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Chapter 21: reorganization and rest for both armies.

  • The Confederates appoint seven Lieutenant
  • -- Generals -- the Army of Northern Virginia organized in corps -- General McClellan relieved, and General Burnside appointed commander of the Army of the Potomac -- a lift for the South -- McClellan was growing -- Burnside's “three Grand divisions” -- the campaign of the Rappahannock -- getting ready for Fredericksburg -- Longstreet occupies Fredericksburg -- the town called to surrender by General Sumner -- Exodus of the inhabitants under a threat to shell the town.

Under an act not long before passed by the Confederate Congress authorizing the appointment of seven lieutenant-generals, the authorities at Richmond about this time sent commissions to Lieutenant-Generals Longstreet, Polk, Holmes, Hardee, E. K. Smith, Jackson, and Pemberton, and made appointments of a number of major-generals. Under these appointments General Lee organized the Army of Northern Virginia into corps substantially as it subsequently fought the battle of Fredericksburg.1 The Confederate army rested along the lines between the Potomac and Winchester till late in October. On the 8th, General Stuart was ordered across to ride around the Union army, then resting about Sharpsburg and Harper's Ferry. His ride caused some excitement among the Union troops, and he got safely to the south side with the loss of a few men slightly wounded, on the 12th. On the 26th, General McClellan marched south and crossed the Potomac east of the Blue Ridge. Jackson was assigned the duty of guarding the passes. I marched south, corresponding with the march of the Army of the Potomac. [291] A division crossed at Ashby's Gap to Upperville to look for the head of McClellan's army. He bore farther eastward and marched for Warrenton, where he halted on the 5th of November. The division was withdrawn from Upperville and marched for Culpeper Court-House, arriving at that point at the same time as McClellan's at Warrenton,--W. H. F. Lee's cavalry the day before me. Soon after the return to Culpeper Court-House, Evans's brigade was relieved of duty with the First Corps and ordered south. Hood had a brush with a cavalry force at Manassas Gap, and part of McLaws's division a similar experience at the east end of Chester Gap.

I reached Culpeper Court-House with the divisions of McLaws, R. H. Anderson, and Pickett. Hood's division was ordered behind Robertson River, and Ransom to Madison Court-House, General Jackson with the Second Corps remaining in the Shenandoah Valley, except one division at Chester Gap of the Blue Ridge.

The Washington authorities issued orders on the 5th of November relieving General McClellan of, and assigning General Burnside to, command of the Army of the Potomac. On the 9th the army was put under General Burnside, in due form.

When informed of the change, General Lee expressed regret, as he thought that McClellan could be relied upon to conform to the strictest rules of science in the conduct of war. He had been McClellan's preceptor, they had served together in the engineer corps, and our chief thought that he thoroughly understood the displaced commander. The change was a good lift for the South, however; McClellan was growing, was likely to exhibit far greater powers than he had yet shown, and could not have given us opportunity to recover the morale lost at Sharpsburg, as did Burnside and Hooker.

General Burnside, soon after assuming command, and while waiting at Warrenton, made a radical change in the [292] organization of the army by consolidating the corps into three “Grand divisions” as follows:

At the time of the change of commanders the Confederates were looking for a Federal move north of Culpeper Court-House, and were surveying the ground behind Robertson River for a point of concentration of the two wings to meet that move.

General Burnside, however, promptly planned operations on other lines. He submitted to President Lincoln his proposition to display some force in the direction of Gordonsville as a diversion, while with his main army he would march south, cross the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg, and reach by a surprise march ground nearer Richmond than the holdings of the Confederates. This was approved by the President with the suggestion that its success depended upon prompt execution.

On the 15th light began to break upon the Confederates, revealing a move south from Warrenton, but it was not regarded as a radical change from the Orange and Alexandria Railroad line of advance. A battery of artillery was sent with a regiment of infantry to reinforce the Confederate outpost at Fredericksburg under Colonel Ball.

On the 17th information came that the Right Grand Division under General Sumner had marched south, leaving [293] the railroad, and General W. H. F. Lee's cavalry was ordered to Fredericksburg.

The next morning I marched with two divisions, McLaws's and Ransom's, the former for Fredericksburg, the latter towards the North Anna. The same day, General Lee ordered a forced reconnoissance by his cavalry to Warrenton, found that the Union army was all on the march towards Fredericksburg, and ordered my other divisions to follow on the 19th.

At the first disclosure he was inclined to move for a position behind the North Anna, as at that time the position behind Fredericksburg appeared a little awkward for the Confederates, but, taking into careful consideration the position of the Union army on the Stafford side, the former appeared the less faulty of the two. Defence behind the Anna would have been stronger, but the advantage of the enemy's attack would also have been enhanced there. Then, too, anticipation of the effect of surprising the enemy in their intended surprise had some influence in favor of Fredericksburg.

The Burnside march was somewhat of the Horace Greeley “On-to-richmond” nolens-volens style, which, if allowed to run on long enough, sometimes gains headway that is troublesome.

General Sumner reached Falmouth on the 17th, and proposed to cross, but his advance was met and forced back by Colonel Ball's command.

