John Codman Ropes.

The story of the Civil War : a concise account of the war in the United States of America between 1861 and 1865 online

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artillery under Stuart, and especially by a section
under the distinguished Captain Pegram, that he
made slow progress, and finally other troops had to
be brought forward. Soon after twelve o'clock,
however, he made his attack, and succeeded in pene-
trating the enemy's lines and capturing several hun-
dred prisoners. Gibbon, also, won a similar, though
not so important, success. But the Confederates
rallied and were reinforced, and drove back both
divisions with considerable loss and in great confu-
sion,^ and pursued their advantage until checked by
the resistance of other Federal troops. Nothing of

' 31 W. R., 359, 513 ; I C. W. (1863), 705. That Franklin considered
the situation serious at one time, is shown by his despatch to Burnside, 31
W. R., 118.


permanent importance was gained by the Union
advance, and, in fact, it cannot be said that the
arrangements for supporting the troops engaged
— still less for following up any advantage — were
satisfactory. General Franklin felt himself greatly
hampered by the injunction — twice repeated in
Burnside's order to him — " to keep his whole com-
mand in position for a rapid movement down the
Old Richmond Road."^ This portion of the order
unquestionably prevented Franklin from making
adequate preparation for the carrying out of the por-
tion of the order which prescribed the task of the
single division. The two parts of the order were, in
truth, inconsistent with each other. The difficulty,
in fact, lay farther back even than this. No success
of any moment could be expected under the circum-
stances which existed in that part of the field, unless
a much larger affair than the advance of one division
was made the object to be attained. That the ob-
ject ordered to be attained was of such limited
scope was the fault of Burnside alone.

Between 2 and 3 p.m. Burnside sent another order '
to Franklin " to make a vigorous attack with his
whole force," but it was received too late to admit
of the necessary dispositions being made for the
employment of the troops in any other way than
that in which they were at the time occupied.^

Franklin's loss in this battle amounted to nearly
5000 men.'

'Franklin's testimony, C. W. (1863), 710; Reynolds's testimony, ib.,
699, 700. * 31 W. R., 94, 128.

' I C. W. (1863), 711. Contra, Birney's testimony, «/5., 706.
* 31 W. R., 133-142.


General Burnside says in his Report that the
movements of Franklin and Sumner were not in-
tended to be simultaneous ; that he did not intend
to move Sumner until he had " learned that Franklin
vras about to gain the heights near Hamilton's." *
No doubt it would have been wiser to have adhered
to this determination. But he did not adhere to it.
" General Sumner's corps was held in position," con-
tinues the Report/ "until after 11 o'clock, in the
hope that Franklin would make such an impression
upon the enemy as would enable him [Sumner] to
carry the enemy's line near the Telegraph and Plank
roads. Feeling the importance of haste, I now di-
rected General Sumner to commence his attack."
At this moment the despatches which Burnside was
receiving from General Hardie of his staff, whom he
had sent to be with Franklin, and to keep him in-
formed as to the progress of the fight there, showed
him that Franklin was having a hard, if not a doubt-
ful, contest with the enemy. That dated 11 a.m.
reads ^ : " Meade advanced half a mile, and holds on.
. . . Later : Reynolds has been forced to develop
his whole line. An attack of some force of enemy's
troops on our left seems probable." It is plain that
Burnside, whether (as he says) "feeling the import-
ance of haste," or, more likely, impatient at the slow
progress of Franklin's movements, departed from his
original intention, and ordered Sumner to make the
attack on his front while the issue of Franklin's
battle was still in doubt.

' 31 W. R., qi. He also so stated to the Committee on the Conduct of
the War ; i C. W. (1863), 653.

»3iW. R.,94. •/(>., 91.


The Federal right attack had but a small chance
of success. There was, however, in this part of the
field but one thing to do — if anything was to be
done — and that was to storm the Confederate works
in front. It was simply necessary to enlarge the
scope of Burnside's inadequate order by sending in
all the available troops, instead of the " division or
more " specified in the order.' As the 2d corps
(Couch's) occupied the town, it was for it to make
the attack in the first place, and for the 9th corps
to follow, if it should be deemed advisable. As the
divisions of Couch emerged from the town, they
found themselves in an open plain, with the Con-
federate intrenchments in their front only 600 or
700 yards distant. From the hills on their right
(Taylor's and Stanbury's) the Confederate artillery
poured upon them an enfilading fire. Directly in
face was Marye's Hill, near the foot of which ran a
road, parallel to the line of battle, which had been
cut through the hill in such a way that the side
nearest to the Federal attack w^as protected by a
stone wall and sheltered by the slope of the earth,
so as to resemble a covered way. This side had
been artificially strengthened, and the road now con-
stituted an intrenchment practically impregnable.
Above this sunken road and on the summit of
Marye's Hill the Confederates had posted their sup-
ports and batteries.

