This week 150 years ago in the Civil War, James A. Seddon was appointed war secretary of the Confederacy on Nov. 20, 1862, and would hold the post until January 1865, shortly before the rebellion began to crumble.
Seddon was the longest in the position, a successful lawyer praised for his diplomatic tact and for reining in disparate factions within the secessionist states. Though a strong advocate of secession, he was a member of an 1861 peace convention held in Washington, D.C., in a bid to stave off the gathering war clouds. Wartime shortages in the South of foodstuffs that sparked the deadly 1863 bread riot in Richmond prompted Seddon to call on the Virginia press not to publish accounts of the rioting. But word got out about that and other riots in the South despite his concerns the news would embolden the enemy and weaken the home front morale. Seddon would face an immediate challenge. Days before his appointment, the new commander of the Union Army of the Potomac, Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside, sent a small fighting force to take up positions east of Fredericksburg, Va. The move would prompt alarm in Fredericksburg and the evacuation of women and children there.
The Associated Press reported that the Confederates immediately began to strengthen and extend stout earthen works defending Fredericksburg. In coming weeks, tens of thousands of Union soldiers would stream toward that city as Burnside would open a bloody but ultimately failed offensive in mid-December 1862. Confederate Robert E. Lee vowed, informed of the Union troops near Fredericksburg, vowed in press reports to thwart any enemy incursion deeper into Virginia by fighting to the "last extremity."