The Federal pontoon bridges and troops below Fredericksburg “were effectually protected from our artillery by the depth of the river’s bed and the narrowness of the stream, while the batteries on the other side completely commanded the wide plain between our lines and the river.”
“As at the first battle of Fredericksburg, it was thought best to select positions with a view to resist the advance of the enemy, rather than incur the heavy loss that would attend any attempt to prevent his crossing.”
At the time of Hooker’s flank movement, there were between the Rappahannock and Rapidan no troops excepting some twenty-seven hundred cavalry under Stuart, forming Lee’s extreme left. But Stuart made up for his small numbers by his promptness in conveying to his chief information of every movement and of the size of every column during Hooker’s passage of the rivers. And the capture of a few prisoners from each of the Fifth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Corps enabled him and his superior to gauge the dimensions of the approaching army with fair accuracy.
But until Thursday night the plan of Hooker’s attack was not sufficiently developed to warrant decisive action on the part of Lee.
Of the bulk of the Confederate forces, Early’s division was ahead at Hamilton’s Crossing, intrenched in an almost impregnable position. On Wednesday, April 29, the rest of Jackson’s corps was moved up from below, where Doubleday’s and Morrow’s demonstrations had until now kept it.
A. P. Hill’s and Trimble’s divisions were in the second and third lines on this wing; while Anderson and McLaws, the only troops of Longstreet’s corps left with the Army of Northern Virginia, held the intrenchments along the river above Fredericksburg. Barksdale was in the town. Pendleton with the reserve artillery was at Massaponax.
When, from Sedgwick’s inactivity and the information received from Stuart, Lee, on Wednesday afternoon, had been led to suspect that the main attack might be from the columns crossing above, he had immediately ordered Anderson to occupy Chancellorsville with Wright’s brigade, and with Mahone and Posey from United-States Ford, so soon as that position was compromised, leaving a few companies there to dispute its possession as long as possible.
We have seen how Anderson engaged Meade near Chancellorsville as the latter advanced, and then retired to a position near Mine-Run road. Here was the crest of a hill running substantially north and south. Gen. Lee had already selected this line; and Col. Smith, his chief engineer, had drawn up a plan of intrenchments. Anderson detailed men, who, during the night, threw up some strong field-works.
Late Thursday night Lee appears first fully to have matured his plan for parrying Hooker’s thrust.
Barksdale’s brigade was left at Fredericksburg, where during the winter it had been doing picket-duty, to form the left of the line remaining to oppose Sedgwick. Part of Pendleton’s reserve artillery was near by; while Early, commanding this entire body, held Hamilton’s Crossing. He had a force of eighty-five hundred muskets, and thirty pieces of artillery.