Burnside’s Folly- Fredericksburg

Ambrose Burnside had done it…. he outmaneuvered Robert E. Lee.  The reluctant commander  guided the massive Army of the Potomac down the Rappahannock river to Fredericksburg, Virginia.  Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was scrambling to catch up, but Burnside’s path to Richmond temporarily lay open.  He needed pontoon bridges to get his lengthy supply trains across the river- but they were nowhere to be found- Burnside sat on the Eastern shore waiting.  The bridges arrived a week later, but so did Lee’s army.

With great mustache, comes great responsibility

There was still an opportunity to move… against Lee before his forces could dig in.  Burnside weighed his options and formed a plan to cross the river quickly at fords south of town.  Mother Nature wasn’t playing fair that week, a heavy storm dropped six inches of snow on December 5, forcing Burnside to reconsider.  Lee’s men dug in on the heights west of town and covered the fords to the north and south.  With Winter closing in, Burnside decided to build his bridges and cross at Fredericksburg.

Soldiers do their duty, but… Burnside’s subordinates were not happy with his decision.  Joseph Hooker let it be known in the council-of-war on December 10.  Burnside responded,

“I have heard your criticisms, gentlemen, and your complaints. You know how reluctantly I assumed the responsibility of command. I was conscious of what I lacked; but still I have been placed here where I am and will do my best. I rely on God for wisdom and strength. Your duty is not to throw cold water, but to aid me loyally with your advice and hearty service.”

Writing was on the wall

Colonel Samuel Zook minced no words when he learned of the advance, “I expect to be sacrificed tomorrow, Goodbye old Boy & if tomorrow night finds me dead remember me kindly as a soldier who meant to do his whole duty.”    

**special thanks to Don Pfanz for the sources

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