The division of French, which was to make the
first attack, marched, on leaving the town, up the
Orange Plank and Telegraph roads for 300 yards

' 31 W. R., 90.


or so until a canal, or sluiceway, was reached, which
crossed the roads* at right angles. This canal, or
ditch, could only be crossed by bridges. Until these
bridges were crossed, the troops marched in column,
and were exposed to the enemy's artillery fire in
front and flank. On crossing, the troops deployed,
for the assault under the precarious shelter afforded
by a slight rise in the ground, and shortly after 12
M., they advanced to the attack in the most gallant
style. But the fire was too much for them. The
sunken road could, not be carried.^ Couch at once
ordered in his other divisions under Hancock and
Howard. But it was in vain. Many of the officers
and men, it is true, got up within a short distance
of the Confederate lines, but they were mostly killed
or wounded. Those who survived were obliged to
lie down, and could not be withdrawn until after
dark. The losses were terrible.

The failure of the attempt of the 2d corps ought
to have satisfied General Burnside that his enemy's
position was too strong to be carried, but it did not.
He insisted on more and more assaults. The division
of Sturgis and one brigade of that of Getty from
the 9th corps and the divisions of Griffin and Hum-
phreys of the 5th corps were all thrown in. These
troops gallantly attempted to carry Marye's Hill,
but they were repulsed with great slaughter before
they could reach the stone wall. The Federal
losses in these various attacks, which were all made
with great bravery and were persistently and coura-

' These roads ran parallel to each other and were about 300 yards apart.
The Orange Plank was the northerly one. '^ 31 W. R., 222, 223.


geously pushed, amounted to not far from 8000 men.
The loss of the whole army was 12,653 men.^

In the Confederate army, Longstreet lost 1519,
killed and wounded, and Jackson 2682, making a
total of 4201.' Besides these losses, Longstreet's
corps was reported as having 127 ^ missing, and Jack-
son's 526,* making the total loss 4854.

General Burnside was desirous of renewing the
attack the next day, and even proposed to lead his
old corps, the 9th, in column of regiments, to carry
by storm the stone wall below Marye's Hill. But
he was dissuaded by the unanimous remonstrances
of his officers.' On the night of the 15th the army
recrossed the river, and the troops returned to their
old camps at Falmouth.

In reviewing this bloody defeat of the Army of the
Potomac, one is moved to wonder at the fact that Gen-
eral Burnside made the attempt at all. He had
practically no chance of success in assaulting the
Confederate left * ; and even if he had given Franklin
ca/rte hlanche as respects the attack on the Confederate
right, and had that able officer done what he told
Burnside he proposed to do, — had, during the night,
massed 30,000 troops on his extreme left, and had
assaulted the heights at Hamilton's Crossing at day-
break, — the issue of the battle would have been far

' 31 W. R., 142.
^ lb., 562.
' lb., 572.
"lb., 635.

' I C. W. (1863), 653 ; Palfrey, 188 ; Swinton, 253 ; 31 W. R., 312.
' See the excellent criticism of General Palfrey on this subject, Palfrey,
184, 185.


from certain. For, in thus placing the bulk of his
disposable force near Hamilton's Crossing, Franklin
would have exposed his communications — that is,
the pontoon-bridges — to an attack by Jackson's left,
and Jackson's left could have been strengthened to any
needed extent by reinforcements sent by Longstreet.
It can hardly be doubted that a serious, well-sus-
tained attack on the two divisions of the 3d corps,
which Franklin would have stationed to hold the
bridges, would have checked the Federal troops,
even in the midst of a successful attempt to turn
Jackson's right. Nothing short of a complete rout
of Jackson's extreme right — which was hardly to be
expected — would have answered Franklin's needs.
Not but what the plan proposed by Franklin was
the best of which the circumstances admitted ; but
that the circumstances were very unfavorable to the
achievement of any success of moment by the Union
army in the battle of Fredericksburg.

