Lee’s Position E-43

Historical Marker Text
From this hill (now called Lee’s Hill) a little to the east, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee watched the First Battle of Fredericksburg. As the armies prepared for combat, Lee commented that “It is well that war is so terrible–we should grow too fond of it.” On 13 Dec. 1862, Union Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside ordered an assault against the Confederate position. The Confederates withstood the attack, which lasted until dark, and slaughtered the Federals with artillery and small-arms fire. Two days later the defeated Union army retreated across the Rappahannock River. [2000]

Extended Research
During the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862, Confederate General Robert E. Lee used Telegraph Hill as his command post. Here he consulted with his corps commanders Lieutenant Generals Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson and General James Longstreet, as well as other staff officers. From atop the hill, Lee had a broad view of the surrounding area. Longstreet’s corps was positioned to the south, facing east, and Jackson’s corps composed the army’s right flank, extending to Prospect Hill, about three miles southeast of Telegraph Hill (O’Reilly, “Stonewall,” 132). That morning, divisions of Union Major General John F. Reynolds’s corps positioned themselves along Bowling Green Road, preparing to attack Jackson’s forces. The ensuing battle at Prospect Hill climaxed in the afternoon once Confederate Colonel Edmund N. Atkinson’s brigade charged Union lines. Union Captain George F. Randolph’s cannon responded with vigor, scattering troops and escalating the conflict, and soon both sides had suffered serious losses. The number of fallen soldiers was so severe that the Federals dubbed the area the “Slaughter Pen” (O’Reilly, Fredericksburg, 236). One lieutenant in the Confederate cavalry later wrote that the dead lay “in heaps.” Lee’s Hill-Stackpole 143Lee scanned the scene with binoculars from Telegraph Hill, and the stirring sight prompted him to whisper to Longstreet, “It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it” (237). After the climax and later into the afternoon, the artillery of both sides carried on a long-range duel, “in which luxury,” one Confederate recalled, “the artillery of both armies indulged to their hearts’ content,” and which incurred ever more casualties (237).

Closer to Lee, in town, more carnage was taking place. Brigade after brigade of Union Major General Edwin V. Sumner’s Right Grand Division, advancing on Marye’s Heights, was mowed down by Longstreet’s artillery, positioned upon the heights, and Brigadier General Thomas R.R. Cobb’s infantry, entrenched in the Sunken Road below. That night it was as much as the Union commander Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s subordinates could do to dissuade him from renewing attacks against the heights the following day. On the night of December 15-16, Burnside withdrew the Army of the Potomac back across the Rappahannock, much to Lee’s chagrin, ending the campaign. The Battle of Fredericksburg had been a sobering Union defeat, while bringing no benefits to the Confederates. It had cost the Union 12,600 casualties, and another 5,300 on the Confederate side (Greene).

Photo Credit
Edward J. Stackpole, The Fredericksburg Campaign: Drama on the Rappahannock (Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1991), 143.

For Further Reference

Finfrock, Bradley. Across the Rappahannock. Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, 1994.

Greene, Wilson A. “Battle of Fredericksburg.” National Park Service. http://www.nps.gov/frsp/fredhist.htm (accessed March 14, 2008).

O’Reilly, Francis Augustín. The Fredericksburg Campaign: Winter War on the Rappahannock. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2003.

O’Reilly, Frank A. “Stonewall” Jackson at Fredericksburg: The Battle of Prospect Hill, December 13, 1862. Lynchburg, VA: H. E. Howard, Inc., 1993.

Stackpole, Edward J. The Fredericksburg Campaign: Drama on the Rappahannock. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1991.

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