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Howard held the line, from Dowdall's Tavern (Melzi Chancellor's) to beyond Talley's farm on the old pike, with his right flank substantially in the air, and with two roads, the main thoroughfares from east to west, striking in on his right, parallel to his position.
As will be noticed from the map, the right, being along the pike, was slightly refused from the rest of the line, considering the latter as properly lying along the road to headquarters. From Dowdall's west, the rise along the pike was considerable, and at Talley's the crest was high. The whole corps lay on the watershed of the small tributaries of the Rappahannock and Mattapony Rivers.
As a position to resist a southerly attack, it was as good as the Wilderness afforded; although the extreme right rested on no obstacle which superiority in numbers could not overcome. And a heavy force, massed in the clearing at Dowdall's as a point d'appui, was indispensable to safety, inasmuch as the conformation of the ground afforded nothing for this flank to lean upon.
Having forfeited the moral superiority gained by his advance, having withdrawn to his intrenchments at Chancellorsville, and decided, after surprising his enemy, upon fighting a defensive battle, Hooker, early on Saturday morning, examined his lines, and made sundry changes in the forces under his command.
The position he occupied, according to Gen. Lee, was one of great natural strength, on ground covered with dense forest and tangled under-growth, behind breastworks of logs and an impenetrable abattis, and approached by few roads, all easily swept by artillery. And, while it is true that the position was difficult to carry by direct assault, full compensation existed in other tactical advantages to the army taking the offensive. It is not probable that Lee, in Hooker's place, would have selected such ground. “Once in the wood, it was difficult to tell any thing at one hundred yards. Troops could not march without inextricable confusion.” Despite which fact, however, the density of these very woods was the main cause of Lee's success.
In this position, Hooker awaited the assault of his vigorous opponent. As in all defensive battles, he was at certain disadvantages, and peculiarly so in this case, owing to the terrain he had chosen, or been forced to choose by Friday's easily accepted check. There were no debouches for throwing forces upon Lee, should he wish to assume the offensive. There was no ground for manæuvring. The woods were like a heavy curtain in his front. His left wing was placed so as to be of absolutely no value. His right flank was in the air. One of the roads on which he must depend for retreat was readily assailable by the enemy. And he had in his rear a treacherous river, which after a few hours' rain might become impassable, with but a single road and ford secured to him with reasonable certainty.
And, prone as we had always been to act upon unwarrantable over-estimates of the strength of our adversaries, IIooker had not this reason to allege for having retired to await Lee's attack. For he had just received excellent information from Richmond, to the effect that Lee's rations amounted to fifty-nine thousand daily; and we have seen that he told Slocum, on Thursday, that his column of nearly forty thousand men was much stronger than any force Lee could detach against him. Hooker acknowledges as much in his testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, when, in answer to the question, “What portion of the enemy lay between you and Gen. Sedgwick ?” he replied:
“ Lee's army at Fredericksburg numbered sixty thousand, not including the artillery, cavalry, and the forces stationed up the river, occupying the posts at Culpeper and Gordonsville. I think my information on this point was reliable, as I had made use of unusual means to ascertain. The enemy left eight thousand men to occupy the lines about Fredericksburg; Jackson marched off to my right with twenty-five thousand; and Lee had the balance between me and Sedgwick.”
It will be well to remember this acknowledgment, when we come to deal with Hooker's theories of the force in his own front on Sunday and Monday.
JACKSON'S MARCH, AND SICKLES'S ADVANCE.
EE and Jackson spent Friday night under some pine
trees, on the plank road, at the point where the Confederate line crosses it. Lee saw that it was impossible for him to expect to carry the Federal lines by direct assault, and his report states that he ordered a cavalry reconnoissance towards our right flank to ascertain its position. There is, however, no mention of such a body having felt our lines on the right, in any of the Federal reports.
It is not improbable that Lee received information, crude but useful, about this portion of our army, from some women belonging to Dowdall's Tavern. When the Eleventh Corps occupied the place on Thursday, a watch was kept upon the family living there. But in the interval between the corps breaking camp to move out to Slocum's support on Friday morning, and its return to the old position, some of the women had disappeared. This fact was specially noted by Gen. Howard.
However the information was procured, the Federal right was doubtless ascertained to rest on high gr nd, where it was capable of making a stubborn resistance towards the south. But Lee well knew that its position was approached from the west by two broad roads, and reasoned justly that Hooker, in canvassing the events of Friday, would most probably look for an attack on his left or front.
Seated on a couple of cracker-boxes, the relics of an issue of Federal rations the day before, the two Confederate chieftains discussed the situation. Jackson, with characteristic restless energy, suggested a movement with his entire corps around Hooker's right flank, to seize United States Ford, or fall unawares upon the Army of the Potomac. This hazardous suggestion, which Lee in his report does not mention as Jackson's, but which is universally ascribed to him by Confederate authorities, was one as much fraught with danger as it was spiced with dash, and decidedly bears the Jacksonian flavor. It gave “the great flanker” twenty-two thousand men (according to Col. A. S. Pendleton, his assistant adjutantgeneral, but twenty-six thousand by morning report) with which to make a march which must at best take all day, constantly exposing his own flank to the Federal assault. It separated for a still longer time the two wings of the Confederate army ; leaving Lee with only Anderson's and McLaws's divisions, some seventeen
, thousand men,- with which to resist the attack of thrice that number, which Hooker, should he divine this division of forces, could throw against him, the while he kept Jackson busy with the troops on his own right flank.
On the other hand, Hooker had shown clear intention of fighting a defensive battle; and perhaps Lee measured