The Forecast over Fredericksburg
In mid November 1862, Major General Ambrose Burnside gathered his mighty army along the Rappahannock River opposite the colonial city of Fredericksburg. As pontoon bridges were patiently being waited on, Robert E. Lee's forces began collecting along the high ground behind the town and placing units in and along the river banks, occupying Fredericksburg itself.
Major General Edwin Sumner, now commanding the Right Grand Division under the new organization of the Army of the Potomac, had gotten fed up with being harassed by Confederate Troops in and along the city itself, and opened up communications with Mayor Montgomery Slaughter and his city council on November 21st.
He emphatically warned their city was not to be used to harbor belligerent troops who now have fired on his own men from the houses and mills along the river, he thus called for the surrender of Fredericksburg itself before five o'clock that afternoon allowing the citizenry sixteen hours thereafter to evacuate before his artillery opened up on the streets and buildings now catering to the enemies of the government.
The message was sent through the Provost Marshal's Office under a flag of truce and delivered to the mayor by Major G. Moxley Sorrel. Delivered at 4:40 pm however, it was too late for the official to gather the city council together, so he attempted to answer on his own authority with advice from the army itself. He reassured Sumner that the harassing fire was most certainly done by the military forces occupying and not of the citizenry; this was promised to be stopped immediately. With the Confederates already occupying the town, there was no possible way that they would give it up that the Federal Army could move in. This demand of Sumner's was unacceptable.
With such little time the mayor could not evacuate the town of civilians so he requested more time be granted for that purpose. Finding Brigadier General Marsena Patrick awaiting word in a guard house along the Rappahannock River, his words were sent back reaching both Generals Sumner and Burnside.
The following day, Mayor Slaughter departed with a hand picked delegation to meet with the Grand Division Commander who granted the city a stay from the bombardment to evacuate the non combatants. In granting another day of peace, trains were allowed to enter and leave the city for the purpose of getting the citizens of the town out.
During the course of the evacuation one federal battery had violated the cease fire all but for a short time before ordered to halt. It was just enough to shake things up where apologies were sent across the river for the mistake.
The threat was one no civil authority wished his constituents to experience, where no difference was seen between soldier and civilian. Although a hero for saving the population from the practical nature of war first hand, Mayor Slaughter's Fredericksburg would soon suffer the consequences of its geographical locale as Robert E. Lee's Army crowned the hills beyond, offering a silent invitation for the Army of the Potomac to cross over.
Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff. He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at email@example.com