The only important reason given by Greneral Burn-
side for fighting the battle was that he thought that
the troops which General Lee had sent down the
river to oppose the landing of the Federal army in
that region had not returned.' It is true that Gen-
eral Lee did not recall these troops until the last
moment ; he showed on this occasion as on several
others a singular lack of caution ; the divisions of
Early and D. H. Hill did not arrive on the field till
the morning of the 13th, and to arrive there then they
had to march all night.^ But Burnside was not justi-

1 31 W. R., 66 ; I C. W. (1863), 652.
«3i W. R,, 630.


fled in attacking such a position as that which General
Lee occupied at Fredericksburg simply by assuming
that Lee might have unnecessarily delayed the assem-
bling of his army. It may be admitted that this delay
on Lee's part was, perhaps, in view of the known
facts, rather to be expected ; and that had Burnside at-
tacked him on the 12th, he would have had,^w tanto,
a better chance of success. But, as we have shown
above, the position was a very unfavorable one for
the Union army ; and even the absence of two divi-
sions from the Confederate line of battle would not
have compensated Burnside for the radical defects
of the situation as viewed from the Federal point of

General Burnside, though without doubt consider-
ably affected by the useless sacrifice of life in the
battle of Fredericksburg,' immediately decided on
another forward movement, to be made in the latter
part of December.^ Much to his surprise, he re-
ceived a telegram from Mr. Lincoln enjoining him
not to take any step vpithout first informing him.^
Burnside then went to Washington, and had a con-
ference with the President and also with General
Halleck and the Secretaiy of War, and ascertained
that certain general officers had informed the Gov-
ernment that in their opinion any such operation
would end in disaster.'' Burnside then attempted to
obtain from the President and General Halleck a
formal authorization for another movement across
the Rappahannock. But in this he could not suc-

' 3 B. & L., 138. ' lb., 96 ; I C. W. (1863), 717.

' 31 W. R., 95. < I C. W. (1863), 717.


ceed. He finallj^ determined to act on his own
authority; and, on January 20, 1863, he moved up
the river vrith a part of his army to the fords of the
Rapidan, and was preparing to cross the stream in
force when the whole operation was stopped by a
storm of unusual violence, which rendered all the
roads impassable ; and the army, tired, disgusted, and
feeling that it had new and Just cause of dissatis-
faction with its commander, who was universally
believed to be incompetent for his high position,
returned to its camps near Falmouth.'

Then Greneral Burnside, apparently wearied with
repeated disappointments, having, moreover, abun-
dant reason to know that several of his highest of-
ficers considered him to be entirely unfit to command
the army, and having come to believe that his ill-
success was due mainly to their insubordination, or
at least to their unwillingness to serve under him
with spirit and heartiness, wrote his celebrated
General Order, No. 8,^ dismissing from the service
Generals Hooker, Brooks, Newton, and Cochrane,
and relieving from duty with the Army of the Po-
tomac Generals Franklin, W. F. Smith, Sturgis,
Ferrero, and other officers.^ Armed with this order
he again went to Washington and had a conference
with the President. Mr. Lincoln treated the unfor-
tunate general with his accustomed kindness and
consideration. He easily perceived the facts of the
situation. He saw that Burnside was not equal to

' 31 W. R., 752-755.
!> I C. W. (1863), 719.
* 31 W. R., 998. Cf. Franklin's Reply, 11, notes.


the command of the army, and he knew also that
eveiy one recognized this to be the fact. He saw
that the consciousness of this lack of trust in him
by the army had naturally affected Burnside's mind,
and that to some extent, at any rate, the unlucky
officer deserved his sympathy. But he saw clearly
that it was impossible that Burnside should con-
tinue in his' post. He therefore relieved him from
the command of the Army of the Potomac, but re-
fused to accept his resignation from the service,
which Burnside in his despondent frame of mind
begged him to receive. He gave him, instead, a
leave of absence for his home in Providence ; and, on
the 16th of March, 1863, he appointed him to the
command of the Department of the Ohio, with his
headquarters at Cincinnati, where he relieved Gen-
eral Wright.

