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Early and Barksdale were left, as before, to hold the Confederate lines at and near Fredericksburg, while McLaws and Anderson were at once ordered back to the old battle-field. “They reached their destination during the afternoon (Tuesday, 5th) in the midst of a violent storm, which continued throughout the night, and most of the following day.” (Lee.)
Wilcox and Wright lay that night in bivouac on the Catherine road; Mahone, Posey, and Perry, along the plank road.
Kershaw was sent to relieve Heth at the crossing of the River and Mine roads, and the latter rejoined his division.
The night of Tuesday Lee spent in preparations to assault Hooker's position at daylight on Wednesday. The Confederate scouts had been by no means idle; and the position occupied by Hooker, in most of its details, was familiar to the Southern commander. He was thus able to develop his plans with greater ease than a less familiarity with the terrain would have yielded. He was satisfied that one more vigorous blow would disable his antagonist for this campaign, and he was unwilling to delay in striking it.
ET us now examine into Hooker's various criticisms
upon Sedgwick's conduct. Hooker, in his testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, baldly accuses Sedgwick of neglecting to keep him advised of his movements, the inference being that he was debarred thereby from intelligently using him; and states that when he sent Sedgwick the despatch to join him at Chancellorsville, “it was written under the impression that his corps was on the north side of the Rappahannock." But could Hooker rationally assume this to be the case when he had, five hours before, ordered Sedgwick to cross and pursue a flying enemy,
nd well knew that he had a portion of his forces already guarding the bridge-heads on the Fredericksburg side ?
“ The night was so bright that ... no special difficulty was apprehended in executing the order.” In the vicinity of Fredericksburg, shortly after midnight, a fog appears to have arisen from the river, which considerably impeded the movements of the Sixth Corps. This Hooker knew from Sedgwick's report, which he was bound to believe, unless evidence existed to show the contrary.
** As will
be seen, the order was peremptory, and would have justified him in losing every man of his command in its execution."
Hooker also states that Warren was sent to Sedgwick on account of his familiarity with the ground, and to impress upon the latter the necessity of strict compliance with the order.
“ I supposed, and am still of the opinion, that, if Gen. Sedgwick's men had shouldered arms and advanced at the time named, he would have encountered less resistance and suffered less loss; but, as it was, it was late when he went into Fredericksburg, and before he was in readiness to attack the heights in rear of the town, which was about eleven o'clock A.M. on the 3d, the enemy had observed his movement, and concentrated almost their entire force at that point to oppose him.” 6. He had the whole force of the enemy there to run against in carrying the heights beyond Fredericksburg, but he carried them with ease; and, by his movements after that, I think no one would infer that he was confident in himself, and the enemy took advantage of it. I knew Gen. Sedgwick very well: he was a classmate of mine, and I had been through a great deal of service with him. He was a perfectly brave man, and a good one; but when it came to manæuvring troops, or judging of positions for them, in my judgment he was not able or expert. Had Gen. Reynolds been left with that independent command, I have no doubt the result would have been very different." " When the attack was made, it had to be upon the greater part of the enemy's force left on the right: nevertheless the troops advanced, carried the heights without heavy loss, and leisurely took up their line of march on the plank road, advancing two or three miles that day.”
Now, this is scarcely a fair statement of facts. And yet they were all spread before Hooker, in the reports of the Sixth Corps and of Gibbon. No doubt Sedgwick was bound, as far as was humanly possible, to obey that order; but, as in “losing every man in his command" in its execution, he would scarcely have been of great eventual utility to his chief, he did the only wise thing, in exercising ordinary discretion as to the method of attacking the enemy in his path. Hooker's assumption that Sedgwick was on the north side of the Rappahannock was his own, and not Sedgwick's fault. Hooker might certainly have supposed that Sedgwick had obeyed his previous orders, in part at least.
Sedgwick testified before the Committee on the Conduct of the War: “I have understood that evidence has appeared before the Committee censuring me very much for not being at Chancellorsville at daylight, in accordance with the order of Gen. Hooker. I now affirm that it was impossible to have made the movement, if there had not been a rebel soldier in front of me."
“ I lost a thousand men in less than ten minutes time in taking the heights of Fredericksburg."
Sedgwick did “shoulder arms and advance" as soon as he received the order ; but the reports show plainly enough that he encountered annoying opposition so soon as he struck the outskirts of the town; that he threw forward assaulting columns at once; and that these fought as well as the conditions warranted, but were repulsed.
It is not intended to convey the impression that there was no loss of time on Sedgwick's part. On the contrary, he might certainly have been more active in some of his movements. No doubt there were other general officers who would have been. But it is no exaggeration to insist that his dispositions were fully as speedy as those of any other portion of the army in this campaign.
Hooker not only alleges that “in his judgment, Gen. Sedgwick did not obey the spirit of his order, and made no sufficient effort to obey it,” but quotes Warren as saying that Sedgwick "would not have moved at all if he [Warren] had not been there; and that, when he did move, it was not with sufficient confidence or ability on his part to manæuvre his troops.” It is very doubtful whether Warren ever put his opinion in so strong a way as thus quoted by Hooker from memory. His report does speak of Gibbon's slowness in coming up, and of his thus losing the chance of crossing the canals and taking the breastworks before the Confederates filed into them. But beyond a word to the effect that giving the advance to Brooks's division, after the capture of the heights, “necessarily consumed a considerable time,” Warren does not in his report particularly criticise Sedgwick's movements. And in another place he does speak of the order of ten P.M. as an “impossible” one.
Gen. Warren's testimony on this subject is of the highest importance, as representing Gen. Hooker in person. As before stated, he carried a duplicate of Hooker's order