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Thus again a golden opportunity
slipped away unimproved.

Naturally each side claimed a victory at Antietam or Sharpsburg, as it
is called in the South, but such a claim in either case is hardly
justifiable. It may be said, on the one hand, that Lee's invasion of the
North was brought to a disastrous end by his check at Antietam, but the
claim of Lee was that his failure to secure the expected recruits from
Maryland, and his distance from the base of supplies, necessitated such
a withdrawal on his part, for it is established that he was opposed to
the northward advance from the first.

On the other hand, he had received a serious check, but his army
remained intact and was as well prepared as ever to contest the campaign
against Richmond, a campaign which had to be pushed to a successful
conclusion before the war could end. The one grand opportunity of
General McClellan's life was presented to him at the close of the battle
of Antietam, and, failing to seize it, it never came again, and his
military career ended with failure.

Antietam was, in comparison to numbers engaged, the bloodiest battle of
the Civil War. The Union loss was 2,108 killed; 9,549 wounded; 753
missing; total, 12,410. The Confederate loss was 1,886 killed; 9,348
wounded; 1,367 captured and missing; total, 12,601.

The government was insistent that McClellan should push his advance
against Richmond, but the favorable autumn wore away and the wet season
arrived before a plan of campaign was formulated. This was to cross the
Blue Ridge Mountains from Harper's Ferry, following the southeastern
side of the range, leaving detachments to guard all the passes, and thus
threaten the Confederate communications in the Shenandoah Valley.


McCLELLAN SUPERSEDED BY BURNSIDE.

Accordingly, on the 25th of October, the Army of the Potomac once more
faced toward the Confederate capital. In the course of a week, it held
the whole region southwest of the Blue Ridge and was near the army of
General Lee, who fell back, cautiously followed at a safe distance by
the Union commander. On the night of November 7th, while McClellan was
talking in his tent with Burnside, a messenger arrived from Washington
with an official order, relieving McClellan of the command of the Army
of the Potomac and appointing Burnside as his successor. McClellan
promptly turned over the care of the army to him, and, as directed,
proceeded to Trenton, N.J., to await further orders.

It may be added that General McClellan never served again in the army.
He resigned in 1864, and was nominated the same year for President of
the United States, but received only 21 electoral votes. He was
Democratic governor of New Jersey 1878-1881, and died at his home in
Orange, N.J., October 29, 1885.

Burnside, although a fine corps commander, was not qualified to command
the splendid body over which he was thus placed. He devoted a number of
days to acquainting himself with his vastly enlarged duties. The six
corps were united into three divisions of two corps each, Sumner
commanding the right, Hooker the centre, and Franklin the left, while
General Sigel had charge of a body of reserve.

After consulting with General Halleck, it was decided that the Army of
the Potomac should make a rapid march down the Rappahannock, cross by
pontoon-bridges at Fredericksburg, and then advance upon Richmond by way
of Hanover Court-House.

Everything depended upon initiating the movement before it was
discovered by the enemy, but the delays, which perhaps were unavoidable,
revealed the truth to Lee. When Sumner's division reached a point
opposite Fredericksburg they saw the Confederates on the other side
awaiting them. Still the force was so meagre that Sumner wished to cross
and crush it, but Burnside would not permit. The delay gave Lee time to
bring up his whole army and make his position impregnable. He stationed
a battery some miles below the town to prevent any Union gunboats coming
up stream, while every ford was closely guarded.

Burnside faltered before the position that was like a mountain wall, but
the North was clamorous for something to be done, and he decided to make
the hopeless attack. One hundred and forty-seven cannon were posted, on
the night of December 10th, so as to command the town and cover the
crossing of the river. Unable to prevent this, Lee made his preparations
to annihilate the Unionists after they had crossed.


UNION DISASTER AT FREDERICKSBURG.

In the face of a brisk fire, a force was sent over the river and
occupied the town, while Franklin laid his bridges two miles below and
crossed without trouble. When the cold, foggy morning of December 13th
broke, the whole Army of the Potomac was on the southern shore and the
Confederate army was on the heights behind Fredericksburg.

As the fog had cleared to some extent, General Franklin advanced against
the Confederate right, but, misunderstanding Burnside's order, he made
only a feint. Fighting was kept up throughout the day, and once General
Meade forced a gap in the enemy's line, but he was not reinforced, and
was driven back with severe loss.

