"I had supposed they were just preparing for battle, and was saving our men for the conflict. Their hosts crown the hill and plain beyond the river, and their numbers to me are unknown. Still I felt the confidence we could stand the shock, and was anxious for the blow that is to fall on some point, and was prepared to meet it here. Yesterday evening I had my suspicions that they might return during the night, but could not believe they would relinquish their hopes after all their boasting and preparation, and when I say that the latter is equal to the former you will have some idea of the magnitude. This morning they were all safe on the north side of the Rappahannock. They went as they came--in the night. They suffered heavily as far as the battle went, but it did not go far enough to satisfy me. Our loss was comparatively slight, and I think will not exceed two thousand. The contest will have now to be renewed, but on what field I cannot say."
I did not see my father at any time during the fighting. some days after it was all over, I saw him, as calm and composed as if nothing unusual had happened, and he never referred to his great victory, except to deplore the loss of his brave officers and soldiers or the sufferings of the sick and wounded. He repeatedly referred to the hardships so bravely endured by the inhabitants of Fredericksburg, who had been obliged to flee from the town, the women and children, the old and the feeble, whose sufferings cut him to the heart. On Christmas Day he writes to his youngest daughter, Mildred, who was at school in North Carolina:
"...I cannot tell you how I long to see you when a little quiet occurs. My thoughts revert to you, your sisters, and your mother; my heart aches for our reunion. Your brothers I see occasionally. This morning Fitzhugh rode by with his young aide-de-camp (Rob) at the head of his brigade, on his way up the Rappahannock. You must study hard, gain knowledge, and learn your duty to God and your neighbour: that is the great object of life. I have no news, confined constantly to camp, and my thoughts occupied with its necessities and duties. I am, however, happy in the knowledge that General Burnside and army will not eat their promised Christmas dinner in Richmond to-day."
On the next day he writes as follows to his daughter Agnes, who was with her mother in Richmond:
"Camp Fredericksburg, December 26, 1862.
"My Precious Little Agnes: I have not heard of you for a long time. I wish you were with me, for always solitary, I am sometimes weary, and long for the reunion of my family once again. But I will not speak of myself, but of you.... I have seen the ladies in this vicinity only when flying from the enemy, and it caused me acute grief to witness their exposure and suffering. But a more noble spirit was never displayed anywhere. The faces of old and young were wreathed with smiles, and glowed with happiness at their sacrifices for the good of their country. Many have lost EVERYTHING. What the fire and shells of the enemy spared, their pillagers destroyed. But God will shelter them, I know. So much heroism will not be unregarded. I can only hold oral communication with your sister [His daughter Mary, in King George county, within the lines of the enemy], and have forbidden the scouts to bring any writing, and have taken some back that I had given them for her. If caught, it would compromise them. They only convey messages. I learn in that way she is well.
I give another letter he wrote on Christmas Day, besides the one quoted above, to his daughter, Mildred. It was written to his wife, and is interesting as giving an insight into his private feelings and views regarding this great victory:
"...I will commence this holy day by writing to you. My heart is filled with gratitude to Almighty God for His unspeakable mercies with which He has blessed us in this day, for those He has granted us from the beginning of life, and particularly for those He has vouchsafed us during the past year. What should have become of us without His crowning help and protection? Oh, if our people would only recognise it and cease from vain self-boasting and adulation, how strong would be my belief in final success and happiness to our country! But what a cruel thing is war; to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbours, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world! I pray that, on this day when only peace and good-will are preached to mankind, better thoughts may fill the hearts of our enemies and turn them to peace. Our army was never in such good health and condition since I have been attached to it. I believe they share with me my disappointment that the enemy did not renew the combat on the 13th. I was holding back all day and husbanding our strength and ammunition for the great struggle, for which I thought I was preparing. Had I divined that was to have been his only effort, he would have had more of it. My heart bleeds at the death of every one of our gallant men."