Thoughts on The Battle of Fredericksburg
Professor Ernest Butner (Irish)
(Extracted from a Civil War Chat Room discussion)
Question: Irish, Heres a good topic for discussion. If you had been in command of the AOP on Dec 13, 1862 at Fredricksburg. What would you have done, attack head on like Burnside, try to flank, like Hooker did in the Spring or retreat and wait till spring. Or something else altogether? fifer
Irish: I believe I've been waiting for 60 years for somebody to ask me that question! Here goes. 1. Initiative has already been lost on the Fredericksburg front. Pontoon boats arrived late. If they would have arrived on 11/17/62 when the Second Corps arrived, Sumner would have occupied Marye's Heights on that day. He could have anyway, but was ordered not to cross the Rappahannock by Burnside in fear that he would be trapped on the west side of the river because of a storm that was just beginning to the north and west.
The storm did come as Burnside predicted. Hooker came up with a plan to cross south of Fredericksburg near Skinkers Neck, roads were clear when he came up with this plan, and Federal gun boats were in the area of Port Royal, and there was very few Confederate pickets in the area. Burnside studied that situation, and nearly a week later went ahead with that plan, but was turned back by Ewell's troops. Can't think of the date, but it was clear that Jackson had arrived. Longstreet was inplace on Marye's Height, and a military road had been built to make strong interior lines for a very healthy defense. Roads were becoming bad. It was time to forget the Fredericksburg line until Spring. The entire Right Grand Division consisting of the Second and Ninth Corps were dead set against Burnside's underdeveloped plan against Marye's Height. I would have waited until Spring at that point, and done much the same thing that Hooker proposed.
It is interesting that Hooker made his flanking proposal prior to the assault on Marye's Height. Only major difference to my plan would have been to use my cavalry more effectively than what was done with the Stoneman raid.
I am a disciple of Napoleon and Alexander, if Hooker had followed these maxims, he would never had given his cavalry such a ludicrous job at Chancellorsville. It is also plain that Burnside probably had never understood Napoleon's maxim of war, he violated nearly every principle of offensive warfare at Fredericksburg.
Question: Irish, what if Burnside had moved his pontoons further down river and attempted to turn Lees right flank. fifer
Irish: That is what Hooker proposed by the Skinkers Neck proposal. If he would have done that when Hooker made the proposal he would have gotten across the river with minimal opposition. Union gunboats were in the vicinity to support. Burnside waited too long to make that attempt. He had such a problem with Hooker that he let it get in the way for making decisions. It was well known at the time of these proposals that Hooker was trying to wrest the reins of the AOP away from Burnside. Burnside knew it as well. A plan that would have been successful, with Hooker's backing and probably the way troops were situated, Hooker would have led the way. Hooker would have taken political advantage and probably....
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