The Fredericksburg Disaster — The Responsibility Therefor.
The news which we published yesterday and publish to-day from the Rappahannock, is highly creditable to our able generals and gallant troops, but far from honorable to the war department or hopeful for the country. With brilliant deeds of arms, and the most terrific fighting, the enemy is still in possession of his strongholds, and we have failed to dislodge him. Burnside has done all that a skillful commander could do, the subordinate officers have acquitted themselves like heroes, and the rank and file of our army have fought with an obstinacy and a determination almost without a parallel in the history of war. Yet, from the advantages possessed by the enemy, the assault upon his works has been unsuccessful, and thousands of braves haves fallen in vain. The truth may as well be told — the finest army that ever trod the earth, possessing superior arms, large and small, and with all the appliances and resources of war at command, has suffered a decided repulse at the hands of a half naked, half starved, half armed foe.
The easy crossing of the river on Thursday was a suspicious circumstance, which the subsequent events have only too well explained. The rebel general-in-chief saw the advantage of the position which the authorities at Washington threw into his hands, and he made good use of the opportunity. This route to Richmond was the very one which the insurgent chiefs desired our government to select. It abounds with natural difficulties, and the war department has permitted the enemy to add so many artificial obstructions that the campaign in Virginia this winter is likely to prove a failure.
The story of this campaign is the story of the Chickahominy, Harrison's Landing and Antietam repeated. Reinforcements were deliberately and pertinaciously withheld from McClellan previous to the seven days' battles before Richmond, which reinforcements would have placed him in possession of that city in a few days and saved thousands of lives. The same is true of the situation at Harrison's Landing. After the terrible battle of Antietam, which, won by his skill, saved Washington and caused the enemy to retreat over the Potomac, needful supplies were withheld from him, which prevented the rapid pursuit of Lee; and when he was at length in close proximity to the foe, and would have compelled him to fight or abandon Richmond, he was suddenly removed from the command of the army. The strong probability is that, had he been permitted to continue his own course, he would have been in possession of the rebel capital within a week. But he was stripped of his command for political reasons for the imbeciles at Washington, and the base of operations was changed to Aquia creek — a course betraying the same vacillation and blind groping in the dark which had been previously exhibited in the case of McDowell's army. McClellan was ordered to advance by the valley of Virginia towards Gordonsville. The plan is abandoned, and another is substituted which is still worse, and which no military man of ability would have ever recommended. McClellan's own plan was the route of James river — a plan which will probably yet have to be adopted if Richmond is ever taken.
Burnside was appointed McClellan's successor, and was directed to proceed to Falmouth, opposite Fredericksburg. The bridges had been burned down. Instead of having the materials for the repair of the railroad from Aquia creek to Fredericksburg ready, in order for the speedy transportation of supplies, nothing had been done when General Burnside arrived, and, worse still, the pontoons for crossing the river were not there. This red tape neglect was so flagrant as to cause General Burnside himself to repair to Washington to remonstrate with "the posers that be." For ten days their arrival was delayed, which gave the enemy ample time to concentrate his forces and to erect strong fortifications on the hills behind Fredericksburg. Had the pontoons been at hand when Burnside reached Falmouth he would have captured Fredericksburg without a struggle, occupied the heights beyond without any difficulty, and probably would have been in Richmond before now, had a supporting movement at the same time been made on the James river. The ground behind Fredericksburg was then unfortified, and the city was held only by handful of rebels. The delay was fatal; and Lee could ask no greater advantage than the crossing of our army in the face of his works — an army with a river close at its back to out off its retreat in the event of a disastrous defeat, and an enemy before it which could either give battle or safely retreat, according to circumstances. The result is repulse, great loss of life, and probably greater loss in the future. The war department is accountable. The country is thoroughly aroused, and, in view of the direct and fearful responsibilities of the government to the people, we trust Mr. Lincoln (who is accountable for having such a war department,) will lose no time in putting an end to a career of imbecility which is ruining the nation and bringing it into contempt with the civilized world.