No battle of the war saw more troops on the field than the Battle of Fredericksburg.
Although greatly outnumbered, Lee’s army was ready for the fight. Union artillery pounded Fredericksburg for over two hours, the first time a commander ordered a large-scale city bombardment during the war.
Fires broke out, buildings fell to the ground, and Union troops entered the town. A soldier from Pennsylvania later wrote:
“The town was all ransacked. Books, chairs and every kind of furniture was lying on the streets.”
But General Barksdale’s Mississippians emerged from the rubble and met the Yankees in house-to-house fighting.
Meanwhile, in another area of the fighting, Marye’s Heights, the Rebels had made themselves nearly impregnable. Confederate Lt. Colonel Alexander detailed the preparations to General Longstreet this way:
“General, we cover that ground now so well that we will comb it as with a fine-tooth comb. A chicken could not live on that field when we open on it.”
But the Federals assailed the Heights with courage and vigor, wave after wave of men. It was while watching his men beat back one attack after another that Robert E. Lee made the famous statement:
“It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.”
Lee later congratulated his men on their victory, and worked to raise donations from his men to help the citizens recover from the assault.