Christina’s Review: Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg! by George C. Rable

FredericksburgFredericksburg! Fredericksburg! by George C. Rable

Published: August 1st 2012 by The University of North Carolina Press
Format/Source: Purchased Paperback
Genre: Nonfiction – History
Pages: 688


During the battle of Gettysburg, as Union troops along Cemetery Ridge rebuffed Pickett’s Charge, they were heard to shout, “Give them Fredericksburg!” Their cries reverberated from a clash that, although fought some six months earlier, clearly loomed large in the minds of Civil War soldiers.

Fought on December 13, 1862, the battle of Fredericksburg ended in a stunning defeat for the Union. Confederate general Robert E. Lee suffered roughly 5,000 casualties but inflicted more than twice that many losses–nearly 13,000–on his opponent, General Ambrose Burnside. As news of the Union loss traveled north, it spread a wave of public despair that extended all the way to President Lincoln. In the beleaguered Confederacy, the southern victory bolstered flagging hopes, as Lee and his men began to take on an aura of invincibility.

George Rable offers a gripping account of the battle of Fredericksburg and places the campaign within its broader political, social, and military context. Blending battlefield and home front history, he not only addresses questions of strategy and tactics but also explores material conditions in camp, the rhythms and disruptions of military life, and the enduring effects of the carnage on survivors–both civilian and military–on both sides.


George C. Rable captures the brutal reality of war in his book Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg! His attention to detail brings the reader back to the winter of 1862 and gives them a taste of what soldiers experienced. Rable’s interpretation of the war is not romanticized – it is the cold and bloody truth taken from soldiers who experienced the camps and battles first-hand.

One of the primary questions the book seeks to address is how the soldiers experiences on and off the battlefield, particularly during the winter of 1862 surrounding the battle of Fredericksburg, influenced military and political actions during the American Civil War. (4) Rable argues the soldiers’ experiences in the camps, including the conditions they lived in and communications with families back at home, had a large effect on soldiers psychologically. In the end, the lives lost and psychological effects left ended in a stalemate on the battlefield at Fredericksburg and appeared to have minimal military advantages compared to the high political consequences, including the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation. (432-433)

Rable does an exceptional job connecting the reader with soldiers’ experiences and emotions at that particular time and location during the Civil War. He was repetitive during the first third of the book as he described the cold, poor quality of clothes, lack of food, disease and other details. This repetitiveness was necessary to convey one of his points: life in the army was not romantic, and the daily exposures were demoralizing at times. The harsh realities of war were taking their toll on soldiers’ emotions before the battle of Fredericksburg. After setting the scene, Rable does an admirable job telling the tales of the battle from the soldiers’ perspectives.

Overall, Rable’s book is a great addition to Civil War histories as it focuses on the costs of war on the battlefield and how it had influences in the political arena. It is a book that de-romanticizes war and captures the harsh realities of soldiers’ everyday lives during the Civil War. I read this book for a Civil War history class, and highly recommend it…


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