Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

All Fall Down

             Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Spotsylvania, the Wilderness.

          If these names don’t mean anything to you, or they are too difficult to pronounce, then you are seriously lacking in your knowledge of the Civil War.

          This past week my sister Joy and I drove from our brother John’s home in northern Virginia down to Fredericksburg. Why this town? Because there were five significant battles in and around the Fredericksburg area from 1862 - 1864.

It’s easy enough to get to Fredericksburg. Just jump on Interstate 95 and head south. Joy and I rolled into this community of some thirty thousand people and immediately began looking for the various battlefields which are part of the National Park System. We headed west on Route 3 until we ran into the Chancellorsville Battlefield. Interestingly, this was the home of Francis Chancellor. At best Chancellorsville was a hamlet, made up mostly of the Chancellor family and slaves. Previously, the homestead was an inn.

What made this region of Virginia so important was its location. It was nearly half-way between Washington DC and Richmond. Gen Lee needed to retain control of the Fredericksburg area in order to continue to protect Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy.

“During the Civil War, Fredericksburg gained strategic importance due to its location midway between Washington and Richmond, the opposing capitals of the Union and the Confederacy. During the Battle of Fredericksburg, December 11–15, 1862, the town sustained significant damage from bombardment and looting by the Union forces. A Second Battle of Fredericksburg was fought in and around the town on May 3, 1863, in connection with the Chancellorsville campaign (April 27, 1863 – May 6, 1863). The battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House were fought nearby in May 1864.”

Union forces numbered 134,000 going up against Confederate forces mustering a paltry 61,000. With better than a two-to-one advantage, three separate Union commanders brilliantly bungled there opportunity to deal the Confederacy, and General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia (as it was known then) a severe blow that may well have ended this horrific war in short order. Lee took advantage of every misstep by the Union command (known early on as the Army of the Potomac). However, the cost of this encounter at Chancellorsville came at a high price. Lee’s army sustained 13,303 killed, wounded and captured/missing. Union forces sustained heavier losses numbering 17,197 killed, wounded, or captured/missing. Lee lost one man for every five he began with, whereas the Union forces lost one man for every eight. This war of attrition would ultimately weaken the Confederate Army to the point that they could barely put an army in the field by the time Lee surrendered to Grant.

The other great loss for the Confederacy, despite sending the boys in blue scurrying back to the safety and security of Washington DC, was the death of Lee’s “strong right arm” in the person of Lieutenant General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. Lee was beside himself when he was brought the news that Jackson had been killed. Compounding the loss was the fact that a unit from North Carolina fired on Jackson and his small cadre of aids, hitting the general three times. The North Carolinians can’t be faulted for it was dark, just shortly after nine o’clock. They had orders to fire into a sector where only the enemy was expected to show. Jackson was doing reconnaissance of the area and had failed to notify the troops up and down the line of his presence. As he was being removed from the field where he was shot, the four soldiers carrying him in a make-shift cot up on their shoulders came under attack. One of the soldiers was wounded and dropped his end causing the general to fall to the ground. Before he was safely removed, this incident happened a second time causing the general to fall on his wounded shoulder, possibly tearing an artery which brought about profuse bleeding. A week later he died, primarily from an advanced case of pneumonia. Jackson was of such stellar Christian character that Lee despaired in finding a replacement that could even come close to the type of godly man that was “Stonewall” Jackson.

The war dragged on, with the vast majority of the fighting taking place in the Southern states. Eventually, President Lincoln finally secured a commander for his Union Army with the nerve and guts to take the fight to the Confederacy. That man was General Ulysses S. Grant.

Private Charles W. Sherman, 12th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, perhaps summed it up best, when he wrote home (spelling is his), “I do wish this Cruell War would come to an end, for this goin about to Kill one another has a unchristian look to me, when you come to look at it in that light, but it has to be don, I sopose.” Written October 15, 1863. He was killed in the Battle of Cedar Creek, October 19, 1864.

Our freedoms as Americans have come at a heavy price.

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