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HE operations of Sunday morning, in common with
many of our battles, furnish scarcely more than a narrative of isolated combats, having more or less remote or immediate effect upon each other.
The difficulty of the ground over which our armies were constantly called upon to manœuvre, explains “why the numerous bloody battles fought between the armies of the Union and of the secessionists should have been so indecisive. A proper understanding of the country, too, will help to relieve the Americans from the charge, so frequently made at home and abroad, of want of generalship in handling troops in battle, — battles that had to be fought out hand to hand in forests, where artillery and cavalry could play no part; where the troops could not be seen by those controlling their movements; where the echoes and reverberations of sound from tree to tree were enough to appall the strongest hearts engaged, and yet the noise would often be scarcely heard beyond the immediate scene of strife. Thus the generals on either side, shut out from sight and from hearing, had to trust to the unyielding bravery of their men till couriers from the different parts of the field, often extending for miles, brought word which way the conflict was resulting, before sending the needed support. We should not wonder that such battles often terminated from the mutual exhaustion of both contending forces, but rather, that, in all these struggles of Americans against Americans, no panic on either side gave victory to the other, like that which the French under Moreau gained over the Austrians in the Black Forest.” (Warren.)
The Confederates had their general plan of action, viz., to drive their opponents from the Chancellor House, in order to re-unite their right and left wings, and to obtain possession of the direct road to Fredericksburg, where lay Early and Barksdale. To accomplish this end, they attacked the centre of Hooker's army, — the right centre particularly, — which blocked their way towards both objects.
It had been no difficult task to divine their purpose. Indeed, it is abundantly shown that Hooker understood it, in his testimony already quoted. But, if he needed evidence of the enemy's plans, he had acquired full knowledge, shortly after dawn, that the bulk of Stuart's corps was still confronting Sickles and Williams, where they had fought the evening before ; and that Anderson and McLaws had not materially changed their position in front of Geary and Hancock. He could have ascertained, by an early morning reconnoissance, (indeed, his corps-commanders did so on their own responsibility,) that there was no enemy whatsoever confronting his right and left flanks, where three corps, the First, Fifth, and
Eleventh, lay chafing with eagerness to engage the foe. And the obvious thing to do was to leave a curtain of troops to hold these flanks, which were protected by almost insuperable natural obstacles, as well as formidable intrenchments, and hold the superfluous troops well in hand, as a central reserve, in the vicinity of headquarters, to be launched against the attacking columns of the enemy, wherever occasion demanded.
Hooker still had in line at Chancellorsville, counting out his losses of Saturday, over eighty-five thousand men. Lee had not exceeding half the number. musket borne by the Army of Northern Virginia was put to good use; every round of ammunition was made to tell its story. On the other hand, of the effective of the Army of the Potomac, barely a quarter was fought au fond, while at least one-half the force for duty was given no opportunity to burn a cartridge, to aid in checking the onset of the elated champions of the South.
Almost any course would have been preferable to Hooker's inertness. There was a variety of opportune diversions to make. Reynolds, with his fresh and eager corps, held the new right, protected in his front by Hunting Run. It would have been easy at any time to project a strong column from his front, and take Stuart's line of battle in reverse. Indeed, a short march of three miles by the Ely's Ford, Haden's Ford, and Greenwood Gold Mines roads, none of which were held by the enemy, would have enabled Reynolds to strike Stuart in rear of his left flank, or seize Dowdall's clearing by a coup de main, and absolutely negative all Stuart's efforts in front
of Fairview. Or an advance through the forest would have accomplished the same end. To be sure, the ground was difficult, and cut up by many brooks and ravines; but such ground had been, in this campaign, no obstacle to the Confederates. Nor would it have been to Reynolds, had he been given orders to execute such a maneu
Gen. Doubleday states in his testimony: “ The action raged with the greatest fury near us on our left.” “I thought that the simple advance of our corps would take the enemy in flank, and would be very beneficial in its results. Gen. Reynolds once or twice contemplated making this advance on his own responsibility. Col. Stone made a reconnoissance, showing it to be practicable."
The same thing applies to the Eleventh and portions of the Fifth Corps on the left. A heavy column could have been despatched by the Mine and River roads to attack McLaws's right flank. Barely three miles would have sufficed, over good roads, to bring such a column into operating distance of McLaws. It may be said that the Eleventh Corps was not fit for such work, after its defeat of Saturday night. But testimony is abundant to show that the corps was fully able to do good service early on Sunday morning, and eager to wipe off the stain with which its flight from Dowdall's had blotted its new and cherished colors. But, if Hooker was apprehensive of trusting these men so soon again, he could scarcely deem them incapable of holding the intrenchments; and this left Meade available for the work proposed.
Instead, then, of relying upon the material ready to his hand, Hooker conceived that his salvation lay in the efforts of his flying wing under Sedgwick, some fifteen miles away. He fain would call on Hercules instead of putting his own shoulder to the wheel. His calculations were that Sedgwick, whom he supposed to be at Franklin's and Pollock's crossings, three or four miles below Fredericksburg, could mobilize his corps, pass the river, capture the heights, where in December a few Southern brigades had held the entire Army of the Potomac at bay, march a dozen miles, and fall upon Lee's rear, all in the brief space of four or five hours. And it was this plan he chose to put into execution, deeming others equal to the performance of impossibilities, while himself could not compass the easiest problems under his own eye.
To measure the work thus cut out for Sedgwick, by the rule of the performances of the wing immediately commanded by Gen. Hooker, would be but fair. But Sedgwick's execution of his orders must stand on its own merits. And his movements are fully detailed elsewhere.
An excuse often urged in palliation of Hooker's sluggishness, is that he was on Sunday morning severely disabled. Hooker was standing, between nine and ten A.M., on the porch of the Chancellor House, listening to the heavy firing at the Fairview crest, when a shell struck and dislodged one of the pillars beside him, which toppled over, struck and stunned him; and he was doubtless for a couple of hours incapacitated for work.
But the accident was of no great moment. Hooker does not appear to have entirely turned over the command to Couch, his superior corps-commander, but to have