In 1862 Americans were fighting each other; there was the Civil War between Northern and Southern states. The North was mainly represented by industrial states and the Southern slave states were focused on agricultural production. The majority of people working on plantations were slaves.
In the 1860 presidential election, Republicans, led by Abraham Lincoln, opposed the expansion of slavery into US territories. Eleven Southern slave states individually declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America, known as the “Confederacy”.
The War was entering into its second year. Southern and Northern armies were situated on the opposite banks of Rappahannock River. The Union Army was commanded by Major General Ambrose Burnside, whose plan was to cross the Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg and race to the Confederate capital of Richmond before Southern army could stop him. Bureaucratic delays prevented Burnside from receiving the necessary pontoon bridges in time and operational surprise was lost. The Northern army had to suspend its attack.
The two armies remained stalemated across from one another not far from Fredericksburg. The Union army was waiting the pontoon bridges to be built and the Confederate army wanted to prevent the Union army from crossing the river.
As happens so often in such situations, Union and Confederate troops who patrolled their respective side of the river came to know and befriend each other. While soldiers sat on picket duty across from their enemy, they sang songs, shared jokes, and shouted to one another. As this behaviour became accepted, soldiers sent sailboats across with coffee in exchange for tobacco and vice versa. Newspapers were also a hot commodity for exchange.
As one officer from the Confederate Army remembers: “the enemy’s orchestra drawn our attention; it was playing their national melodies and some melodies we used to listen. It seemed they were expecting our answer, but we kept silence. And suddenly they played Dixie, the Confederacy anthem. Both armies applauded to it loudly”.
To fight boredom, the Confederates played games such as baseball and held boxing matches along the riverbank with the Union troops serving as spectators and cheerleaders. This idyllic peace was not to last—on December 11, Union forces crossed the river and engaged the Confederates in what would become one of the bloodiest battles in the Civil War, the Battle of Fredericksburg.
In the Battle of Fredericksburg the Union army suffered heavy losses, around 13 thousand casualties. Two Union generals were mortally wounded: Brig. Gens. George D. Bayard and Conrad F. Jackson. The Confederate army lost 5 thousand people. Confederate Brig. Gens. Maxcy Gregg and T. R. R. Cobb were both mortally wounded.
The casualties sustained by each army showed clearly how disastrous the war was. Citizens of Northern and Southern states talked about the necessity of reaching agreement. However, the war lasted for three more years and ended in May 1865.
The American Civil War became the bloodiest in US history. After four years of combat that left over 360,000 Union and 275,000 Confederate soldiers dead, the Confederacy collapsed and slavery was abolished.