How could any experienced general—North or South—have made such a calamitous error as Burnside at the Battle of Fredericksburg?

Battle of Fredericksburg Read more from
Chapter From Antietam to Chancellorsville: September 1862 to May 1863

The answer is not as difficult or complicated as we might think. The men and women of Civil War times lived right on the cusp of great technological changes, but they did not always recognize them. Sometimes it was younger men who recognized the importance of the new equipment and technologies. General Burnside clearly did not.

Just fifteen years earlier, during the Mexican War, many Mexican positions had been carried by daring United States assaults: Lee had been one of the instrumental scouts in the campaign that resulted in the capture of Mexico City. The Mexican army had been well behind the technological curve, however, and that curve had greatly accelerated in the fifteen years since. Therefore, by 1862 it was nearly suicidal to make a frontal assault against men strongly entrenched, but there were still commanders who would take the risk, mistakenly believing that the valor of their men would prevail. Something very similar would happen in the First World War, when the generals of numerous armies simply would not believe that the machine gun had outdated their style of warfare.


This is a web preview of the "The Handy Civil War Book" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App