Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 14.djvu/286

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280 Southern Historical Society Papers.

nounced his plan to advance Friday, in force, and uncover Banks's ford, so as to be within quicker reach of Sedgwick. It had been a grave error not to make this advance on Thursday afternoon. On Friday morning, after reconnoitering the ground, he accordingly ordered an advance toward the open country to the east, while Sedg- wick should threaten an attack in the neighborhood of Hamilton's crossing to draw Lee's attention.

In pursuance of these orders, Meade advanced to within grasp of Banks's ford quite unopposed. Sykes and Hancock on the turn- pike, on leaving the forest, ran upon the intrenched divisions of Anderson and McLaws, whom they engaged. Slocum, with the Eleventh and Twelfth corps on the plank road, was arrested by the left of this same line. The opposition was nowhere serious. The troops were there to fight. Hooker should have carried out his programme in full by ordering up fresh troops, and by driving back the largely overmatched force of the enemy.

Every reason demanded this. The Army of the Potomac had just emerged from the Wilderness, in whose confines no superiority of force could be made available as it could be on the open ground toward Fredericksburg. It was essential that the two wings should be got within easier communication. The enemy had been surprised and should be followed up. The plan had succeeded well so far ; to abandon it would create a loss of morale among the troops.

Suddenly every one concerned was surprised by an order from Hooker to withdraw again into the Wilderness. Here may be said to have begun the certain loss of the campaign. The proceeding was absurd. Hooker had reached Chancellorsville Thursday noon with forty thousand men, fresh, and abundantly able to advance to- ward and seize Banks's ford, his first objective. To delay here until Friday noon was a grave mistake. Still, had the advance on Friday been pushed home by a concerted movement by the left, so as to seize Banks's, and cover United States ford, it was by no means too late to gathei the fruits of the vigor and secrecy exhibited thus far in this flank march.

But the advance on Friday was checked by Hooker without per- sonal examination of the situation, to the surprise of every one, and against the protest of many of his subordinates. A more fatal error cannot be conceived. Here first appeared Hooker's lack of balance. The troops retired, and Jackson at once took advantage of the situ- ation by advancing his left to Welford's.

The Army of the Potomac on Friday night lay huddled in the