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Col. William H. Sinclair Union Army
11 to 15 December 1862
US President A. Lincoln appointed General Ambrose Burnside on 7 November
1862. Burnside launched a winter campaign against the Rebel capital,
Richmond, by way of Fredericksburg, on the Rappahannock River. The 115,000
man Union Army of the Potomac, arrived at Fredericksburg, 17 November .
There were only a few thousand Confederates on hand to challenge them, yet
the Federal advance ground to a halt on the eastern bank of the
Rappahannock, opposite the city. Burnside's campaign was delayed for over a
week when material he had ordered for pontoon bridges failed to arrive.
Burnside waited a two more weeks. General Robert E. Lee used the time to
concentrate and entrench his 78,000 man Army of Northern Virginia.
With the arrival of the pontoons, Burnside crossed the river on11 December
, despite fierce fire from Confederate snipers concealed in buildings along
the city's river front. When the Rebels withdrew, Union soldiers looted the
town. 13 December Burnside was prepared to launch a two-pronged attack to
drive Lee's forces from an imposing set of hills just outside
The main assault struck south of the city. Misunderstandings and bungled
leadership on the part of the commander of the Federal left, Major General
William B. Franklin, limited the attacking force to two small divisions -
Major General George G. Meade to lead; Major General John Gibbon in support.
Meade's troops broke through an unguarded gap in the Rebel lines, but
Jackson's men expelled the unsupported Federals, inflicting heavy losses.
One officer stood out in the battle he was Col. William Sinclair Sixth
Regiment Third Brigade.
After the Battle Meade wrote, "The reports of the brigade commanders,
herewith submitted, are referred to for details not contained in this
My thanks are due Col. William Sinclair, Sixth Regiment, and Col. A. L.
Magilton, Fourth Regiment, for the manner in which they handled their
commands. To Colonel Sinclair particularly, who had command of the advance
during the whole day, and who was severely wounded, I desire to express my
obligations for the assistance rendered me."
GEO. G. MEADE, Major-General, Commanding Division.
Burnside launched his second attack from Fredericksburg against the
Confederate left on Marye's Heights. Wave after wave of Federal attackers
were mown down by Confederate troops firing from an unassailable position in
a sunken road protected by a stone wall. Over the course of the afternoon,
no fewer than fourteen successive Federal brigades charged the wall of
Confederate fire. Not a single Federal soldier reached Longstreet's line.
On 15 December , Burnside ordered his beaten army back across the
Rappahannock. The Union had lost 13,000 soldiers the Rebels less than 5,000.
Union morale plummeted, and Burnside was striped of his command. The
morale of the Confederacy peaked. Lee's victory at Fredericksburg
increased the already buoyant confidence of the Army of Northern Virginia,
which led subsequently to the invasion of the North the following summer.
Sinclair was wounded at Fredericksburg but he went on to a distinguished
Military career and
"Who Was the Real Head of the Texas Freedmen's Bureau?: The Role of Brevet
Colonel William H. Sinclair as Acting Assistant Inspector General," by
William L. Richter, pp. 121-156
ABSTRACT: Sinclair served as Acting Assistant Inspector General of the
Freedmen's Bureau from 1865-1868. His duties included overseeing the
actions of the field officers of the Bureau, many of whom he replaced.
Sinclair had several supervisors, but they rarely knew enough to make a
difference, and they usually followed Sinclair's recommendations."
The battle it is well documented. Col. William H. Sinclair retired from
the field wounded the drive stalled. Mead wrote "Does he(Burnside) expect
to take Lee's whole
Army with 4,500 men?"
Ref The Atlas of the Civil War, James M. McPherson
Military History of the Southwest Volume 20 (Fall 1990), No. 2
Bates History of the Pennsylvania volunteers
O'Reilly, Frank A. "Busted Up and Gone To Hell": The
Assault of the Pennsylvania Reserves at Fredericksburg, Civil
War Regiments: A Journal of the American Civil War. Volume
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