New Union Commander Ambrose E. Burnside saw the capture of Fredericksburg as the gateway to moving on Richmond, the Confederate capital, but his bold plan was betrayed by poor logistics. Delays in the shipment of pontoons to bridge the Rappahannock River allowed Robert E. Lee to assemble his defending forces on the heights above Fredericksburg. Confederate sharpshooters then picked off Union engineers attempting to erect the bridges on 11–12 December. Nevertheless, the Union forces managed to construct five bridgeheads, and cleared and occupied the town. On the morning of 13 December, the Union forces attacked. General George V. Meade’s main assault to the south made an initial breakthrough, seizing a section of railroad, but he received limited support and was forced to retreat. An intended diversionary attack, launched from the town on Marye’s Heights, suffered massive casualties. By day’s end, the Union offensive had clearly failed: in the aftermath, Burnside was swiftly relieved of his command.
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