A running record of our travels.
Entry for January 2, 2007
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Fredericksburg VA


Yet more Civil War sites today. Battlefields do eventually wear thin and one more day of the famed Civil War Trail in Richmond will do it nicely. What was interesting today was the common theme of stupidity that threads its way through military tactics, particularly prior to 1940. It matters little whether the scene is set in 19th century Virginia or 20th century France and Belgium, the use of infantry in massed frontal assault is beyond comprehension.


On previous trips to the battlefields of northern France, Belgium and Gallipoli we were left stunned by the absolute insanity of the attacks made by many thousands of unprotected troops on highly defended positions. When you see the actual geography of some of these places it becomes simply unbelievable! The ‘Sunken Road’ on the outskirts of Fredericksburg is such a place.


In December 1862, 150,000 Union troops, the Army of the Potomac, attempted to take this strategic town from 78,000 Confederate troops. It might seem on the surface that, on the numbers, the Union forces were on a sure thing. Wrong! Confederate troops, protected by their canon on the ridge behind them, stood behind a simple rock retaining wall beside the ‘Sunken Road’, a shallow road cutting on the main road from Richmond to Washington. With a front of no more than 500 metres, they slaughtered more than 6000 Union Troops; troops who were sent, wave after wave, into withering musket fire and airburst canon shot. The numbers of their fallen comrades littering the way and the swampy unprotected fields they had to cross made their task increasingly difficult as the afternoon went on. Yet their Generals sent them on, not en masse, but small divisions at a time. Historians have never been able to determine why their leader, General Ambrose E Burnside persisted. Perhaps the answer may lie in the fact that the next morning, despite the disaster of the previous afternoon, he requested that he lead his troops again against the Sunken Road defences???


Total casualties on both sides for the battles conducted around Fredericksburg during the Civil War were more than 100,000.


Did military tacticians learn?


On one day during the Battle of the Somme, more than 100,000 casualties were recorded as troops, wave after wave, attacked well-entrenched troops able to apply the withering fire-power of machine guns.


Today, the good citizens of Fredericksburg make the most of these mistakes. The Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania Battlefield Visitors’ Centre sucks in the unwary. The (mostly voluntary) folk who man sites such as these, are unfailingly friendly and full of information, so you stay in the area, check out the centre of the town and spend money in the innumerable antique shops, cafes, restaurants, you name it…  Not so stupid after all?

2007-01-03 01:17:23 GMT
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