President Lincoln finally lost patience with General McClellan and he was relieved or his command in November 1862, to be replaced by General Burnside. Lincoln had won the November election but not in a spectacular manner and he blamed the lack of any Unionist victory for this.
November 2nd: Grant started his campaign against Vicksburg. However, he faced a major problem in that his lines of communication were too extended and he needed to ‘drop off’ troops along his route to defend them. This meant that his force was weakened the nearer Grant got to Vicksburg.
November 4th: US mid-term elections. Lincoln’s Republicans lost 22 seats in Congress – largely because of the unpopularity of the civil war, rising inflation and high taxes – while the Democrats picked up 28 extra seats. Plans to abolish slavery, the Emancipation Proclamation (issued in September 1862, two months before the elections, although it didn’t come into effect until 1 Jan 1863), also divided some voters, all in all leading to an unsuccessful mid-term for Lincoln and the Republicans.
November 5th: The blame for the government’s poor showing in the election was blamed on McClellan and his lack of action. A decision was made to replace him.
November 7th: McClellan had placed his army less than ten miles from Lee’s army. Lee’s force was split in two and McClellan was confident that he could deal a mortal blow against the Confederacy. However, at the same time as he was finalising his plan of attack, he received two messages.
The first stated: “By direction of the President of the United States, it is ordered that Major General McClellan be relieved from the command of the Army of the Potomac, and that Major General Burnside take command of the army. By order of the Secretary of War.”
The second from General Halleck stated: “General; on receipt of the order of the President, sent herewith, you will immediately turn over your command to Major General Burnside, and repair to Trenton, New Jersey, reporting on your arrival in that place, by telegraph, for further orders.”
November 8th: General Butler was also relieved of his command of New Orleans. General Banks replaced him. No one was quite sure why Butler was replaced but it is thought that the political hierarchy in the capital believed that he was using his command to boost his own wealth.
November 9th: General Burnside officially took control of the Army of the Potomac. McClellan left the following day.
November 11th: Burnside immediately changed McClellan’s plan of attack. He believed capturing Richmond was more important than taking on Lee’s army. Burnside therefore ordered the Army of the Potomac to Richmond via Fredericksburg. He probably lost the best opportunity the North had of dealing the South a knockout blow by failing to take advantage of Lee’s army that was still spilt in two.
November 14th: Burnside announced that he had reorganised the Army of the Potomac into three “Grand Divisions”. Each Division was assigned its own commander and tasked to defend either the left or right flanks or the centre of Burnside’s force.
November 15th: The newly reorganised Army of the Potomac started its march on Fredericksburg. The army marched away from where Lee had based his army. There was logic in Burnside’s strategy. By marching on Fredericksburg, his army was still close enough to Washington DC to protect the capital. He could also use the Potomac River to bring up supplies to his men via Acquia Creek. Richmond was also only 75 miles from Fredericksburg.
November 17th: An advance force of Burnside’s men reached the outskirts of Fredericksburg but could not cross the Rappahannock River to get into the town because they had no pontoons with them. The Unionists swiftly dealt with a brief Confederate artillery bombardment, which indicated to them that the town was poorly defended. However, Burnside had ordered that no Unionist unit could enter Fredericksburg until suitable communication lines had been established. This gave Lee the opportunity and time to send two divisions to the town.
November 20th: General Lee arrived in Fredericksburg.
November 21st: Burnside called on the mayor to surrender Fredericksburg. This was refused and non-combatants were sent from the town.
November 23rd: Bridging equipment finally arrived at Fredericksburg to allow the North to cross the Rappahannock River but in the course of five days, the Confederate force in the town had done a great deal to fortify it. Any attempted crossing would be fraught with difficulties.
November 27th: President Lincoln visited Burnside at his headquarters. Whereas Lincoln had despaired at McClellan’s lack of urgency, he expressed his reservations to Burnside about his commander’s desire to launch an attack against a well dug-in enemy while having to cross a river. However, Burnside was not willing to change his plan.
November 30th: ‘Stonewall’ Jackson arrived with his men at Fredericksburg bringing the total number of Confederate soldiers in the town to 80,000.