Four Key Civil War battles raged in and around Fredericksburg. They marked both the peak of the Confederacy's attempt to secede and the beginning of the end for the Southern cause. Gen. Robert E. Lee's dramatic victory at Chancellorsville propelled the South to its highest point and on to Gettysburg. A year later, Lee's stand in the Wilderness marked the beginning of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's relentless march to Richmond.
The Battle of Fredericksburg Dec. 11 - 15, 1862
Union forces under Gen. Ambrose Burnside attacked Lee's entrenchments at Marye's Heights and three miles to the south at Prospect Hill. Most of the fighting was at Sunken Road, as Confederate artillery rained down and Confederate soldiers lined up behind the stone wall to fire on the charging Union soldiers. It was almost a massacre—the Union lost 12,500 soldiers; Confederates lost fewer than half as many. It was this battle that prompted Lee to remark, "It is well that war is so terrible, [else] we should grow too fond of it!"
The Battle of Chancellorsville April 27 - May 6, 1863
Lee won his greatest victory here but lost his ace commander, Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson. Gen. Joseph Hooker's Union soldiers outnumbered the Confederates 130,000 to 60,000. Hooker aimed to pin the Confederates down in Fredericksburg and swing around to attack their rear. Lee, however, rushed most of his soldiers to defend his flank in Spotsylvania County. The armies clashed beyond Chancellorsville. There, Jackson led 25,000 men in a surprise assault on the Union's right flank on May 2. Jackson, however, was shot by his own men during the dark and confusion after the assault. He was taken by ambulance to Guinea Station in Caroline County and died there May 10. In key fighting around Salem Church on May 3Ð4, Confederate forces kept Union soldiers in Fredericksburg from reinforcing Hooker. Union troops retreated over the Rappahannock River on May 6. The two sides lost about 30,000 men in the fighting.
The Battle of the Wilderness May 5 - 7, 1864
By the spring of 1864, the Union was in control and Lee was trying simply to stop Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's advantage to Richmond. Lee, seeking a tactical advantage, decided to fight the larger and better-equipped Union army in the tangled woods of the Wilderness in eastern Orange County and Spotsylvania. Grant engaged the Confederates for two days in the Wilderness, and 182,000 men fought in woods often set afire by bullets. The fighting yielded no clear victor, but Grant refused to retreat back across the Rappahannock.
The Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse---May 8 - 21, 1864
From the Wilderness, both armies raced to Spotsylvania Courthouse for control of key roads to Richmond. The Southerners arrived first and dug in for a battle. The fighting continued for 14 days. The bloodiest clash came on May 12, when Union forces overran Confederate earthworks about two miles from the courthouse at what became known as the "Bloody Angle." For some 20 hours, soldiers fought hand-to-hand. Afterward, Grant continued his push south.