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Fredericksburg, Battle of | Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Fredericksburg, Battle of

Civil War Battle Summary

Fredericksburg, Battle of | Wisconsin Historical Society
EnlargeCamp of the 7th Wisconsin at Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Camp of the 7th Wisconsin at Fredericksburg, 1862.

The 7th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment camp outside of Fredericksburg on the east side of the Rappahannock. Fredericksburg and a pontoon bridge leading to it over the Rappahannock can be seen in the background. View the original source document: WHI 33527

EnlargeMap of eastern Virginia and part of Maryland, showing engagements by crossed swords, fortifications surrounding Richmond, routes of the opposing armies from Fredericksburg to Petersburg.

Map of 50 Miles Around Washington and Richmond, 1864.

Map of eastern Virginia and part of Maryland, showing engagements by crossed swords, fortifications surrounding Richmond, routes of the opposing armies from Fredericksburg to Petersburg, roads, railroads, towns, drainage, and relief by hachures.  Grant's route is shown in red and Lee's route is in blue. A few important Civil War sites are underlined in red.  View the original source document: WHI 90850

Date(s): December 11-15, 1862

Location: Fredericksburg, Virginia (Google Map)

Other name(s): Marye's Heights

Campaign: Fredericksburg Campaign (November-December 1862)

Outcome: Confederate victory

Summary

In one of the war's most lop-sided battles, outnumbered Confederate troops with superior field position slaughtered Union forces trying to pass through Fredericksburg, Virginia.

After their victory at Antietam, Maryland, in September 1862, Union generals wanted to quickly cross the Rappahannock River and seize Richmond. The logical crossing point was at Fredericksburg, Virginia, but government inefficiency delayed delivery of the necessary pontoon bridges. By the time those arrived, Confederate troops had placed artillery and sharpshooters along a ridge behind the town.

On December 11-15, 1862, more than 100,000 Union troops tried to cross the river and push through Fredericksburg. As they crossed the Rappahannock River and tried to advance uphill, the 72,500 Confederates atop the ridge could pick them off.

For two days, Union troops launched one futile attack after another against the two ridge-top locations called Prospect Hill and Marye's Heights. When they finally gave up on the night of December 15, a wall of Union bodies lay piled all along the base of the ridge. The Union lost 12,700 soldiers compared to 5,300 Confederates.

Wisconsin's Role

During the battle, Wisconsin's Iron Brigade regiments (2nd, 6th, and 7th infantries), the 3rd and 5th Wisconsin Infantries and the 1st U.S. Sharpshooters, Company G (Berdan's Sharpshooters) were present but their losses were small.

The 5th Wisconsin Infantry was under fire for most of the three days but miraculously escaped major harm. Berdan's Sharpshooters were deployed at multiple locations during the battle to pick off Confederate artillerymen and cover the Union retreat. They were the last unit to re-cross the Rappahannock River when the Union forces left the field.

Links to Learn More

[Source: Report on the Nation's Civil War Battlefields (Washington, 1993); Estabrook, C. Records and Sketches of Military Organizations (Madison, 1914); Love, W. Wisconsin in the War of the Rebellion (Madison, 1866).]