“The night was so bright that . . . no special difficulty was apprehended in executing the order.” In the vicinity of Fredericksburg, shortly after midnight, a fog appears to have arisen from the river, which considerably impeded the movements of the Sixth Corps. This Hooker knew from Sedgwick’s report, which he was bound to believe, unless evidence existed to show the contrary. “As will be seen, the order was peremptory, and would have justified him in losing every man of his command in its execution.”
Hooker also states that Warren was sent to Sedgwick on account of his familiarity with the ground, and to impress upon the latter the necessity of strict compliance with the order.
“I supposed, and am still of the opinion, that, if Gen. Sedgwick’s men had shouldered arms and advanced at the time named, he would have encountered less resistance and suffered less loss; but, as it was, it was late when he went into Fredericksburg, and before he was in readiness to attack the heights in rear of the town, which was about eleven o’clock A.M. on the 3d, the enemy had observed his movement, and concentrated almost their entire force at that point to oppose him.” “He had the whole force of the enemy there to run against in carrying the heights beyond Fredericksburg, but he carried them with ease; and, by his movements after that, I think no one would infer that he was confident in himself, and the enemy took advantage of it. I knew Gen. Sedgwick very well: he was a classmate of mine, and I had been through a great deal of service with him. He was a perfectly brave man, and a good one; but when it came to manoeuvring troops, or judging of positions for them, in my judgment he was not able or expert. Had Gen. Reynolds been left with that independent command, I have no doubt the result would have been very different.” “When the attack was made, it had to be upon the greater part of the enemy’s force left on the right: nevertheless the troops advanced, carried the heights without heavy loss, and leisurely took up their line of march on the plank road, advancing two or three miles that day.”
Now, this is scarcely a fair statement of facts. And yet they were all spread before Hooker, in the reports of the Sixth Corps and of Gibbon. No doubt Sedgwick was bound, as far as was humanly possible, to obey that order; but, as in “losing every man in his command” in its execution, he would scarcely have been of great eventual utility to his chief, he did the only wise thing, in exercising ordinary discretion as to the method of attacking the enemy in his path. Hooker’s assumption that Sedgwick was on the north side of the Rappahannock was his own, and not Sedgwick’s fault. Hooker might certainly have supposed that Sedgwick had obeyed his previous orders, in part at least.
Sedgwick testified before the Committee on the Conduct of the War: “I have understood that evidence has appeared before the Committee censuring me very much for not being at Chancellorsville at daylight, in accordance with the order of Gen. Hooker. I now affirm that it was impossible to have made the movement, if there had not been a rebel soldier in front of me.”