Hooker’s further plans.
Hooker states: “Gen. Warren represented to me that Gen. Sedgwick had said he could do no more; then it was I wanted him to take some position, and hold it, that I might turn the enemy in my immediate front. I proposed to leave troops enough where I was, to occupy the enemy there, and throw the rest of my force down the river, and re-enforce Sedgwick; then the whole of Lee’s army, except that which had been left in front of Sedgwick, would be thrown off the road to Richmond, and my army would be on it.
“As soon as I heard that Gen. Sedgwick had re-crossed the river, seeing no object in maintaining my position where I was, and believing it would be more to my advantage to hazard an engagement with the enemy at Franklin’s Crossing, where I had elbow-room, than where I was, the army on the right was directed to re-cross the river, and did so on the night between the 5th and 6th of May.”
Now, the Franklin’s Crossing plan, or its equivalent, had been tried by Burnside, in December, with a loss of twelve thousand men; and it had been fully canvassed and condemned as impracticable, before beginning the Chancellorsville manoeuvre. To resuscitate it can therefore serve no purpose but as an idle excuse. And the argument of elbow-room, if made, is the one Hooker should have used against withdrawing from the open country he had reached, to the Wilderness, on Friday, May 1.
“Being resolved on re-crossing the river on the night between the 4th and 5th, I called the corps commanders together, not as a council of war, but to ascertain how they felt in regard to making what I considered a desperate move against the enemy in our front.” Be it remembered that the “desperate move” was one of eighty thousand men, with twenty thousand more (Sedgwick) close at hand as a reserve, against at the outside forty-five thousand men, if Early should be ordered up to re-enforce Lee. And Hooker knew the force of Lee, or had as good authority for knowing it as he had for most of the facts he assumed, in condemning Sedgwick. Moreover, from the statements of prisoners we had taken, very nearly an exact estimate could be made of the then numbers of the Army of Northern Virginia.
All the corps commanders were present at this conference, except Slocum, who afterwards came in. All were in favor of an advance, except Sickles; while Couch wavered, fearing that no advance could be made to advantage under Hooker. Hancock, (testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War,) says: “I understood from him” (Couch) “always that he was in favor of fighting then.” Hooker claims Couch to have been for retreat; but the testimony of the generals present, as far as available, goes to show the council to have been substantially as will now be narrated.