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orders, he transferred his headquarters to Morrisville, five miles north of Kelley's Ford, and superintended the execution of the crossing and advance. Urging Meade to equal celerity and secrecy in uncovering United-States Ford, he instructed Slocum, should Meade's crossing at Ely's be resisted, to push a column on the south side of the Rapidan to open the latter ford.
At Germania Ford, on the Rapidan, previously seized by an advance party of three or four smart marching regiments, a small body of one hundred and twenty-five Confederate infantry, guarding the supplies for the rebuilding of the bridge, then in progress, was captured.
The cavalry and artillery crossed at once by the ford, as well as a portion of the infantry, the latter wading almost to the armpits. But the construction of the bridge was soon temporarily completed by Gens. Geary and Kane; and the rest of the troops and the pack-mules passed safely, by the light of huge bonfires lighted on the banks. The men were in the highest possible spirits, and testified to their enjoyment of the march by the utmost hilarity.
At daylight the Twelfth Corps led the column, Geary in advance. Near the Wilderness, the head of column was attacked from the south by some cavalry and a couple of guns. Stuart had come up from Raccoon Ford the day previous. But a slight demonstration cleared the road; and Stuart retired, sending part of his force to Fredericksburg, and accompanying the rest to Spotsylvania Court House.
About two P.M., Thursday, these two corps, under command of Slocum, reached Chancellorsville, and found a portion of the Fifth Corps already in position there. The Twelfth Corps was deployed south of the plank road, with left at the Chancellor House, and the right near Wilderness Church, which line the Eleventh Corps prolonged to the vicinity of Hunting Creek.
The Fifth Corps had marched to Kelley's Ford, and crossed in rear of the Twelfth Corps. From here, Sykes's and Griffin's divisions marched towards Ely's Ford, preceded by Col. Devin's Sixth New York Cavalry, which surprised the pickets at that place. The troops crossed by wading. Humphreys remained behind to cover the passage of the trains, and after followed the column.
On crossing the Rapidan, Sykes was pushed towards United-States Ford, to dislodge the Confederate force there, by thus taking in reverse their position, while Griffin marched to Chancellorsville. The whole corps soon after united at the latter place, and was located with its right joining Slocum, and the left extending towards the river, facing Mine Run.
A skirmish of no particular moment had occurred between Griffin and Anderson, as the former reached Chancellorsville. Anderson had been retiring before the Federal advance, on the plank road towards Fredericksburg. His rear guard made a short stand at the crossroads, but withdrew after a few rounds; and Anderson took up a position near Mine Road, where numerous ravines, perpendicular to the river, afforded excellent successive lines of defence.
On reaching Chancellorsville, Slocum took command of the three corps there assembled. He was ordered to ascertain, by a cavalry party, whether the enemy were detaching any considerable force from Fredericksburg to meet his column. If not, an advance at all hazards was to be made, and a position on the plank road which would uncover Banks's Ford to be secured. If the enemy were in strong force, Slocum was to select a position, and compel his attack. Not a moment was to be lost until the troops were concentrated at Chancellorsville. « From that moment all will be ours," said Hooker.
The inconsistency of these orders can be explained only by marked ignorance of the country. To secure a position which would uncover Banks's Ford was certainly a great desideratum; but the possession of Chancellorsville was far from accomplishing this end, as we shall see.
So admirably planned and executed were all orders up to this time, that on Thursday, by two P.M., three corps of nearly forty thousand men were concentrated on Lee's flank, while the latter was still unaware of the presence of any considerable Federal force in this vicinity.
On Monday Couch had been ordered to march two divisions of his (Second) corps to Banks' Ford, but to keep back from the river, and to show no more than the usual pickets. One brigade and a battery to be sent to United-States Ford, there to relieve an equal detail of the Eleventh Corps, which would rejoin its command. All their artillery to move with these two divisions, and to be ready to cover a forced crossing. The division whose camps at Falmouth were most easily seen by the enemy from across the river (it happened to be Gibbon's) to be left in camp to do picket and provost duty. The Third Corps would be available in case the enemy himself attempted a crossing. Gibbon to be ready to join the command at any time. .
On Thursday, as soon as Anderson withdrew Mahone's and Posey's brigades from United-States Ford, which he did when Meade's crossing at Ely's had flanked that position, Couch, whose bridge was all ready to throw, was ordered to cross, and march in support towards the heaviest firing. This he did, with French and Hancock, and reached Chancellorsville the same evening.
Swinton, rather grandiloquently, says, “To have marched a column of fifty thousand men, laden with sixty pounds of baggage and encumbered with artillery and trains, thirty-seven miles in two days; to have bridged and crossed two streams, guarded by a vigilant enemy, with the loss of half a dozen men, one wagon, and two mules, — is an achievement which has few parallels, and which well deserves to rank with Prince Eugene's famous passage of the Adige."
However exaggerated this praise may be, Hooker nevertheless deserves high encomiums on his management of the campaign so far. Leaving Stoneman's delay out of the question, nothing had gone wrong or been mismanaged up to the present moment. But soon Hooker makes his first mistake.
At 12.30 P.M. on Thursday, the Third Corps, which lay near Franklin's Crossing, on the north side of the river, received orders to proceed by the shortest route, and concealed from the enemy, to United-States Ford, to be across the river by seven A.M., Friday; in pursuance of which order, Sickles immediately started, in three columns, following the ravines to Hamet's, at the intersection of the Warrenton pike and United States Ford road. Here he bivouacked for the night. At five A.M. Friday he marched to the ford, and passed it with the head of his column at seven A.M., Birney leading, Whipple and Berry in the rear. Leaving Mott's brigade and a battery to protect the trains at the ford, he then pushed on, and reported at Chancellorsville at nine A.M. Under Hooker's orders he massed his corps near the junction of the roads to Ely's and United States Fords, in the open near Bullock's, sending a brigade and a battery to Dowdall's Tavern.
Hooker, meanwhile, had arrived at Chancellorsville, and taken command. He at once issued this characteristic order:
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
CAMP NEAR FALMOUTH, VA., April 30, 1863. GENERAL ORDERS, No. 47.
It is with heartfelt satisfaction that the commanding general announces to the army that the operations of the last three days have determined that our enemy must ingloriously fly, or come out from behind his defences, and give us battle on our own ground, where certain destruction awaits him.
The operations of the Fifth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Corps have been a succession of splendid achievements. By command of Major-Gen. Hooker.
S. WILLIAMS, Assistant Adjutant-General.
Pleasonton, during Thursday, pushed out towards Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania Court House to observe the enemy.