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Robert McNamara

Newspaper Sunday: The Battle of Fredericksburg

By December 9, 2012

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The Battle of Fredericksburg, fought in Virginia on December 13, 1862, marked a grim end to the second year of the Civil War. Northerners had been hoping for a fast end to the war, especially following the great carnage of Antietam in September 1862.

When General Ambrose Burnside led his troops against Robert E. Lee's Confederates at Fredericksburg, all such optimism faded. The battle quickly turned into a fiasco for the federals. Casualties were shockingly heavy, and it was obvious that the war's slaughter would continue into 1863.

The news of the Battle of Fredericksburg provided a solemn backdrop to the Christmas season 150 years ago. This week in Newspaper Sunday we look at some of that coverage.

Note: The links below lead to excerpt pages at the Chronicling America archive at the Library of Congress. After accessing those pages, you can use the "persistent link" on the page to view the full page of the newspaper.

  • New York Tribune, December 12, 1862: On the day before the great battle, the New York Tribune published generally optimistic accounts which anticipated an impending Union victory.
  • New York Tribune, December 15, 1862: Two days after the battle, the front page of the New York Tribune was devoted to grim accounts of the action, including a description of the city of Fredericksburg. By comparison, said the newspaper's correspondent, Sharpsburg had been "comely and pleasant" after the slaughter at Antietam.
  • Washington National Republican, December 15, 1862: A Washington newspaper reported that a Union officer at a hotel had "told some pretty hard stories of the reverses of our troops in the battle of Saturday." The newspaper expressed skepticism, but the officer's stories may have been quite accurate.
  • Cleveland Morning Leader, December 18, 1862: Days after the battle, a headline stating "Rebel Works Almost Impregnable" was a reference to the folly of the Union advance against Confederate fortifications.
  • New York Tribune, January 17, 1863: The Irish Brigade had been devastated at Fredericksburg. In a sad postscript to the battle, a requiem mass for the dead of the brigade was held at St. Patrick's Cathedral on Mott Street in New York City the following month.


Photograph: General Ambrose Burnside/Library of Congress

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