However he might have disposed his forces for an attack on Saturday afternoon, he could have committed no mistake as great as the half-way measures which have been narrated. And if the heavy fighting of Sunday had been done the day before with any thing like the dispositions suggested, it could have scarcely failed of brilliant success for the Army of the Potomac.
But six o’clock came: Hooker still lay listlessly awaiting an attack, with his forces disjointedly lodged, and with no common purpose of action; and Jackson had gathered for his mighty blow.
It is but fair to give weight to every circumstance which shall moderate the censure attributable to Hooker for his defeat in this campaign. Early in the morning, after his inspection of the lines on the right, which was made with thoroughness, and after receipt of the first news of the movement of troops across our front, Hooker issued the following circular:—
of the Potomac,
Chancellorsville, Va., May 2, 1863, 9.30 A.M.
Major-gen. Slocum and major-gen. Howard.
I am directed by the major-general commanding to say that the disposition you have made of your corps has been with a view to a front attack by the enemy. If he should throw himself upon your flank, he wishes you to examine the ground, and determine upon the positions you will take in that event, in order that you may be prepared for him in whatever direction he advances. He suggests that you have heavy reserves well in hand to meet this contingency. The right of your line does not appear to be strong enough. No artificial defences worth naming have been thrown up; and there appears to be a scarcity of troops at that point, and not, in the general’s opinion, as favorably posted as might be.
We have good reason to suppose that the enemy is moving to our right. Please advance your pickets for purposes of observation as far as may be, in order to obtain timely information of their approach.
JamesH. Van Alen,
Brigadier-General and Aide-de-Camp.
Although addressed to Slocum as well as Howard, this order scarcely applied with much force to the former, who occupied the right centre of the army, with Birney lying between him and the Eleventh Corps. Howard carried out his part of these instructions as well as circumstances allowed. He posted Barlow’s brigade, his largest and best, on the Buschbeck line, in position for a general reserve for the corps, and took advantage of the ground in a manner calculated to strengthen his flank, and to enable it to cover a change of front if necessary; he placed his reserve artillery on the right of the rifle-pits running across the road at Dowdall’s; he located several regiments on Dowdall’s clearing so as to wheel to the west or south as might be required; Major Hoffman was set to work, and spent the entire day locating and supervising the construction of field-works; and generally, Howard disposed the forces under his command after a fashion calculated to oppose a stubborn resistance to attacks down the pike, should they be made.