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The Fredericksburg Campaign: Winter War on…

The Fredericksburg Campaign: Winter War on the Rappahannock (2003)

by Francis Augustin O'Reilly

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Wedged between the battles of Antietam and Chancellorsville, the battle of Fredericksburg, a forerunner of the slaughter of WWI, has received comparatively little attention. O'Reilly's treatment is a major step towards a better understanding of the battle and campaign. The author devotes considerable space to the ineptly prepared and managed river crossings and the southern battle pitting A.P. Hill vs. Meade.

Ambrose Burnside led the Army of the Potomac for a scant eighty days. Hurried into a campaign, Burnside neglected to change the command structure (which had clearly failed at Antietam, the tardy Burnside himself one of the chief culprits) and provide the necessary resources (pontoon trains). It remains a puzzle why Burnside abdictated his control during the battle and a tragedy that none of the grand divison or corps commanders stepped in. The overwhelming northern superiority in numbers was transformed into a tactical inferiority when the Northern attacks were restricted to piecemeal two brigade fronts at most. Overstaffed and underled, even usually good commanders such as John Reynolds frittered away their attention in the placing of batteries instead of coordinating and providing support. On the Southern side, Jackson's generalship and that of his divisional officers was mediocre at best. Brigade commanders were left alone to tackle the Federals. Only the Northern ineptitude of attacking without support averted a major disaster.

While O'Reilly excels in recreating the battle and the calvary of the poor Northern soldiers (ably supported by good maps), he seldom offers a discussion of the tactical possibilities and decisions which prevents the work from attaining true greatness. Nevertheless, it is the best study of Fredericksburg currently available. ( )
  jcbrunner | Apr 15, 2007 |
While there are a number of fairly recent works on the market dealing with this stepchild of a battle, O'Reilly does bring a different slant to the topic. In the first place, the title of the book does indicate a desire to treat the whole of Burnside's tenure of command as the unit of study, meaning there is some emphasis on the political pressures that lead to a winter campaign being undertaken in 1862. Two, O'Reilly does not see the doomed waves of Union infantry trying to storm the fortifications overlooking Fredericksburg, the traditional dominant motif of this battle, as being the prime element of interest. Instead, the author spends as much time on the river crossing and fighting in Fredericksburg proper, and on Meade's near-successful assault on Jackson's corps as being of rather more relevance. Finally, there is a consideration of what this battle meant for future expectations, in terms of building up the Confederate sense of mastery and inculcating in the Army of the Potomac the need to even the score. ( )
  Shrike58 | Jan 3, 2006 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0807131547, Paperback)

The battle at Fredericksburg, Virginia, in December 1862 involved hundreds of thousands of men; produced staggering, unequal casualties (13,000 Federal soldiers compared to 4,500 Confederates); ruined the career of Ambrose E. Burnside; embarrassed Abraham Lincoln; and distinguished Robert E. Lee as one of the greatest military strategists of his era. Francis Augustín O’Reilly draws upon his intimate knowledge of the battlegrounds to discuss the unprecedented nature of Fredericksburg’s warfare. Lauded for its vivid description, trenchant analysis, and meticulous research, his award-winning book makes for compulsive reading.

AUTHOR BIO: Francis Augustín O’Reilly is also the author of Stonewall Jackson at Fredericksburg: The Battle of Prospect Hill. He has written numerous articles on the Civil War and conducts extensive battlefield studies and tours throughout Virginia. He lives in Woodford, Virginia.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:59:31 -0400)

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