Marker Text: Because he had moved too slowly to attack Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan was relieved of his command of the Army of the Potomac by President Abraham Lincoln. McClellan was replaced by Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside. Determined to act boldly, Burnside reorganized his army and marched it to Fredericksburg, where he planned to strike south around Lee's right flank toward Richmond. Delays in crossing the Rappahannock River enabled Lee to confront Burnside there, then defeat him in a bloody battle on 13 Dec. 1862 - a battle neither general had intended to fight.
Location: At the intersection of U.S. Route 29 (Lee Highway) and County Route 605 (Colonial Road/Dumfries Road), on the west side of Lee Highway north of Warrenton, VA. Grouped with marker C-9 (McClellan's Farewell). Erected by the Department of Historic Resources in 1997.
Today's marker is grouped with a related marker at the same location called “McClellan's Farewell,” subject of an earlier post this month. As one commander of the Army of the Potomac says farewell to the army, the same location begins the military plans of the new commander, Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside. Burnside wants to demonstrate to President Abraham Lincoln that he was chosen a capable general, unfortunately as the Battle of Fredericksburg unfolds this would prove false.
Photo taken looking north on U.S. Route 29. Click any photo to enlarge.
In November 1862, President Abraham Lincoln needed to demonstrate the success of the Union war effort before the public lost confidence in his administration. Confederate armies had been on the move earlier in the fall, invading Kentucky and Maryland, and although each had been turned back, the Confederate armies remained intact and capable of further action. Lincoln urged Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant to advance against the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan had stopped Confederate General Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Antietam in Maryland, but had not been able to destroy Lee's army, nor did he pursue Lee back into Virginia aggressively enough for Lincoln.
McClellan's replacement was Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside, the commander of the Ninth Corps. Burnside had established a reputation as an independent commander, with successful operations earlier that year in coastal North Carolina and, unlike McClellan, had no apparent political ambitions. However, he felt himself unqualified for army-level command of such a large force as 120,000 men and objected when offered the position. He accepted only when it was made clear to him that McClellan would be replaced in any event and that an alternative choice for command was Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, whom Burnside disliked and distrusted. Burnside assumed command on November 7, 1862.
Burnside's plan relied on quick movement and deception. He would concentrate his army in a visible fashion near Warrenton (present location of this marker), on the pretense of making movements on Culpeper Court House, Orange Court House, or Gordonsville to the south. Then he would rapidly shift his army southeast and cross the Rappahannock River to Fredericksburg. Burnside hoped Robert E. Lee would sit still, unclear as to Burnside's intentions, while the Union Army made a rapid movement against Richmond, south along the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad from Fredericksburg.
Burnside selected this plan because he was concerned that if he were to move directly south from Warrenton, he would be exposed to a flanking attack from Lt. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, whose Second Corps was at that time in the Shenandoah Valley south of Winchester. He also believed that the Orange and Alexandria Railroad would be an inadequate supply line. Burnside was also influenced by plans McClellan began developing just prior to being relieved.
After submitting his plan, Burnside began assembling a supply base at Falmouth, VA north of Fredericksburg. The Lincoln administration engaged in a lengthy debate about the wisdom of Burnside's plan. President Lincoln preferred a movement south on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad and a direct confrontation with Lee's army instead of focusing on the city of Richmond. Lincoln reluctantly approved the plan on November 14, 1862 but cautioned his general to move with great speed, doubting that Lee would cooperate as Burnside anticipated or be fooled very long.
The Union Army began marching on November 15, 1862 and the first elements arrived in Falmouth, VA on November 17.