Here is a look at events in the Civil War this week in December 1862.
The past is in us
But first, a brief look at how difficult it is to find the long-ago past again. I noted that at the start of this series, but also found it while looking for YouTube videos about the battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862.
Artists can recapture it, as shown by the excerpt last week from Ron Maxwell’s Gods and Generals. When the rest of us go individually looking, though, it’s sometimes difficult to find.
We know something terrible and important happened here, but where is the evidence of it now? In the markers? The river? The street and homes? Nothing much is going on here now other than the usual process of ordinary living, during the opening years of the 21st century, in a place where all Hell broke loose for a few days in the mid-19th century.
It is real, though, in our memory and our lives, in the heritage that has come down to us over the centuries, passed on by countless hands. This is why it is so important to remember as best we can, this 150th anniversary, the dramatic, terrible things that changed America forever.
Military events: Tennessee/Kentucky operations: Throughout the early and middle days of December, the Louisville & Nashville rail line is important to both Federals and Confederates. US General Rosecrans needs it to be fully operational in order to supply his army in Nashville long enough to plan and start a new campaign against CS General Bragg. The line is open, thanks to the labor of US troops, and Rosecrans is also in the process of sending another 10,000 soldiers out to guard the line via a network of armed blockhouses, especially at bridges. Meanwhile in Murfreesboro, CS General Bragg – while not lending credence to rumors that Rosecrans is planning to advance on him from Nashvhille – has given General John Hunt Morgan an open-ended order to “assail guards and where your relative forces will justify it, capture and destroy his trains; burn his bridges, depots, trestleworks, etc. In fine, harass him in every conceivable way in your power. . . . You are not limited in the extent of your operations.” Right now Morgan is watching Rosecrans’s moves and making plans for a raid later in the month. (2, 18)
Meanwhile, in an attempt to disrupt US General Grant’s supply and communication lines as he marches on Vicksburg, General Bragg orders General Nathan Bedford Forrest to move his 1800-man cavalry brigade and Freeman’s Battery of four artillery guns across the Tennessee River and start an expedition through West Tennessee. (4, 6) Unfortunately, with both Morgan and Forrest on raids, General Bragg has too few cavalry available for reconnaissance. (18)
Other: The US Congress passes a bill allowing the creation of the state of West Virginia. (6)
Battles: Fredericksburg, Virginia: Before dawn, Union engineers creep down to the river and attempt to build and get General Burnside’s pontoon bridges into place so the Union army can cross the Rapahannock. They will try 9 times in all, but withering fire from CS General Barksdale’s men on the far shore prevents them. Burnside then orders his artillery to start shelling the town. Over 2 hours, some 8,000 rounds fall on the town from the Union battery on Stafford Heights. Then the engineers go out again – and again gunfire from town stops them. Now volunteer US troops ferry themselves across the river and engage Barksdale’s Mississippians in one of the few episodes of urban warfare during the Civil War. Barksdale falls back that evening, and the engineers complete the pontoon bridges, allowing the army to march into Fredericksburg. (15)
Military events: North Carolina: Foster’s Raid/Goldsborough Expedition begins when US General John G. Foster heads inland across the state from New Bern with a force of 10,000 infantry, 6 batteries and 640 cavalry. His objective is to wreck railroads, depots and the vital Goldsborough Bridge. (14)
Battles: Fredericksburg. There is no fighting today, but as Burnside pours reinforcements into town, some soldiers go on looting sprees and vandalize the town. (15)
Battles: The Battle of Fredericksburg, in which General Lee’s army has some 5300 casualities, while Burnside’s army loses some 12,600 men, almost two-thirds of them in front of the stone wall on Marye’s Heights. (15)
The newspapers have given such accounts of our disaster at Fredericksburg that I need scarcely enter into accounts just now. However I have made some notes of our doings in this campaign and will make them the subject of a letter to Auntie, so will, therefore, merely outline experiences of the last few days. I have no comments to make — the army was glorious, nothing wrong with its material, but its strength and capabilities were misdirected, that is all. . . . Regimental loss 125 killed, wounded and missing. Maj. Herring shot thru’ both arms – home.
– US Captain Francis Adams Donaldson (17)
It is good that war is so terrible, or we would come to love it.
– CS General Robert E. Lee
Military events: North Carolina: Foster’s Raid/Goldsborough Expedition: A fight at Southwest Creek, not far from Kinston, forces back the Confederate troops that hold the crossing. (14)
Battles: Fredericksburg. General Burnside writes orders for another assault on December 14, led by him, but aides talk him out of it. (15)
North Carolina: Foster’s Raid/Goldsborough Expedition. First Battle of Kinston (PDF). Union and Confederate troops tangle again. While the Confederates are driven back again, they refuse Foster’s demand for surrender. Foster leaves them and heads for Goldsborough. (14)
Military events: Tennessee operations: General Forrest and his men begin the Tennessee River crossing at Clifton, below Double Island. (4)
Battles: Fredericksburg. Burnside withdraws his army from Stafford Heights during the night of December 15-16, dismantling the bridges behind them. (15)
North Carolina: Foster’s Raid/Goldsborough Expedition. Battle of White Hall/White Hall Ferry starts. (14)
Military events: Tennessee operations: General Forrest and his men are now across the Tennessee and move out some eight miles from the river in the direction of Lexington, Tennessee. (4)
Battles: Foster’s Raid/Goldsborough Expedition. Battle of White Hall/White Hall Ferry ends. (14)
Military events: Tennessee operations: General Forrest camps some 18 miles from the Tennessee River, still bound for Lexington. Most of the caps they brought with them have become waterlogged and useless, but that night a local partisan brings them some 50,000 shotgun and pistol caps. (4)
In New Orleans, General Nathaniel Banks arrives with additional troops in preparation for increased Union operations on the Mississippi. General Butler is relieved of command and transferred East. (12)
We will give them a starlight burial,” it was said; but heaven ordained a more sublime illumination. As we bore them in dark and sad procession, their own loved North took up the escort and lifting her glorious lights, led the triumphal march over the bridge that spans the worlds. Fiery lances and banners of blood and flame, columns of pearly light, garlands and wreaths of gold—all pointing upward and beckoning on. Who would not pass on as they did, dead for their country’s life, and lighted to burial by the meteor splendors of their native sky?
– US Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, remembering the Northern Lights that appeared while he and his men were burying the 20th Maine dead at Fredericksburg.
(3) Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson (2003 – see side bar for link).
(4) The Campaigns of Lieut.-Gen. N.B. Forrest, and of Forrest’s Cavalry by Thomas Jordan, J. P. Pryor (1868).
(5) The Lincoln Log timeline.
(7) Henry Halleck’s War: A Fresh Look at Lincoln’s Controversial General-In-Chief, by Curt Anders (1999).
(8) Grant Chronology, Mississippi State University.
(9)”The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government” (Vol. II), Jefferson Davis.
(10) Civil War Home’s “The Eastern Theater: 2nd Manassas, Antietam and Fredericksburg.”
(11) The Army of Northern Virginia in 1862, by William Allan (1892)
(12) Conquest of the Lower Mississippi. BrownWaterNavy.org.
(13) The Strategy of Robert E. Lee, by J. J. Bowen (1914).
(15) Battle of Fredericksburg, National Park Service.
(17) Inside the Army of the Potomac, the Civil War Experience of Captain Francis Adams Donaldson, edited by J. Gregory Acken (1998).
(18) Autumn of Glory: The Army of Tennessee, 1862-1865, by Thomas Lawrence Connelly (1971)
(19) Those Damn Horse Soldiers, by George Walsh (2006).
Categories: American Civil War