the centre and pressed on, but the line visibly shrank up as it advanced, and for the third time its shattered ranks recoiled before that volcano. Sumner then ordered up his artillery to play upon the stronghold, and the fire, without much effect, was continued until dark.
During the morning, Hooker, in the centre, opened the attack with artillery upon the works of the enemy, which was replied to as long as the fog lasted, with little or no effect on eitber side. At noon an attempt was made to carry the works by assault, with the same results as those which attended Sumner's movement. The attempt was repeated in the afternoon with no better success. At dark the firing ceased on both sides. Early on the morning of the 14th, General Burnside sent the following dispatch to the President:
"I have just returned from the field. Our troops are all over the river, and hold the first ridge outside the town and three miles below. We hope to carry the crest to-day. Our loss is heavy, say-five thousand.
“A. E. BUASIDE, Major-General." The army remained quiet during the 14th, and on the night of the 15th, Burnside, finding all his generals strongly averse to renewing the attack, withdrew his troops to the north side, and took up the bridges. The enemy, fortunately, did not perceive the movement until it was too late to do any damage. General Burnside then sent the following message to Washington :
"The army was withdrawn to this side of the river, because I felt the position in front could not be carried, and it was a military necessity either to attack or retire. A repulse would have been disastrous to us. The army was withdrawn at night, without the knowledge of the enemy, and without loss of either property or men.
“A. E. BURNSIDE, Major-General." The Federal loss was reported at twelve thousand three hundred and twenty-one. The Confederate loss was comparatively small, inasmuch as they were under cover.
Thus ended the third campaign against Richmond. General Burnside, however, published a statement taking the blame of the failure upon himself, and exonerating the authorities at Washington. The matter became afterwards the subject of investigation, in the course of which was developed such a chapter of blunders, intrigues, and jealousies on the part of inferior officers as shocked and disheartened the country. The delay in procuring the pontoons was a prime cause of failure.
The evidence given before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, in relation to this point, was as follows:
General Woodbury stated that he received that order on the morning of the 13th of November. He testifies :
"General Halleck's order to me of the 13th made it apparent that the army was proparing to march to Fredericksburg. As to the time when the movement would be made, I never received any information. Fearing, however, that the movement would be precipitate, I went to General Halleck's office and urged him to delay the movement some five days, in order that the necessary preparations might be made to insure success. To this he replied that he would do nothing to delay for an instant the advance of the army on Richmond. I rejoined that my suggestion was not intended to cause delay, but rather to prevent it. In making this suggestion I had reference not only to the pontoon train, but the landings still to be created for the quartermaster and commissary departments."
General Halleck testifies :
"I will state that all the troops in Washington and its vicinity were under the com. mand of General McClellan when ho was relieved, and he issued his orders directly to the commanding officer at Washington, with one single restriction—that no troops should be moved from the command of Washington until I was notified by General McClellan or the commanding officer here. In all other respects they were all under his direction. General Burnside, when he relieved him, was told that they remained precisely the same as before. On my visit to General Burnside, at Warrenton, on the 12th of November, in speaking about the boats and things that he required from here. I repeated to him that they were all subject to his orders with that single exception. To prevent the necessity of the commanding officer here reporting the order for the boats here, the order was drawn up upon his table, and signed by me, directly to General Woodbury, on the evening of the 12th, I think-the evening that I was there. I saw General Woodbury on my return, and he told me he had received the order. I told him that in all these matters he was under General Burnside's direction. I had nothing further to give him, except to communicate that order to him. In conversation with him and General Meigs, it was proposed that the train of pontoons should go down by land, as they could be gotten down sooner in that way, without interfering with the supplies which had to be sent to Aquia Creek. I gave no other order or direction in relation to the matter than that all other matters were under General Burn. side's direction. He also informed me, while at Warrenton, that Captain Duane, chief of the engineers, had also sent an order to Harper's Ferry for the pontoon train there to go down. The order had been issued. They being under General Burnside's im. mediate and direct command, I did not interfere at all in relation to them.
" Question. Do you know whether there was any delay in starting them, or in their progress there?
" Answer. I heard that there was a delay from the steamer's getting aground with the pontoons, and there was a delay, as I understood, in the train going down by land, on account of the difficulty of the roads, and the inexperience, perhaps, of the officers in command, and it had to be taken by water part of the way; it could not get through by land. I considered, from the reports I received, that these delays resulted mainly from accident and the elements, that no man had any control over. General Burnside telegraphed to me in relation to General Woodbury, thinking that he had not used due diligence; but afterwards told me he was perfectly satisfied with what General Woodbury had done, and that he did not know but what the commanding officer of the train that went down had done his duty also; that he was disposed to make no further investigation of that matter; that he was pretty well satisfied.
" Question. Was there any request for you to delay the advance of the men until the boats arrived, or any thing of that kind ?
" Answer. No, sir. I remember this, that General Woodbury, in conversation with me, said that General Burnside could not get down for several days after I told him; and that he could not land the boats until General Burnside arrived; I think I remarked to him that I did not know exactly the day when General Burnside would