French’s division of the Second Corps, and one battery, are ordered to Todd’s Tavern, from which detachments are to be thrown out on the various roads.
The unemployed troops are massed at Chancellorsville, out of the roads. Pleasonton holds his cavalry brigade there in readiness to move. Hooker announces his headquarters at Tabernacle Church as soon as the movement opens.
Immediately after (11.30 A.M., Friday,) Sedgwick is directed to threaten an attack at one P.M., in the direction of Hamilton’s Crossing, to ascertain whether the enemy is hugging his defences in full force. A corps is to be used with proper supports, but nothing more than a demonstration to be made. If certain that the enemy is there in force, Sedgwick is to make no attack.
Sedgwick did not receive this order until about five P. M., but nevertheless made a display in force of Reynolds’s corps, with Newton and Brooks in support. But a countermand was soon received, and the troops withdrawn.
As Hooker supposed his enemy to be in line somewhere midway between Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg, the purpose of these orders to Sedgwick is not plain. Meade, Sykes, and Slocum were ordered to attack the enemy when met. Sedgwick could aid such an attack by pushing the force in his front at Hamilton’s. But a mere demonstration to find out whether the heights were strongly held could have no effect upon the real advance, nor procure Hooker any timely information.
The movement of the three columns out of the Wilderness begins at eleven A.M. It is in accordance with the declared plans of Hooker, and with sound policy. For Chancellorsville is of all places the worst in which to deliver or accept a general engagement, and every mile’s advance towards Fredericksburg brings the army into more open ground.
Meade, with Griffin and Humphreys, advances on the river road to within a short distance of Banks’s Ford, near Decker’s farm. He can easily seize the ford, the possession of which lessens the distance between the wings by six miles. It is the objective Hooker has had in view ever since the movement began. He is preparing to deploy towards Sykes.
Sykes,—to quote Warren,—“on gaining the ridge about a mile and a quarter from Chancellorsville, found the enemy advancing, and driving back our cavalry. This small force resisted handsomely, riding up and firing almost in the faces of the Eleventh Virginia Infantry, which formed the enemy’s advance. Gen. Sykes moved forward in double-quick time, attacked the enemy vigorously, and drove him back with loss, till he had gained the position assigned him.”
This is a crest in front of the heavy forest, and in range of Anderson’s rifle-pits. The Federal skirmishers are the Seventeenth United-States Infantry, supported by Burbank’s brigade.
McLaws is in his front, and deploys across the pike, Semmes on the left of the road, Mahone, Perry, and Wofford on the right. Jordan’s battery is posted on the Mine road.