Today in History:

47 Series I Volume XXI- Serial 31 - Fredericksburg


to Falmouth, and establish a new base of supplies at Aquia Creek or Belle Plain. This proposed change of base was not approved by me, and in a personal interview at Warrenton I strongly urged him to retain his present base, and continue his march toward Richmond in the manner pointed out in the President's letter of October 13 to General McClellan.

General Burnside did not fully concur in the President's views, but finally consented to so modify his plan as to cross his army by the fords of the Upper Rappahannock, and then move down and seize the heights south of Fredericksburg, while a small force was to sent north of the river to enable General Haupt to reopen the railroad and to rebuild the bridges, the materials for which were nearly ready in Alexandria. I, however, refused to give any official approval of this deviation from the President's instructions until his assent was obtained. On my return to Washington, on the 13th, I submitted to him this proposed change in the plan of campaign, and on its receiving his assent, rather than approval, I telegraphed, on the 14th, authority to General Burnside to adopt it. I here refer, not to General Burnside's written plan to go to Falmouth, but to that of crossing the Rappahannock above its junction with the Rapidan.

It has been inferred from the testimony of General Burnside before the Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War, that his plan of marching his whole army on the north of the Rappahannock, from Warrenton to Falmouth, had been approved by the authorities in Washington, and that he expected, on his arrival there, to find supplies and pontoons, with gunboats to cover his crossing. In the first place, that plan was never approved, nor was he ever authorized to adopt it. In the second place, he could not possibly have expected supplies and pontoons to be landed at points then occupied in force by the enemy. Again, he was repeatedly informed that gunboats could not, at that time, ascend the Rappahannock to Fredericksburg.

General Burnside did not commence his movement from Warrenton till the 15th, and then, instead of crossing the Rappahannock by the fords, as he was expected to do, he marched his whole army down on the north bank of that river, his advance reaching Falmouth on the 20th. Lee's army, in the mean time, moved down the south side of the river, but had not occupied Fredericksburg on the 21st. The river was at this time fordable a few miles above the town, and General Sumner asked permission to cross and occupy the heights, but it was refused, and no attempt was made to effect the passage till the 11th of December, by which time Lee's army had been concentrated and strongly intrenched. This passage, however, was effected without serious opposition, by the right wing and center, under Sumner and Hooker, at Fredericksburg, and the left wing, under Franklin, on bridges established some miles below. It was intended that Franklin's grand division, consisting of the corps of Reynolds and Smith, should attack the enemy's right, and turn his position on the heights in rear of Fredericksburg, while Summer and Hooker attacked him in front. But, by some alleged misunderstanding of orders, Franklin's operations were limited to a mere reconnaissance, and the direct attacks of Sumner and Hooker were unsupported. The contest on the right wing during the 13th was continued till 5.30 p.m., when our men were forced to fall back, after suffering terrible losses. Both armies remained in position till the night of the 15th, when General Burnside withdrew his forces to the north side of the Rappahannock.

General Burnside has been frequently requested to make an official