Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 36.djvu/33

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Barksdale's Mississippi Brigade at Fredericksburg.

also be said, therefore, that it would be difficult for a commander to commit a blunder which cannot be matched by precedent.

What General Burnside expected to accomplish by taking up position opposite Fredericksburg we do not know, but certainly he did not anticipate such a result as followed. It may be that he expected to cross the river before the arrival of the Confederates, and doubtless could have done so under cover of his 200 cannon when he first reached the scene, because the river was low and fordable, but from prudential reasons, or otherwise, he did not attempt it.

About December 8th the river rose, and he decided to bridge it. During the delay, our forces were actively engaged building earthworks and rifle pits which crowned the heights and surrounding country by the 10th of the month. Burnside, however, made strong demonstrations above and below the city, which necessarily called to each point a part of General Lee's force. Burnside evidently expected to surprise General Lee at Fredericksburg and defeat us before A. P. Hill and Jackson could reach Fredericksburg from their positions above and below the town, but the obstructions in his pathway were sufficient to delay his passage until they were there.

Fredericksburg is not a strategic point. On both sides of the Rappahannock there are hills which run parallel with the river. On the south side there is a valley from 600 to 1,500 yards wide before the hills are reached, while on the north shore the ridges are near the river. Stafford heights on the north side command the city, and also the river, for two miles in each direction. It will, therefore, be understood that the Confederates could not prevent the crossing of Burnside's army, but what they could do and did do, after he had crossed, constitutes a bright page in the world's history. As before stated, Barksdale's Brigade occupied the city and built rifle pits along the outskirts. Lieutenant Colonel John C. Fiser, of the Seventeenth Mississippi, with his own regiment, four companies of the Eighteenth and three or four from the Twenty-first Regiment, occupied the immediate river front as a picket line, where he also dug rifle pits. It was the evident purpose of General Burnside to make his main attack on the city. Major General Lafayette McLaws, with