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Fredericksburg a resounding Southern win? Depends on who you asked at the time, including Robert E. Lee, Virginia scholar tells audience here
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But unbeknownst to the public, Lee himself was deeply unhappy with the outcome, Gallagher said.
Despite the Union bloodshed before Marye's Heights and Prospect Hill, Lee had believed his foes would hurl more assaults at his army's defensive line. He was wary of the Union artillery masses on Stafford Heights, which would punish any Confederate counterattack on the plain toward the river.
Only on the morning of Dec. 16 did he learn that Burnside's forces had secretly re-crossed the Rappahannock River under cover of a rainstorm that dark night.
His reaction, Gallagher said, indicated contempt for an enemy that would shy from battle after mounting less than an all-out attack.
'ALL THEIR BOASTING'
To his wife, Mary, three days after the battle, he wrote: "Yesterday evening I had my suspicions that they might retire during the night, but could not believe they would relinquish their purpose after all their boasting & preparations."
Lee concluded, "They suffered heavily as far as the battle went, but it did not go far enough to satisfy me. The contest will have now to be renewed."
A few weeks later, he wrote Secretary of War James A. Seddon, pressing him to increase the size of the Confederate armies, and warning against complacency.
"The success with which our efforts have been crowned should not betray our people into the dangerous delusion that the armies now in the field are sufficient to bring this war to a successful and speedy termination," he told Seddon.
The secretary's brother John told of a July 1863 conversation with Lee in which the commander said of the battle, "Our people were greatly elated--I was much depressed."
Fredericksburg "accomplished nothing," Lee said: "We had not gained a foot of ground, and I knew the enemy could easily replace the men he had lost. "
UNION EFFORT IN PERIL
And yet, with 12,600 Northern casualties, the battle's impact on Union morale and resolve looked to be enormous. It curbed Burnside's threat to the Confederate capital and traumatized the Northern public and politicians. There was talk of a Cabinet shake-up in Washington, and that President Abraham Lincoln would reconsider issuing his Emancipation Proclamation on New Year's Day.
On Dec. 16, reacting to the news from Fredericksburg, Lincoln said, "If there is a worse place than hell, I am in it."
When Pennsylvania Gov. Andrew Curtin described the battle's "terrible slaughter" to him, Lincoln, in anguish, paced the floor and wrung his hands, asking over and over, "What has God put me in this place for?"
The South could win only by convincing a majority of the North's people that the war wasn't worth the cost, Gallagher said. Lincoln knew that, and so did Lee.
Jeff Davis' words in early January to the crowd outside his home in Richmond spoke to one important outgrowth of the fight.
Fredericksburg cemented Lee as "The Man" of the Confederacy, embodiment of its people's hopes and its military's emboldened leader--quite a turn for someone who'd taken overall command only that June, Gallagher said.
By spring of 1863, the general was "much more important" than President Davis, the professor said.Battlefields Trust: cvbt.org Videos: youtube.com/fredspotnps C-SPAN: bit.ly/cspanFred News coverage: bit.ly/fred150
Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029