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Fitz Hugh Lee bad bivouacked this evening at Todd's Tavern. Stuart, with his staff, had started towards Fredericksburg to report the condition of affairs to Gen. Lee. It was a bright moonlight night. A mile or two on the road he ran against a party of Federal horsemen, the advance of the Sixth New York Cavalry, under Lieut.Col. McVicar. Sending back for the Fifth Virginia Cavalry, Lee attacked the Federal troopers, leading in person at the head of his staff; but, being repulsed, he sent for the entire brigade to come up, with which he drove back McVicar's detachment.
The combat lasted some time, and was interesting as being a night affair, in which the naked weapon was freely used. Its result was to prevent Pleasonton from reaching Spotsylvania Court House, where he might have destroyed a considerable amount of stores.
The position on Thursday evening was then substantially this. At Hamilton's Crossing there was no change. Each party was keenly scanning the movements of the other, seeking to divine his purpose. Sedgwick and Reynolds were thus holding the bulk of Lee's army at and near Fredericksburg. Hooker, with four corps, and Sickles close by, lay at Chancellorsville, with only Anderson's small force in his front, and with his best chances hourly slipping away. For Lee, by this time aware of the real situation, hesitated not a moment in the measures to be taken to meet the attack of his powerful enemy.
LEE'S INFORMATION AND MOVEMENTS.
ET us now turn to Lee, and see what he has been
doing while Hooker thus discovered check. Pollard says: “Lee calmly watched this” (Sedgwick’s) " movement, as well as the one higher up the river under Hooker, until he had penetrated the enemy's design, and seen the necessity of making a rapid division of his own forces, to confront him on two different fields, and risking the result of fighting him in detail.”
Lossing states Lee's object as twofold: to retain Banks's Ford, so as to divide Hooker's army, and to keep his right wing in the Wilderness.
Let us listen to Lee himself. In his report he says he was convinced on Thursday, as Sedgwick continued inactive, that the main attack would be made on his flank and rear. “The strength of the force which had crossed, and its apparent indisposition to attack, indicated that the principal effort of the enemy would be made in some other quarter."
He states that on April 14 he was informed that Federal cavalry was concentrating on the upper Rappahannock. On the 21st, that small bodies of infantry had appeared at Kelley's Ford. These movements, and the demonstrations at Port Royal, “were evidently intended to conceal the designs of the enemy," who was about to resume active operations.
The Federal pontoon bridges and troops below Fredericksburg “were effectually protected from our artillery by the depth of the river's bed and the narrowness of the stream, while the batteries on the other side completely commanded the wide plain between our lines and the river.”
“ As at the first battle of Fredericksburg, it was thought best to select positions with a view to resist the advance of the enemy, rather than incur the heavy loss that would attend any attempt to prevent his crossing."
At the time of Hooker's flank movement, there were between the Rappahannock and Rapidan no troops excepting some twenty-seven hundred cavalry under Stuart, forming Lee's extreme left. But Stuart made up for his small numbers by his promptness in conveying to his chief information of every movement and of the size of every column during Hooker's passage of the rivers. And the capture of a few prisoners from each of the Fifth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Corps enabled him and his superior to gauge the dimensions of the approaching army with fair accuracy.
But until Thursday night the plan of Hooker's attack was not sufficiently developed to warrant decisive action on the part of Lee.
Of the bulk of the Confederate forces, Early's division was ahead at Hamilton's Crossing, intrenched in an almost impregnable position. On Wednesday, April 29, the rest of Jackson's corps was moved up from below, where Doubleday's and Morrow's demonstrations had until now kept it.
A. P. Hill's and Trimble's divisions were in the second and third lines on this wing; while Anderson and McLaws, the only troops of Longstreet's corps left with the Army of Northern Virginia, held the intrenchments along the river above Fredericksburg. Barksdale was in the town. Pendleton with the reserve artillery was at Massaponax.
When, from Sedgwick's inactivity and the information received from Stuart, Lee, on Wednesday afternoon, had been led to suspect that the main attack might be from the columns crossing above, he had immediately ordered Anderson to occupy Chancellorsville with Wright's brigade, and with Mahone and Posey from United-States Ford, so soon as that position was compromised, leaving a few companies there to dispute its possession as long as possible.
We have seen how Anderson engaged Meade near Chancellorsville as the latter advanced, and then retired to a position near Mine-Run road. Here was the crest of a hill running substantially north and south. Gen. Lee had already selected this line; and Col. Smith, his chief engineer, had drawn up a plan of intrenchments. Anderson detailed men, who, during the night, threw up some strong field-works.
Late Thursday night Lee appears first fully to have matured his plan for parrying Hooker's thrust.
Barksdale's brigade was left at Fredericksburg, where during the winter it had been doing picket-duty, to form the left of the line remaining to oppose Sedgwick. Part of Pendleton's reserve artillery was near by; while Early, commanding this entire body, held Hamilton's Crossing. He had a force of eighty-five hundred muskets, and thirty pieces of artillery.
The rest of his army Lee at once took well in hand, and moved out to meet the Army of the Potomac. McLaws was hurried forward to sustain the line taken up by Anderson. He arrived on the ground by daylight of Friday, and went into position in rifle-pits on the right about Smith's Hill.
Jackson, equally alert, but having a longer distance to march from the extreme right along the military road, arrived about eight A.M., took command, and, as was his wont, ordered an immediate advance, throwing Owens's regiment of cavalry forward to reconnoitre.
Posey and Wright followed Owens on the plank road, with Alexander's battalion of artillery. Mahone, and Jordan's battery detached from Alexander, marched abreast of his right, on the pike.
McLaws followed Mahone, and Wilcox and Perry were called from Banks's Ford to sustain this column, which McLaws directed; while Jackson, following on the plank road, watched the operations of the left.