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From Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville

From Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville

In late 1862, General Ambrose Burnside, who had had some success at Roanoke Island and New Bern, North Carolina, replaced McClellan as commander of the Army of the Potomac. Burnside devised a plan to go around Robert E. Lee and on to Richmond by crossing the Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg. For many of the recently recruited nine-month and three-year New Jersey regiments, including the Twenty-fourth, Twenty-fifth, and Twenty-eight, the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 13 would be their first experience of warfare. By the end of the day, the Union army, unable to break through the Confederate defenses, had suffered one of the worst defeats of the war. The defeat caused low morale in the army and at home, and dissatisfaction with Burnside, who was replaced by Joseph Hooker in January 1863. In May, Hooker made another attempt to cross the Rappahannock upstream from Fredericksburg, in what became known as the Chancellorsville campaign.

Letter, Francis Butler to Reverend W.H. Hornblower, January 14, 1863.

Francis Butler of Paterson was a Presbyterian minister and chaplain of the Twenty-fifth New Jersey Volunteers, which suffered grievous losses at Fredericksburg. Soldiers often communicated what they experienced through drawings. The futility of the Fredericksburg endeavor is apparent from Francis Butler’s effort seen in this letter to Rev. William H. Hornblower of Paterson. Butler himself died of wounds received at Suffolk, Virginia on May 4, 1863.

Portrait of Lt. Colonel McAllister and Charley.

Although Robert McAllister (1813-1891) was born and raised in Pennsylvania, the outbreak of the Civil War found him involved in the construction of railroad tunnels through the Oxford hills of Warren County. Leaving the conduct of this business to a partner, he entered the service as a lieutenant-colonel in the First New Jersey Volunteers. He remained with the First Regiment until July 1862, when Governor Olden appointed him colonel of the newly-formed Eleventh Regiment. Eventually McAllister rose to brigade command, receiving permanent charge of the Second New Jersey Brigade in 1864. He was promoted to major-general in March 1865. McAllister was one of the very few men who participated in almost all of the pitched battles of the Army of Potomac.

Letter, Robert McAllister to Ellen McAllister, December 17, 1862.

Robert McAllister wrote detailed letters to his wife Ellen and daughters Harriet and Sarah. The letters, many of which were later published, were donated to Rutgers in 1963. McAllister had strong opinions on military strategy and sometimes disagreed with his commanders, although he tried to be respectful. Here he describes the aftermath of the Fredericksburg fiasco: "To go and take those hights [sic] would be to sacrifice too much life. I am satisfied that it would cost us 50,000 lives. It is positively stated that we have already lost 10,000 men…I am not prepared to praise or condemn those in command. Time will tell us all. I am proud of my regiment. It is all that I could ask; a braver set of men I don’t want. It is a real fighting regiment."


Civil War-era kepi (cap) probably worn by Robert McAllister.

[Sergeant Smith]. Drawing. Camp of the 11th N.J. Volunteers, Fitzhugh Farm, near Falmouth, Virginia, March 1863.

Record of Service for Israel Ward. Army and Navy Record Co., 1883.

Israel Ward served from August 1862 to July 1863 in Company A of the 28th New Jersey Volunteers. He presented this piece (c. 1883) to his family in May 1911.