On the 25th of January, 1863, President Lincoln
appointed General Hooker to the command of the
Army of the Potomac, and relieved Generals Sum-
ner and Franklin from further duty with that or-
ganization. Whether Franklin and Sumner were
relieved at Hooker's suggestion, we do not know.
Sumner, though an old man for a military life, being
over sixty years of age, was apparently still strong
and vigorous.' Franklin's conduct at Fredericks-
burg was probably never fully understood by Mr.
Lincoln, who doubtless thought that with the large
number of troops under his command he might have
accomplished more had he zealously discharged his
duty. To the peculiar difficulties to which we have

' He died, however, during the year.


called attention, arising from the nature of the field
of battle, and from Burnside's unsuitable and inade-
quate orders, the President apparently gave no heed.
To him, as to many good men, dealing with a
subject of which they know little, it was easier to
explain a failure by attributing it to moral causes,
than to make the effort which a man would have to
make who should undertake to master the details of
the situation in which his unfortunate subordinate
was placed, and to consider the different courses
open to him, in the same spirit in which he would
deal with any other serious intellectual or practical

Had he made this effort, the President could not
have failed to see that Franklin had contributed the
only valuable suggestion for winning the battle of
Fredericksburg ; that criticism on his performance
of the petty role which he was by Burnside con-
demned to play was a mere waste of time ; and that
his failure to accomplish anything under such cir-
cumstances could in no way justify the removal from
the army of so intelligent and capable an officer.

Substantially the same reflections occur when one
thinks how the services of Buell and Porter were
also, long before the close of the war, lost to the
Union cause.



It will hardly be denied, we imagine, that the
military situation at the close of 1862 was far more
favorable for the Southern Confederacy than any
one could have predicted at the beginning of the
year. Great opportunities had been thrown away
by the generals on the Union side.

Twice during the year might the Confederate
army of the West have been attacked under excep-
tionally favorable circumstances by a much more
powerful force, but Grant after Shiloh and Halleck
after Corinth threw away their chances. No simi-
lar opportunities were offered to Buell or to Rose-
crans. Hence, at the close of the year we find the
army of Bragg resolutely confronting its antagonist
on the field of Murfreesborough.

In the East, by the interference of President Lin-
coln and Secretary Stanton with McClellan's plan
of uniting the force under McDowell to the army
near Richmond in the latter part of May, the best
chance of success offered in the course of the Pen-
insular campaign was thrown away ; while Mc-



Clellan, by not attacking Lee at Sharpsburg on
September 16th, failed to improve the most prom-
ising opportunity for destroying the Army of
Northern Virginia which up to that time had been

The task of the Army of the Potomac had certainly
not been lightened by the battle of Fredericksburg,
nor had that of the Army of the Cumberland by the
battle of Murfreesborough, But the acquisition of
Kentucky and of middle Tennessee undoubtedly
gave the latter army a great advantage in its efforts
for the recovery of East Tennessee.

Of the operations of the Army of the Tennessee
under General Grant in the autumn of 1862 in the
direction of Vicksburg on the river Mississippi we
have not spoken, believing that they should be con-
sidered in connection with the subsequent move-
ments of that army, which resulted in the capture
of that important place in July, 1863.

We have been able to study the events of the
war in the preceding pages with a more personal
interest in the chief actors than is ordinarily possi-
ble in a military narrative, because the War Records
contain the letters and despatches written by these
actors at the time, as well as the reports of their
achievements or failures written after the happening
of these occurrences. The history of this war can
therefore be presented, not only as a series of iso-
lated pictures, but as a succession of incidents in
the lives of those who had charge of the military

We can therefore see in many cases the aim and


object of movements, whose purpose, in the absence
of these letters and despatches, would be matter of
conjecture only, and we can trace the connection of
events with more confidence, and, it is believed,
with more satisfaction.




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A Concise Account of the War in the United States of America
between 1861 and 1865. By John Codman Ropes.
To be complete in four parts, printed in four octavo volumes,
with comprehensive maps and battle plans. Each part will be com-
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A- 1^1^47 0)
4^^l A 73 0)


See page 98.


Draam emt^ ifrinted by GeoMStsdly & Co^eKtofi.


See page 90.


showing the pasitions ol'the troops about ti .

Dracun and printed ty Geo. fl^. Stad/y &'COy Bosto/?.


See page 2i6.

Draivn and Printed by GeoW-^Stsdly &*

Ora^fT and Printed b yi Geo- W.Stadly & Co. Bo ston.


slujwing the posiljons of the armies
un March 15,1862.

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Online LibraryJohn Codman RopesThe story of the Civil War : a concise account of the war in the United States of America between 1861 and 1865 → online text (page 32 of 33)