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THE ARMY OF THE POTOMAC RE-CROSSES.
RDERS were accordingly issued with a view to re
crossing the river; and during the 5th, Gen. Warren and Capt. Comstock of the engineers prepared a new and shorter line, in the rear of the one then held by the army, to secure it against any attempt by the enemy to interrupt the retreat. Capt. Comstock supervised the labor on the west side, and Gen. Warren on the east, of the United-States Ford road. "A continuous cover and abattis was constructed from the Rappahannock at Scott's Dam, around to the mouth of Hunting Run on the Rapidan. The roads were put in good order, and a third bridge laid. A heavy rain set in about 4.30 P.M., and lasted till late at night. The movement to re-cross was begun by the artillery, as per order, at 7.30 P.M., and was suddenly interrupted by a rise in the river so great as to submerge the banks at the ends of the bridges on the north bank, and the velocity of the current threatened to sweep them away.” “ The upper bridge was speedily taken up, and used to piece out the ends of the other two, and the passage was again made practicable. Considerable delays, however, resulted from this cause.”
took up position in the new line 'except the rearguard, composed of the Fifth Corps, under Gen. Meade, which was done about daylight on the 6th.” “ The proper dispositions were made for holding this line till all but the rearguard was past the river; and then it quietly withdrew, no enemy pursuing.” (Warren.) The last of the army re-crossed about eight A.M., May 6.
Testimony of Gen. Henry J. Hunt:
" A storm arose soon after. Just before sunset, the general and his staff re-crossed the river to the north side. I separated from him in order to see to the destruction of some works of the enemy on the south side of the river, which perfectly commanded our bridges. Whilst I was looking after them, in the darkness, to see that they had been destroyed as directed, an engineer officer reported to me that our bridges had been carried away, or were being carried away, by the flood. I found the chief engineer, Capt. Comstock; and we proceeded together to examine the bridges, and we found that they were all utterly impassable. I then proceeded to Gen. Meade's camp, and reported the condition of affairs to him. All communication with Gen. Hooker being cut off, Gen. Meade called the corps commanders together; and, as the result of that conference, I believe, by order of Gen. Couch at any rate, I was directed to stop the movement of the artillery, which was withdrawn from the lines, and let them resume their positions, thus suspending the crossing. return to the bridges, I found that one had been reestablished, and the batteries that were down there had commenced re-crossing the river. I then sought Gen.
Hooker up, on the north side of the river, and proposed to him to postpone the movement for one day, as it was certain we could not all cross over in a night. I stated to him that I doubted whether we could more than get the artillery, which was ordered to cross first, over before daylight : he refused to postpone the movement, and it proceeded. No opposition was made by the enemy, nor was the movement disturbed, except by the attempt to place batteries on the points from which our bridges could be reached, and to command which I had already posted the necessary batteries on my own responsibility. A cannonade ensued, and they were driven off with loss, and one of their caissons exploded: we lost three or four men killed, and a few horses, in this affair. That is about all that I remember.”
Gen. Barnes's brigade assisted in taking up the bridges; and all were safely withdrawn by four P.M. on Wednesday, under superintendence of Major Spaulding of the engineer brigade.
All who participated in this retreat will remember the precarious position of the masses of troops, huddled together at the bridge-heads as in a cul-de-sac, during this eventful night, and the long-drawn breath of relief as the hours after dawn passed, and no further disposition to attack was manifested by Lee. This general was doubtless profoundly grateful that the Army of the Potomac should retire across the Rappahannock, and leave his troops to the hard-earned rest they needed so much more than ourselves; but little thanks are due to Hooker, who was, it seems, on the north side of the river during these critical moments, that the casualties of the campaign were not doubled by a final assault on the part of Lee, while we lay in this perilous situation, and the unmolested retreat turned into another passage of the Beresina. Providentially, the artillery of the Army of Northern Virginia had expended almost its last round of ammunition previous to this time.
But several hospitals of wounded, in care of a number of medical officers and stewards, were left behind, to be removed a few days later under a flag of truce.
The respective losses of the two armies are thus officially given :
851 2,583 . 1,868
Both armies now returned to their ancient encampments, elation as general on one side as disappointment was profound upon the other.
Hooker says in his testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War: "I lost under those operations (viz., the Chancellorsville campaign) “one piece artillery, I think five or six wagons, and one ambulance. Of course, many of the Eleventh Corps lost their arms and knapsacks.”
The Confederates, however, claim to have captured nineteen thousand five hundred stand of small arms, seventeen colors, and much ammunition. And, while acknowledging a loss of eight guns, it is asserted by them that they captured thirteen.
The orders issued to the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia by their respective commanders, on the return of the forces to the shelter of their old camps, need no comment. They are characteristic to a degree.