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flank; and this could only be accomplished by stratagem, for Lee had strengthened every part of the river by which Hooker could attempt a passage.
But this problem was, despite its difficulties, still possible of solution; and Hooker set himself to work to elucidate it.
So soon as he had matured his plan, which he elaborated with the greatest care, but kept perfectly secret from every one until the movements themselves developed it, although making use of the knowledge and skill of all his generals both before and during its initiation, he speedily prepared for its vigorous execution. In May, the term of service of some twenty-two thousand ninemonths and two-years men would expire. These men he must seek to utilize in the campaign.
The first intimation of a forward movement received by the army at large, apart from the Cavalry Corps, had been a circular of April 13, notifying commanding officers to have their troops supplied with eight days' rations, and a hundred and fifty rounds of ammunition, sixty to be carried by the soldiers, and the balance on the packmules.
After the battle of Fredericksburg, the army had returned to substantially the same positions and quarters occupied before; and here the men had housed themselves for the winter. The Mud March had broken up these cantonments; but after a few days' absence the several regiments returned to their old camps, and the same huts had generally been re-occupied by the same men. But when Fighting Joe Hooker's orders to march were issued,
no one dreamed of any thing but victory; and the Army of the Potomac burned its ships. Nothing was left standing but the mud walls from which the shelter-tent roofs had been stripped, and an occasional chimney.
Many of the men (though contrary to orders) set fire to what was left, and the animus non revertendi was as universal as the full confidence that now there lay before the Army of the Potomac a certain road, whatever might bar the path, to the long-wished-for goal of Richmond.
THE PROPOSED CAVALRY RAID.
OOKER proposed to open his flank attack by cut
ting Lee's communications. Accordingly, on April 12, Gen. Stoneman, commanding the Cavalry Corps, réceived orders to march at seven A.M. next day, with his whole force except one brigade. He was to ascend the Rappahannock, keeping well out of view, and masking his movement with numerous small detachments, - alleging a chase of Jones's guerillas in the Shenandoah valley, as his objective. The river was to be crossed west of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. At Culpeper he was to destroy or disperse Fitz Lee's brigade of some two thousand cavalry, and at Gordonsville the infantry provost-guard; thence to push down the Virginia Central to the Fredericksburg and Richmond Railroad, destroying every thing along the road. As the enemy would probably retreat by the latter route, he was to select strong points on the roads parallel to it, intrench, and hold his ground as obstinately as possible. If Lee retreated towards Gordonsville, he was to harass him day and night. The Confederates had but five thousand sabres to
“ Let your watchword be, Fight! and let all
your orders be, Fight, Fight, Fight!” exclaimed enthusiastic Joe Hooker in this order. The primary object was to keep the Confederates from retreating to Richmond; and Stoneman was to rely on Hooker's being up with him in six days, or before his supplies were exhausted. If possible, he was to detach at the most available points parties to destroy every thing in the direction of Charlottesville, and of the Pamunkey.
The Cavalry Corps, except Pleasonton's brigade, which accompanied Hooker's headquarters during this movement, left on the 13th. On the 15th Stoneman threw a division across the river at Rappa hannock station, where the Orange and Alexandria Railroad crosses the river. But a sudden rise in consequence of heavy rains obliged this division to return by swimming the horses. Gen. Lee says, referring to this check, that “their efforts to establish themselves on the south side of the river were successfully resisted by Stuart.” But the rise in the river was the actual cause. There was no crossing of swords.
At the time the cavalry marched, an infantry brigade and a battery were sent to Kelley's Ford, and a regiment to United States Ford, to hold these crossings against scouting parties, or any counter-demonstration on the part of the enemy.
The river did not fall so that Stoneman could pass at that point until the 27th, when it was too late to accomplish valuable results under the orders of the 12th; for the whole army was now on the march. Between the 15th and 27th the cavalry, under instructions from Hooker, remained in camp along the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. It has, however, never been satisfactorily explained why it might not have crossed higher up, and have utilized these precious two weeks. It could not have been of less use than it was, and might possibly have been able to call Stuart's entire force away from Lee's army. Nor was it impossible, in part at least, to do the work cut out for it. Even to threaten Lee's communications would have seriously affected the singleness of purpose he displayed in this campaign.