The Army of the Potomac had pushed Robert E. Lee’s army out of Maryland in September 1862 after the Battle of Antietam, but President Lincoln and his War Department wanted the army to continue going after the Army of Northern Virginia after it retreated back into Virginia. When George B. McClellan refused to do it, Lincoln fired him and installed Ambrose E. Burnside as the new commander. Burnside, who didn’t believe himself capable of commanding the Army of the Potomac, only took the job because he was told Fighting Joe Hooker would get the spot if he refused.
With Washington urging Burnside to advance against Lee, Burnside launched an ill fated operation across the Rappahannock River near Fredericksburg in December 1862. From December 12-13, Burnside struggled to get his army across the river while it was under fire from Confederates in Fredericksburg. Things only got worse on the day of the battle. With the Union’s left unable to dislodge Stonewall Jackson’s troops on the Confederates’ right flank, Burnside’s army conducted piecemeal charges against well fortified Confederate positions on Marye’s Heights just outside of Fredericksburg. As the Northern troops were slaughtered time and again on the heights, Lee turned to Corps commander James Longstreet and said, “It is good that war is so terrible; otherwise we would grow too fond of it.”
As Northern soldiers laid freezing on the field that night, the Northern Lights made a rare appearance. Southern soldiers interpreted it as a favorable sign from God and mentioned them frequently in their diaries, while Northern soldiers who saw something far less divine sparsely mentioned them.
Before all of the generals relived the Battle of Fredericksburg in their memoirs, they wrote official accounts of the battle to their superiors, and these accounts were preserved in the Official Records. This collection includes 7 accounts of the battle from prominent Confederate generals, including Commander Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, James Longstreet, John Bell Hood, Joseph Kershaw, Cadmus Wilcox, and Lafayette McLaws. It is specially formatted with a Table of Contents for each general’s account, and pictures of the generals who fought in it.