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open ground and to Banks's Ford. To fail in this, was the first great error of the campaign. There had not been a moment's delay allowed from the time the troops reached the river until they were massed at Chancellorsville, and the proposed movement nearly completed. One continued pressure, never let up, had constantly been exerted by the headquarters of the army. The troops had been kept in constant movement towards Banks's Ford. Hooker had all but reached his goal. Suddenly occurred a useless, unexplained pause of twenty-four hours. And it was during this unlucky gap of time that Lee occupied the ground which Hooker's cavalry could have seized, and which should have been held at all hazards.
Nor is this error excusable from ignorance of the terrain. For Hooker had shown his knowledge of the importance of celerity; and his own declared plan made Banks's Ford, still a half-dozen miles distant, his one objective. In his testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, he thus refers to his plan: “As soon as Couch's divisions and Sykes's corps came up, I directed an advance for the purpose, in the first instance, of driving the enemy away from Banks's Ford, which was six miles down the river, in order that we might be in closer communication with the left wing of the army." And if the troops had needed repose, a few hours would have sufficed; and, the succeeding night being clear moonlight, a forward movement was then entirely feasible.
Dating from this delay of Thursday, every thing seemed to go wrong.
More curious still is Hooker's conduct on Friday, when
his three columns came into presence of the enemy. What every one would have expected of Fighting Joe was, that at this supreme moment his energy would have risen to its highest pitch. It was a slight task to hold the enemy for a few hours. Before ordering the columns back, Hooker should have gone in person to Sykes's front. Here he would have shortly ascertained that Jackson was moving around his right. What easier than to leave a strong enough force at the edge of the Wilderness, and to move by his left towards Banks's Ford, where he already had Meade's heavy column? This would have kept his line of communication with United-States Ford open, and, while uncovering Banks's Ford, would at the same time turn Jackson's right. It is not as if such a movement carried him away from his base, or uncovered his communications. It was the direct way to preserve both.
But at this point Hooker faltered. Fighting Joe had reached the culminating desire of his life. He had come face to face with his foe, and had a hundred and twenty thousand eager and well-disciplined men at his back. He had come to fight, and he — retreated without crossing swords.
THE POSITION AT CHANCELLORSVILLE.
THE position at Chancellorsville was good for neither
attack nor defence. The ground was not open enough for artillery, except down the few roads, and across an occasional clearing. Cavalry was useless. Infantry could not advance steadily in line. The ground was such in Hooker's front, that Lee could manæuvre or mass his troops unseen by him. Our own troops were so located, that to re-enforce any portion of the line, which might be attacked, with sufficient speed, was impossible.
Anderson (as has been stated) had been ordered by Lee to hold Chancellorsville ; but after examination of the ground, and consultation with Mahone and Posey, he concluded to transcend his instructions, and retired to the junction of Mine Road and the turnpike. He assumed that the superiority of this latter ground would excuse his failure to hold his position in the Wilderness.
Gen. Hancock says: “I consider that the position at Chancellorsville was not a good one. It was a flat country, and had no local military advantages.”
And the testimony of all our general officers is strongly to the same effect.
The position to which Hooker retired was the same which the troops, wearied with their march of Thursday, had taken up without any expectation of fighting a battle there. Hooker had desired to contract his lines somewhat after Friday's check; but the feeling that farther retreat would still more dishearten the men, already wondering at this unexplained withdrawal, and the assurance of the generals on the right that they could hold it against any force the enemy could bring against their front, decided him in favor of leaving the line as it was, and of strengthening it by breastworks and abattis.
Having established his troops in position, Hooker further strengthened his right wing at Chancellorsville to the detriment of his left below Fredericksburg; and at 1.55 A.M., Saturday, ordered all the bridges at Franklin's Crossing, and below, to be taken up, and Reynolds's corps to march at once, with pack-train, to report at headquarters.
This corps reached him Saturday night, and was deployed upon the extreme right of the new position then being taken up by the army.
The line as now established lay as follows:
Meade held the left, extending from a small bluff near Scott's Dam on the Rappahannock, and covering the roads on the river, along a crest between Mine and Mineral Spring Runs towards and within a short mile of Chancellorsville.
This crest was, however, commanded from several points on the east, and, according to the Confederate authorities, appeared to have been carelessly chosen. Meade's front, except at the extreme river-flank, was covered by impenetrable woods. The Mine road intersected his left flank, and the River road was parallel to and a mile in his front.
Couch joined Meade's right, and extended southerly to Chancellorsville, with Hancock thrown out on his front, and facing east, astride the River road, and up to and across the old turnpike; his line being formed south of this road and of the Chancellor clearing. The division of French, of Couch's corps, was held in reserve along the United States Ford road.
From here to Dowdall's Tavern the line made a southerly sweep outwards, like a bent bow, of which the plank road was the string.
As far as Hazel Grove, at the centre of the bow, Slocum's Twelfth Corps held the line, Geary's division joining on to Couch, and Williams on the right. From Slocum's right to the extreme right of the army, the Eleventh Corps had at first been posted; but Hooker determined on Saturday morning that the line was too thin here, and thrust Birney's division of the Third Corps in between Slocum and Howard. The rest of the Third Corps was in reserve, massed in columns of battalions, in Bullock's clearing, north of the Chancellor house, with its batteries at the fork of the roads leading to the United States and Ely's Fords.
Towards sunset of Friday, Birney had advanced a strong line of skirmishers, and seized a commanding position in his front. Birney's line then lay along the crest facing Scott's Run from Dowdall's to Slocum's right.
Pleasonton's cavalry brigade was massed at headquarters, ready for duty at any point.