Hooker’s theories and chances.
Hooker and Sickles have both stated that the plan of the former was to allow this movement of Jackson’s to develop itself: if it was a retreat, to attack the column at the proper time; if a tactical flank movement, to allow it to be completed, and then thrust himself between the two wings of Lee’s army, and beat them in detail. This admirable generalization lacked the necessary concomitant of intelligent and speedy execution.
Now, Hooker had his choice between two theories of this movement of Jackson. It was a retreat from his front, either because Lee deemed himself compromised, or for the purpose of making new strategic combinations; or it was the massing of troops for a flank attack. It could mean nothing else. Let us, then, do Hooker all the justice the situation will allow.
All that had occurred during the day was fairly explainable on the former hypothesis. If Jackson was passing towards Culpeper, he would naturally send flanking parties out every road leading from the one his own columns were pursuing, towards our lines, for strictly defensive purposes. The several attacks of the day might have thus occurred. This assumption was quite justifiable.
And this was the theory of Howard. He knew that Hooker had all the information obtained along the entire line, from prisoners and scouts. He naturally concluded, that if there was any reasonable supposition that an attack from the west was intended, Hooker would in some way have notified him. But, far from doing this, Hooker had inspected and approved his position, and had ordered Howard’s reserve away. To be sure, early in the morning, Hooker had told him to guard against an attack on the right: but since then circumstances had absolutely changed; Barlow had been taken from him, and he conjectured that the danger of attack had passed. How could he assume otherwise?
Had he suspected an attack down the pike, had he received half an hour’s warning, he could, and naturally would, assuming the responsibility of a corps commander, have changed front to rear so as to occupy with his corps the line along the east side of the Dowdall’s clearing, which he had already intrenched, and where he had his reserve artillery. He did not do so; and it is more easy to say that he was to blame, than to show good cause for the stigma cast upon him for the result of this day.
However much Hooker’s after-wit may have prompted him to deny it, his despatch of 4.10 P.M., to Sedgwick, shows conclusively that he himself had adopted this theory of a retreat. “We know that the enemy is flying,” says he, “trying to save his trains. Two of Sickles’s divisions are among them.”
And it is kinder to Hooker’s memory to assume that he did not apprehend a flank attack on this evening. If he did, his neglect of his position was criminal. Let us glance at the map.