Page images

of the general to advance to-morrow. In this event the position of your corps on the south side of the Rappahannock will be as favorable as the general could desire. It is for this reason he desires that your troops may not cross the Rappahannock.

J. H. VAN ALEN, Brigadier-General and Aide-de-Camp.


May 4, 1863, 1.20 P.M. GEN. SEDGWICK,

Commanding Sixth Corps. I expect to advance to-morrow morning, which will be likely to relieve you. You must not count on much assistance without I hear heavy firing. Tell Gen. Benham to put down the other bridge if you desire it.

J. HOOKER, Major-General.

left me.


May 4, 1863, 1.40 P.M. MAJOR-GEN. HOOKER. I occupy the same position as yesterday when Gen. Warren

I have no means of judging enemy's force about me - deserters say forty thousand. I shall take a position near Banks's Ford, and near the Taylor house, at the suggestion of Gen. Warren ; officers have already gone to select a position. It is believed that the heights of Fredericksburg are occupied by two divisions of the enemy.

JOHN SEDGWICK, Major-General.

May 4, 1863. (Hour not stated.) MAJOR-GEN. SEDGWICK,

Banks's Ford, Va. It is of vital importance that you should take a commanding position near Fredericksburg, which you can hold to a certainty till to-morrow. Please advise me what you can do in this respect. I enclose substance of a communication sent last night. Its suggestions are highly important, and meet my full approval. There are positions on your side commanded by our batteries on the other side I think you could take and hold. The general would recommend as one such position the ground on which Dr. Taylor's is situated.


May 4, 1863, 2.15 P.M. GEN. HOOKER.

I shall do my utmost to hold a position on the right bank of the Rappahannock until to-morrow.

John SEDGWICK, Major-General.

Banks's FORD, VA.,

May 4, 1863, 11.50 P.M. (Received 1 A.M., May 5.) GEN. HOOKER,

United States Ford. My army is hemmed in upon the slope, covered by the guns from the north side of Banks's Ford. If I had only this army to care for, I would withdraw it to-night. Do your operations require that I should jeopard it by retaining it here? An immediate reply is indispensable, or I may feel obliged to withdraw.

JOHN SEDGWICK, Major-General.


May 5, 1863. (Received 1 A.M.) GEN. HOOKER.

I shall hold my position as ordered on south of Rappahannock.


May 5, 1863, 1 A.M. (Received 2 A.M.) GEN. SEDGWICK.

Despatch this moment received. Withdraw. Cover the river, and prevent any force crossing. Acknowledge this. By command of Major-Gen. Hooker.


[ocr errors]


May 5, 1863, 1.20 A.M. GEN. SEDGWICK.

Yours received saying you should hold position. Order to withdraw countermanded. Acknowledge both.


Banks's FORD, VA.,

May 5, 1863, 2 P.M. (should be 2 A.M.). MAJOR-GEN. BUTTERFIELD.

Gen. Hooker's order received. Will withdraw my forces immediately.

JOHN SEDGWICK, Major-General.


May 5, 1863, 7 A.M. GEN. BUTTERFIELD.

I recrossed to the north bank of the Rappahannock last night, and am in camp about a mile back from the ford. The bridges have been taken up.

JOHN SEDGWICK, Major-General.

These despatches explain themselves, if read, as is indispensable, with the hours of sending and receipt kept well in mind. No fault can be imputed to either Hooker or Sedgwick, in that the intention of the one could not be

executed by the other. The apparent cross-purpose of the despatches is explained by the difficulty of communication between headquarters and the Sixth Corps.

The order to withdraw, though sent by Hooker before the receipt of Sedgwick's despatch saying he would hold the corps south of the river, was received by Sedgwick long before the countermand, which was exceptionally delayed, and was at once, under the urgent circumstances, put into course of execution.

As soon as the enemy ascertained that Sedgwick was crossing, Alexander's artillery began dropping shells in the neighborhood of the bridges and river banks; and Gen. Wilcox, with his own and Kershaw's brigades, followed up Sedgwick's movements to the crossing, and used his artillery freely.

When the last column had almost filed upon the bridge, Sedgwick was taken aback by the receipt of Hooker's despatch of 1.20 A.M., countermanding the order to withdraw as above quoted.

The main portion, however, being already upon the left bank, the corps could not now re-cross, except by forcing the passage, as the Confederates absolutely commanded the bridge and approaches, and with a heavy body of troops. And, as Lee was fully satisfied to have got rid of Sedgwick, upon conditions which left him free to turn with the bulk of his army upon Hooker, it was not likely that Sedgwick could in any event have successfully attempted it. The situation left him no choice but to go into camp near by. An adequate force was sent to watch the ford, and guard the river.

The losses of the Sixth Corps during these two days' engagements were 4,925 men. Sedgwick captured, according to his report, five flags, fifteen guns (nine of which were brought off), and fourteen hundred prisoners, and lost no material. These captures are not conceded by the Confederate authorities, some of whom claim that Sedgwick decamped in such confusion as to leave the ground strewed with arms, accoutrements, and material of all kinds. But it is probable, on comparison of all facts, and the due weighing of all testimony, that substantially nothing was lost by the Sixth Corps, except a part of the weapons of the dead and wounded.

Gibbon's division, about the same time, crossed to the north bank of the river, and the pontoon bridge at Lacy's was taken up. Warren says, “Gen. Sedgwick was attacked very heavily on Monday, fought all day, and retreated across the river that night. We lay quiet at Chancellorsville pretty nearly all day.” This Warren plainly esteems a poor sample of generalship, and he does not understand why Hooker did not order an assault. “I think it very probable we could have succeeded if it had been made.” “Gen. Hooker appeared very much exhausted," — “tired' would express it."

Lee's one object having been to drive Sedgwick across the river, so as to be relieved of the troublesome insecurity of his rear, he could now again turn his undivided attention to his chief enemy, who lay listlessly expectant at Chancellorsville, and apparently oblivious of his maxim enjoined upon Stoneman, “that celerity, audacity, and resolution are every thing in war.”

« PreviousContinue »