As the sun slowly broke the horizon on Saturday, December 13, 1862,
the Southerners along the heights west of town watched for any movement from their much larger blue-clad foes. William Owen of the
Confederate Washington Artillery would describe what he could not yet see that cold, fateful day. "At dawn the next morning,
December 13th, in the fresh and nipping air, I stepped upon the gallery overlooking the heights back of the little old-fashioned town
of Fredericksburg. Heavy fog and mist hid the whole plain between the heights and the Rappahannock, but under cover of that fog and
within easy cannon-shot lay Burnside's army. Along the heights, to the right and left of where I was standing, extending a length of
nearly five miles, lay Lee's army."
Major General Burnside's original plan of attack would include the hope that his forces on the left would break Stonewall Jackson's
lines along Prospect Hill, the Confederate right flank. The threat to the Confederate right would then, at least on paper, allow the
Union forces a greater likelihood of success assaulting the more protected positions on the Confederate left at Marye's Heights. In
the foreground in the image to the right, you can see what remains of the lunettes
and earthworks now covered in the tall grass but originally constructed to cover and protect the 2nd Corps' men. In the distance,
you can see the line of trees behind which Major General George Gordon Meade penetrated Jackson's line. A pyramid commemorating
the battle is just barely visible to the right in the break in the trees. Characteristically, when confronted by a subordinates
worries, Jackson responded, "Major, my men may sometimes fail to take a position, but to defend one, never! I am glad the
Yankees are coming!"
And as they came, Jackson's artillery wreaked havoc on the lines of blue, yet could not stop them from penetrating the woods to their
According to the Fredericksburg Park staff, this part of the field as viewed from the
old Richmond Stage Road, present day Route 2 (Business Route 17), is the only remaining part along this section
of the former battlefield that resembles its 1862 appearance. As is the case with the town proper,
much of this area is now developed and the sacred fields gone forever. It was over these fields that
Union Major General George Gordon Meade marched his division onward towards a collision
with Jackson's men along the ridge beyond the trees. As General Meade would later write,
"The plateau on our side was level and cultivated ground up to the crest of the hollow, where
there was quite a fall to the railroad. The enemy occupied the wooded heights, the line of railroad,
and the wood in front. Owing to the wood, nothing could be seen of them, while all our movements on
the cleared ground were exposed to their view."
Click here for a view of the woods where
General Meade's men flirted with the only potential Union success on this day.