Pleasonton, during Thursday, pushed out towards Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania Court House to observe the enemy.
Fitz Hugh Lee had bivouacked this evening at Todd’s Tavern. Stuart, with his staff, had started towards Fredericksburg to report the condition of affairs to Gen. Lee. It was a bright moonlight night. A mile or two on the road he ran against a party of Federal horsemen, the advance of the Sixth New York Cavalry, under Lieut.-Col. McVicar. Sending back for the Fifth Virginia Cavalry, Lee attacked the Federal troopers, leading in person at the head of his staff; but, being repulsed, he sent for the entire brigade to come up, with which he drove back McVicar’s detachment.
The combat lasted some time, and was interesting as being a night affair, in which the naked weapon was freely used. Its result was to prevent Pleasonton from reaching Spotsylvania Court House, where he might have destroyed a considerable amount of stores.
The position on Thursday evening was then substantially this. At Hamilton’s Crossing there was no change. Each party was keenly scanning the movements of the other, seeking to divine his purpose. Sedgwick and Reynolds were thus holding the bulk of Lee’s army at and near Fredericksburg. Hooker, with four corps, and Sickles close by, lay at Chancellorsville, with only Anderson’s small force in his front, and with his best chances hourly slipping away. For Lee, by this time aware of the real situation, hesitated not a moment in the measures to be taken to meet the attack of his powerful enemy.
Lee’s information and movements.
Let us now turn to Lee, and see what he has been doing while Hooker thus discovered check.
Pollard says: “Lee calmly watched this” (Sedgwick’s) “movement, as well as the one higher up the river under Hooker, until he had penetrated the enemy’s design, and seen the necessity of making a rapid division of his own forces, to confront him on two different fields, and risking the result of fighting him in detail.”
Lossing states Lee’s object as twofold: to retain Banks’s Ford, so as to divide Hooker’s army, and to keep his right wing in the Wilderness.
Let us listen to Lee himself. In his report he says he was convinced on Thursday, as Sedgwick continued inactive, that the main attack would be made on his flank and rear. “The strength of the force which had crossed, and its apparent indisposition to attack, indicated that the principal effort of the enemy would be made in some other quarter.”
He states that on April 14 he was informed that Federal cavalry was concentrating on the upper Rappahannock. On the 21st, that small bodies of infantry had appeared at Kelley’s Ford. These movements, and the demonstrations at Port Royal, “were evidently intended to conceal the designs of the enemy,” who was about to resume active operations.