I rode with the leading division for Fredericksburg, and was on the heights on the 19th. My Headquarters were there when General Sumner called upon the civil authorities to surrender the city by the following communication:

Headquarters Army of the Potomac, November 21, 1862.
Mayor and Common Council of Fredericksburg: Gentlemen,--
2 Under cover of the houses of your city shots have been fired upon the troops of my command. Your mills [294] and manufactories are furnishing provisions and the material for clothing for armed bodies in rebellion against the government of the United States. Your railroads and other means of transportation are removing supplies to the depots of such troops. This condition of things must terminate, and, by direction of General Burnside, I accordingly demand the surrender of the city into my hands, as the representative of the government of the United States, at or before five o'clock this afternoon.

Failing an affirmative reply to this demand by the hour indicated, sixteen hours will be permitted to elapse for the removal from the city of women and children, the sick and wounded and aged, etc., which period having expired, I shall proceed to shell the town. Upon obtaining possession of the city, every necessary means will be taken to preserve order and secure the protective operation of the laws and policy of the United States government.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant, E. V. Sumner, Bvt. Maj.-Gen. U. S. Army, commanding Right Grand--Division.

The officers who received the call, by consent of General Patrick, who delivered it, referred the paper to my Headquarters. I asked the civil authorities to reply that the city would not be used for the purposes complained of; but that neither the town nor the south side of the river could be occupied by the Union army except by force of arms.

General Sumner ordered two batteries into position commanding the town, but in a few hours received the following reply from the mayor:

Mayor's Office, Fredericksburg, November 21, 1862.
Brevet Major-General E. V. Sumner, Commanding U. S. Army: Sir,--
I have received, at 4.40 o'clock this afternoon, your communication of this date. In it you state that, under cover of the houses of this town, shots have been fired upon the troops of your command; that our mills and manufactories are furnishing provisions and the material for clothing for armed bodies in [295] rebellion against the government of the United States; that our railroads and other means of transportation are removing supplies to the depots of such troops; that this condition of things must terminate; that, by command of Major-General Burnside, you demand the surrender of this town into your hands, as the representative of the government of the United States, at or before five o'clock this afternoon; that, failing an affirmative reply to this demand by the time indicated, sixteen hours will be permitted to elapse for the removal from the town of the women and children, the sick, wounded, and aged, which period having elapsed, you will proceed to shell the town.

In reply I have to say that this communication did not reach me in time to convene the Council for its consideration, and to furnish a reply by the hour indicated (five P. M.). It was sent to me through the hands of the commanding officer of the Confederate States near this town, to whom it was first delivered, by consent of General Patrick, who bore it from you, as I am informed, and I am authorized by the commander of the Confederate army to say that there was no delay in passing it through his hands to me.

In regard to the matters complained of by you, the firing of shot upon your troops occurred upon the northern suburbs of the town, and was the act of the military officer commanding the Confederate forces near here, for which matter (neither) the citizens nor civil authorities of this town are responsible. In regard to the other matters of complaint, I am authorized by the latter officer to say that the condition of things therein complained of shall no longer exist; that your troops shall not be fired on from this town; that the mills and manufactories here will not furnish any further supplies of provisions or material for clothing for the Confederate troops, nor will the railroads or other means of transportation here convey supplies from the town to the depots of said troops.

Outside of the town the civil authorities of Fredericksburg have no control, but I am assured by the military authorities of the Confederate army near here that nothing will be done by them to infringe the conditions herein named as to matters within the town. But the latter authorities inform us that, while their troops will not occupy the town, they will not permit yours to do so.

You must be aware that there will not be more than three or four hours of daylight within the sixteen hours given by you for the removal of the sick and wounded, the women and children, [296] the aged and infirm, from this place; and I have to inform you that, while there is no railroad transportation accessible to the town, because of the interruption thereof by your batteries, all other means of transportation within the town are so limited as to render the removal of the classes of persons spoken of within the time indicated as an utter impossibility.

I have convened the Council, which will remain in session awaiting any further communications you may have to make.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant, M. Slaughter, Mayor.

To this General Sumner responded the same day,--

Mayor and Common Council of Fredericksburg, Va.:
Your letter of this afternoon is at hand, and, in consideration of your pledges that the acts complained of shall cease, and that your town shall not be occupied by any of the enemy's forces, and your assertion that a lack of transportation renders it impossible to remove the women, children, sick, wounded, and aged, I am authorized to say to you that our batteries will not open upon your town at the hour designated.

General Patrick will meet a committee or representative from your town to-morrow morning, at nine o'clock, at the Lacy House.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant, E. V. Sumner, Brevet Major-General, U. S. Army, Commanding Division.

As the inference from the correspondence was that the shelling was only postponed, the people were advised to move with their valuables to some place of safety as soon as possible. Without complaint, those who could, packed their precious effects and moved beyond reach of the threatened storm, but many preferred to remain and encounter the dangers rather than to leave their homes and valuables. The fortitude with which they bore their trials quickened the minds of the soldiers who were there to defend them. One train leaving with women and children was fired upon, making some confusion and dismay among them, but the two or three shells did no other mischief, and the firing ceased.

1 See organization of the army appended to account of the battle of Fredericksburg.

2 Rebellion Record, vol. XXI. part i. p. 783.

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