MG Hancock’s Division at the Battle of Fredericksburg
Introduction of the battle of Fredericksburg
Fredericksburg was the meeting place of the Armies of the Potomac and of Northern Virginia because of political pressure for the Union to achieve a decisive military victory. Winfield Scott’s Anaconda plan, which would have strangled the Confederacy into surrender through economic warfare, was overshadowed by impatience in Washington D.C., and by the aspirations of officers who were students of the grand Napoleonic victories that occurred less than a century prior.
President Abraham Lincoln demanded a decisive victory. He was tired of his military leadership’s inability to decisively engage and defeat Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Allowing the war to drag on was to the Confederacies advantage. Lincoln was so frustrated that he relieved General George B. McClellan for failing to defeat Lee at Antietam, and replaced him with General Ambrose Burnside, who proved to be very conservative in battle against General Lee. Knowing that General Lee was a student of Napoleonic warfare, Burnside feared that Lee always had a large Corps in reserve waiting to flank should he be decisively engaged from the front.
A Brief Background of Hancock and his Chain of Command
Major General Winfield Scott Hancock was a member of the West Point Class of 1844. He was commissioned into the infantry and served in the Mexican War. Prior to the battle of Fredericksburg, Hancock had earned a great reputation as a combat leader for his actions in the peninsular campaign.
General Hancock’s first line supervisor was Major General Darius N. Couch, who was the commander of the Second Corps. Major General Couch’s Second Corps fell under General Edwin V. Sumner’s Right Grand Division, a part of the Army of the Potomac, which was commanded by Major General Burnside
Burnside had recently replaced Major General McClelland, who was fired by President Lincoln for timidly avoiding a decisive engagement with Robert E. Lee. Sumner was one of the Few Division commanders that Burnside could trust. He suspected Hooker and Franklin of having aspirations to command the Army of the Potomac. General Sumner was a reliable subordinate commander. He was said by Historian William Marvel to be, “known more for his persistence than for his brilliance” Hancock was a division commander and his division consisted of three brigades. His brigade commanders were Samuel Zook, Thomas Meagher and John Caldwell.
Where Hancock’s division fit on the battlefield
The Right Grand Division
The Right Grand Division, commanded by General Sumner, was ordered to move through the city of Fredericksburg and conduct a frontal assault on Robert E. Lee’s position at Marye’s Heights. Marye’s Heights was a key terrain feature because the artillery battery that occupied the hill had the ability to dominate the city. Because General Burnside waited until the morning of the thirteenth to cross the Rappahannock River, Lee...