Friday, May 3, 2013

Civil War News: General Sedgwick Captures Fredericksburg, Virginia

One of several telegraphic dispatches sent from the front on May 3, 1863, said, “Two miles below Fredericksburg, Sunday morning… Fredericksburg is occupied by the troops of Cocoran’s and Olds’ brigade and the troops of Newton’s division. … A pontoon bridge has been thrown across the river at Fredericksburg, and men are passing to and fro.”

That morning, Union forces under General John Sedgwick had moved into the town on the south bank of the Rappahannock River. They had then driven Confederate troops led by General Jubal Early off Marye's Heights, southwest of the town. Sedgwick next headed west towards Chancellorsville. There, the main Union army, under General Joseph Hooker, was engaged in a desperate battle with forces led by General Robert E. Lee.
Union Troops Near Fredericksburg, 1863. Library of Congress.

These dispatches appeared in the San Francisco newspapers a couple days after the event, and in Portland less than a week after that. Men in the gold fields followed such news with interest, and much partisan fervor. The “Blue-Gray” divide would be a significant factor in Idaho politics for at least a quarter century.

As a matter of further interest, Sedgwick’s triumph was short-lived. His flanking pressure could not redeem the incompetence of his commander. By the time the news about capturing Fredericksburg reached Portland, the town was back in Confederate hands and the defeated Union forces had retreated across the Rappahannock.

References: [Brit]
“Fredericksburg Taken and Occupied,” The Oregonian, Portland (May 11, 1863).
James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, Oxford University Press, USA, New York (1988).

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