President Lincoln Seeks Reasons for General Burnside’s Withdrawal

December 16, 1862

General Henry W. Halleck telegraphs General Ambrose Burnside; “The President desires that you report the reasons of your withdrawal as soon as possible. In response to a Ambrose Burnside writes Halleck the following day:

I have the honor to offer the following reasons for moving the Army of the Potomac across the Rappahannock sooner than was anticipated by the President, Secretary, or yourself, and for crossing at a point different from the one indicated to you at our last meeting at the President’s.

During my preparations for crossing at the place I had at first selected, I discovered that the enemy had thrown a large portion of his force down the river and elsewhere, thus weakening his defenses in front; and also thought I discovered that he did not anticipate the crossing of our whole force at Fredericksburg; and I hoped by rapidly throwing the whole command over at that place, to separate, by a vigorous attack, the forces of the enemy on the river below from the forces behind and on the crests in the rear of the town, in which case we should fight him with great advantages in our favor.

To do this we had to gain a height on the extreme right of the crest, which height commanded a new road, lately built by the enemy for purposes of more rapid communication along his lines; which point gained, his positions along the crest would have been scarcely tenable, and he could have been driven from them easily by attack on his front, in connection with a movement in rear of the crest.

How near we came to accomplishing our object future reports will show.  But for the fog and unexpected and unavoidable delay in building the bridges, which gave the enemy twenty-four hours more to concentrate his forces in his strong positions, we would almost certainly have succeeded; in which case the battle would have been, in my opinion, far more decisive than if we had crossed at the places first selected.

As it was, we came very near success.  Failing in accomplishing the main object, we remained in order of battle two days – long enough to decide that the enemy would not come out of his strongholds and fight us with his infantry.  After which we recrossed to this side of the river unmolested, and without he loss of men or property.

Halleck biographer Curt Anders noted: “Unlike McClellan, General Burnside did not try to disclaim to disclaim blame for the tragic outcome or to shift it to anyone else: “The fact that I decided to move from Warrenton onto this line rather against the opinion of the President, Secretary, and yourself, and that you have left the whole management in my hands, without giving me orders, makes the more responsible.”

Responding to a request from General Henry Sibley in Minnesota, President Lincoln telegraphs: “ As you suggest, let the executions [of 39 Indians] fixed for Friday, the nineteenth (19th.) instant, be postponed to, and be done on, Friday the twentysixth (26th.) instant.”

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Published in: on December 16, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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