More curious still is Hooker’s conduct on Friday, when his three columns came into presence of the enemy. What every one would have expected of Fighting Joe was, that at this supreme moment his energy would have risen to its highest pitch. It was a slight task to hold the enemy for a few hours. Before ordering the columns back, Hooker should have gone in person to Sykes’s front. Here he would have shortly ascertained that Jackson was moving around his right. What easier than to leave a strong enough force at the edge of the Wilderness, and to move by his left towards Banks’s Ford, where he already had Meade’s heavy column? This would have kept his line of communication with United-States Ford open, and, while uncovering Banks’s Ford, would at the same time turn Jackson’s right. It is not as if such a movement carried him away from his base, or uncovered his communications. It was the direct way to preserve both.
But at this point Hooker faltered. Fighting Joe had reached the culminating desire of his life. He had come face to face with his foe, and had a hundred and twenty thousand eager and well-disciplined men at his back. He had come to fight, and he—retreated without crossing swords.
The position at Chancellorsville.
The position at Chancellorsville was good for neither attack nor defence. The ground was not open enough for artillery, except down the few roads, and across an occasional clearing. Cavalry was useless. Infantry could not advance steadily in line. The ground was such in Hooker’s front, that Lee could manoeuvre or mass his troops unseen by him. Our own troops were so located, that to re-enforce any portion of the line, which might be attacked, with sufficient speed, was impossible.
Anderson (as has been stated) had been ordered by Lee to hold Chancellorsville; but after examination of the ground, and consultation with Mahone and Posey, he concluded to transcend his instructions, and retired to the junction of Mine Road and the turnpike. He assumed that the superiority of this latter ground would excuse his failure to hold his position in the Wilderness.
Gen. Hancock says: “I consider that the position at Chancellorsville was not a good one. It was a flat country, and had no local military advantages.”
And the testimony of all our general officers is strongly to the same effect.
The position to which Hooker retired was the same which the troops, wearied with their march of Thursday, had taken up without any expectation of fighting a battle there. Hooker had desired to contract his lines somewhat after Friday’s check; but the feeling that farther retreat would still more dishearten the men, already wondering at this unexplained withdrawal, and the assurance of the generals on the right that they could hold it against any force the enemy could bring against their front, decided him in favor of leaving the line as it was, and of strengthening it by breastworks and abattis.