Book excerpt -- CW150

Rebel River: A Guide to Civil War Sites on the Potomac, Rappahannock, York, and James by Mark Nesbitt

Rebel River by Mark Nesbitt

Virginia's many rivers were strategic points in the Civil War. Thousands of men had to cross them at a time, whether by boat or pontoon bridge, or, in shallower places, on foot.  Major rivers slowed down--or, in the case of flood, could block movement entirely. Generals placed their supply depots on rivers, and gunboats patrolled the waters, blasting artillery positions as well as enemy strongholds in large plantation houses.

In Mark Nesbitt's Rebel Rivers, readers are treated to an easy-to-follow guide to river sites and their Civil War history. Rebel Rivers, published by Stackpole Books, is available to check out from the library. The author is also the creator of the Ghosts of Gettysburg Candlelight Walking Tours® and the Ghosts of Fredericksburg Tours.

This excerpt is used with the author/copyright holder's permission.

"The Sacking of Fredericksburg"

War So Terrible: A Popular History of the Battle of Fredericksburg, by Donald C.

Excerpt from War So Terrible: A Popular History of the Battle of Fredericksburg, by Donald C. Pfanz, (pp. 44-46)

Donald C. Pfanz is staff historian with Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. He is also the author of Abraham Lincoln at City Point and Richard S. Ewell: A Soldier’s Life.  This chapter is reprinted on CRRL's history site with his permission.

“The Sacking of Fredericksburg”

By the time the fighting ended on Dec. 11, Fredericksburg was desolate.  Fighting in the streets combined with a bombardment by more than 180 cannons had left the venerable old town shattered and ruins.  Those citizens who had not fled Fredericksburg had seen their homes riddled with bullets, shot and shell.

The Smoothbore Volley That Doomed the Confederacy, Chapter 1, by Robert K. Krick

The Smoothbore Volley That Doomed the Confederacy, Chapter 1, by Robert K. Krick

The first eighteen pages of The Smoothbore Volley That Doomed the Confederacy, by Robert K. Krick, are reprinted here with permission from the author and publisher, Louisiana State University Press, which retains all republication rights. Library copies of The Smoothbore Volley are available for check-out.

Nineteen men in two distinct groups rode forward from the coalescing Confederate lines west of Chancellorsville at about 9:00 P.M. on May 2, 1863. Only seven of the nineteen came back untouched, man or horse. Although one of those nearest the offending musket muzzles, Major General A. P. Hill escaped among the unscathed handful. Lieutenant General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, among those farthest from the flash point, was one of the five men killed or mortally wounded. The capricious paths of a few dozen one-ounce lead balls caroming off the dense shrubbery of Spotsylvania’s Wilderness that night had much to do with the course of the Civil War.

From every imaginable perspective, the afternoon of May 2 had been a stunning Confederate success of unprecedented magnitude. Lee and Jackson had crafted between them a dazzling tactical initiative that sent Stonewall covertly all the way across the front of a Federal army that outnumbered the southerners by more than two to one. The redoubtable corps commander managed the remarkable march without serious interruption, arrayed his first two divisions in a wide line, and descended upon the Federals like a thunderbolt. Those northerners who rallied bravely against the tide faced an inexorable outflanking by the outriders of Jackson’s line, who stretched far beyond the center of the attack in both directions. In this fashion Jackson routed one Union corps, trapped another out of the line, and left the others shaky, uncertain, and vulnerable to be stampeded.

The Irrepressible Irish Brigade

Virginia Horse Racing

Wars are filled with days and nights of exhausting, exciting, dangerous encounters. But then there are also the long-term encampments—weeks or months when it seems absolutely nothing is happening. For hundreds of men in the Union’s Irish Brigade, Saint Patrick’s Day of 1863 was an occasion to make merry. They had had dirges enough already.

Only the year before, some of the new recruits had been worried that the war might end before they had a chance to meet the enemy in the field. These sons of Erin were true fighting Irish, and they were spoiling for a donnybrook. What they saw as they marched through the wasted Virginia countryside was sobering, though. The men were away fighting, and many of the slaves had sought refuge with the Federal troops as contraband. Spread before the Army of the Potomac were fields overgrown with brambles, lying unsown. At farmhouses, they met women and children thin with hunger. One soldier remarked that the scene reminded him terribly of famine days in the Old Country. Surely they could whip such an army.