The attack on the right having failed, Sumner threw himself against the
left. This required the seizure of Marye's Hill, and was hopeless from
the first. As the Union troops emerged from the town they were in fair
range of an appalling fire that mowed down scores. Still they pressed on
with a courage that could not be surpassed until one-half lay dead and
dying, when the rest staggered backward out of the furnace-blast of
death. The gallant Hancock gathered up the fragments of the shattered
line, and, uniting them with his own men, numbering 5,000 in all, he led
a charge, which in a brief while stretched 2,000 dead or wounded. Still
the survivors held their ground and were joined by others, who fell so
fast that it was soon evident that every man would be killed. Then
grimly remarking, "I guess we have had enough killed to satisfy
Burnside," Hancock ordered the brave fellows to fall back.

Burnside was frantic over the repeated failures. He was determined that
the heights should be carried, and ordered Hooker, his only remaining
general, to do it. Hooker went across with his three divisions, made a
careful reconnoissance, and saw that to carry out the command meant the
massacre of all his troops. He returned to Burnside and begged him to
recall his order. He refused, and Hooker attempted to obey, leading
4,000 of as brave men as ever shouldered a musket; but before they could
reach the stone wall 1,700 lay helpless on the icy earth and the
remainder fled.

Had not night been at hand, Burnside would have ordered another charge
and sacrificed hundreds of more lives, but he concluded to let the men
live until the next morning. Already 1,200 had been killed, almost
10,000 wounded, and several thousand were missing. The commanders
gathered around Burnside and insisted that the army should be brought
across the river before it was annihilated, but he refused. He was
resolved on sacrificing several thousand more under the ghastly name of
a "charge." At last, however, he became more reasonable and listened to
his officers. Perhaps the shrieks of the wounded, who lay for two days
and nights where they had fallen without help, produced some effect in
awaking him to a sense of his horrible blundering and incompetency, for,
when the bleak, dismal morning dawned, the intended "charge" was not
ordered. The Army of the Potomac had been wounded so well-nigh unto
death that it could not stand another similar blow.

[Illustration: LATEST MODEL OF GATLING GUN.]

On the cold, rainy night of December 15th, the wretched forces tramped
back over the river on the pontoon-bridges, having suffered the worst
defeat in the army's whole history. It was in the power of Lee to
destroy it utterly, but it slipped away from him, just as it had
slipped away from McClellan after the battle of Antietam.

The Union losses at Fredericksburg were: Killed, 1,284; wounded, 9,600;
missing, 1,769; total, 12,653. The Confederate losses were: Killed, 596;
wounded, 4,068; captured and missing, 651. Total, 5,315.


SUMMARY OF THE YEAR'S OPERATIONS.

The eventful year had been one of terrible fighting. It had opened with
the Union successes of Forts Henry and Donelson, followed by Pea Ridge,
Pittsburg Landing, and Corinth in the West, the naval battle between the
_Merrimac_ and _Monitor_, the capture of Roanoke Island and of New
Orleans. Bragg's invasion of Kentucky was injurious to the Union cause,
while, as we have seen, the campaign against Richmond had been a series
of disastrous failures. Still, taken as a whole, the year showed a
decisive step forward. The Union line had been advanced across the State
of Tennessee, substantial progress had been made in opening the
Mississippi, and the blockade was enforced with a rigidity that caused
great distress in the Confederacy.

Both sides felt the terrific strain of the war. The Confederacy in April
passed a conscription act, which made all able-bodied males between the
ages of eighteen and thirty-five years soldiers for the war. All such
were taken from the control of the State of which they were residents
and placed at the disposal of President Davis until the close of the
war. This conscription act was soon made much more severe in its
provisions.


THE CONFEDERATE PRIVATEERS.

One source of help to the Confederacy was her privateers, which wrought
immense damage to northern shipping. England assisted in fitting them
out. Despite the protests of Minister Adams, many of these were allowed
to put to sea. One of the first was the _Oreto_, afterward known as the
_Florida_. She succeeded in eluding the blockade at Mobile, through
flying the British flag, delivered her valuable freight, received her
armament, and came forth again in the latter part of December and began
her wholesale destruction of American merchantmen.

The privateer _Sumter_ was driven into Gibraltar, and so closely watched
by the _Tuscarora_ that Captain Semmes, her commander, sold her, and
made his way to England, where the English built for him the most famous
privateer the Confederacy ever had--the _Alabama_--of which much more
will be told further on.


THE EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION.

The national government had learned by this time the full measurement
of the gigantic task before it.



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