At Ease: From Fredericksburg to Gettysburg
Fredericksburg vs. Gettysburg
The armies started the Pennsylvania Campaign of 1863 from the Central Virginia area, and some actually began their route of march from Fredericksburg. Many of the units fought at the Battles of Fredericksburg and Gettysburg, and some of the troops made comparisons between the battles.
Since the 158th Anniversary of Gettysburg was just last week, we thought it might be interesting to look at a few historic moments and comparisons. George Meade was the center of both battles while Edward Alexander noted changes in Confederate artillery tactics and regimental officers experienced Marye's Heights and Pickett's Charge.
Meade at Fredericksburg & Gettysburg
General George G. Meade and his division broke the Confederate lines at Fredericksburg after moving across the land now called Slaughter Pen Farm. Low, swampy ground which the Confederates had thought uncrossable provided a breakthrough point for Meade’s men of the I Corps and forced Confederate General “Stonewall” Jackson to rush troops to fill the break and undefended point. Meade furiously realized that other Union troops would not come to his assistance and gradually the Confederates regained the ground and pushed the Federal attackers into retreat. It was a frustrating and brief moment of victory on December 13, 1862.
During the Battle of Chancellorsville (May 1863), Meade commanded the V Corps in the Army of the Potomac and was forced into reserve for most of that fight. Meade strongly advocated to go on the offensive and attack Lee throughout the campaign and battle, but his advice was not accepted.
As the Army of the Potomac chased after the Confederate army in June 1863, following them toward Pennsylvania and trying to protectively block, the army commander—General Joseph Hooker—decided to resign after regular resentment and squabbles with President Lincoln and others in the government or war department. Lincoln selected Meade to take command of the army, and he found out about the decision on June 28, 1863.
With the Confederates spread out in Pennsylvania and his own army strung out on roads in Virginia and Maryland, Meade faced a critical situation. Coming up through the ranks gave him some insights into the character of his corps commanders and he relied on them and their judgment in the opening hours of the Battle of Gettysburg.
Meade missed most of the July 1st battle, but placed troops and launched defensive counterattacks on the following day. That evening Meade called his corps commanders in a council of war to see if they thought they should stay and fight another day. He took the advice, and the Army of the Potomac stayed on their high ground on July 3, 1863. That afternoon during the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble Charge, Confederate troops briefly broke through the Union lines on Cemetery Ridge after crossing nearly a mile of open ground. Union reinforcements rushed into The Angle and turned back the unsupported attack.
At Fredericksburg and Gettysburg, George Meade was the center of two battle breakthrough moments. In December, his troops were on the offensive, and in July, he held defensive lines. Both times impacted the battle. The first by changing the strategy by holding out hope and prompting more “diversionary” attacks at Marye’s Heights. The second by commanding the Army of the Potomac at one of the decisive battles of the war as his troops ultimately held and reformed their lines at Gettysburg.
However, Meade did not quickly pursue the Confederate army after Gettysburg and maneuvered without another decisive battle in the autumn of 1863. He stayed in command of the Army of the Potomac through the end of the war, fighting the Overland Campaign, Petersburg Siege, and Appomattox Pursuit, and Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant accompanied his army in the final year of the war.
Artillery Positions Change
Edward Porter Alexander debated if Gettysburg was the big turning, dramatic turning point, but he did note a particular change in Confederate artillery tactics after that 1863 fight. Artillery took more sheltered, entrenched positions. Something that had been unique for them at Fredericksburg, became the norm and evidence of that is still marked into the land in Central Virginia.
"I do not entirely agree in the opinion that it was the crisis of the war.... [But] I can tell no more of swift & fierce assaults, crowned with brilliant success, as on that glorious Sunday morning at Chancellorsville; or of prolonged struggles, like those of Gettysburg, whose desperation is told in the bloody list of casualties. The future fights are principally, now, to be of the Fredericksburg type, where the guns were protected, as far as possible, & saved for use against the enemy's infantry..."
(Fighting for the Confederacy by Edward Porter Alexander)
Soldiers on both sides compared the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble Charge at Gettysburg to attacks on Marye's Heights at Fredericksburg. Learn more in our newest short video...
Central Virginia Battlefields Trust's mission is to preserve, protect, and educate about Civil War hallowed ground at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, The Wilderness, and Spotsylvania.