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[599]

On the 15th, Burnside determined to bring back his army to the left bank of the Rappahannock; he asked for a few hours, truce for the purpose of carrying off the wounded, who for two days had been lying helpless on the ground between the combatants, the victims of one of the most horrible consequences of the war, and all his troops recrossed the river during the night. This movement was executed with great precision and success. The Confederates only discovered the disappearance of the foe in front of them on the morning of the 16th. Their skirmishers returned to the deserted and half-ruined town of Fredericksburg, where they only found a few wounded, who could not be removed.

The Federals had only a last duty to perform as the closing scene in this bloody drama. The dead bodies of five or six hundred brave fellows still lay stretched at the foot of the wall which had baffled all their efforts. On the 16th detachments of their comrades came with Lee's permission to give them the rapid burial of soldiers dead on the battle-field. An immense deposit of ice happened to lie at the foot of Marye's Hill; all these sad remains were crowded into it, filling up to the brim the gigantic vault which will ever remain as a mournful memento of that terrible day.

The army of the Potomac had fought gallantly; it had not lost a single cannon, all its attacks being made by masses of infantry; it had experienced neither disorder nor rout. But the defeat was complete, and its effects were felt throughout the entire country as keenly as in the ranks of the army. The little confidence that Burnside had been able to inspire in his soldiers had vanished, and the respect which everybody entertained for the noble character of this unfortunate general could not supply its place. Halleck, his immediate superior, was accused of reserving all his favors for the armies of the West, which he had commanded, and of never addressing the officers and soldiers of the army of the Potomac, except in terms of censure and criticism.1 They felt as if forsaken, and a deep feeling of sadness, if not discouragement, soon crept into all the ranks. Political quarrels, which lay dormant while the cannon spoke, became embittered under

1 See Hooker's deposition, Report of the Committee on the Conduct of the War, 1865, vol. i., p. 113.

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