Two hundred yards in rear of the first line, Colston, commanding Trimble’s division, ranges his brigades, Nichols and Jones on the left, and Colston on the right of the road; Ramseur in support.
A. P. Hill’s division is not yet all up; but, as part reaches the line, it is formed in support of Colston, the balance following in column on the pike.
The second and third lines are ordered to re-enforce the first as occasion requires.
Two pieces of Stuart’s horse-artillery accompany the first line on the pike.
The regiments in the centre of the line appear to have been formed in columns with intervals, each brigade advancing in line of columns by regiment. The troops are not preceded by any skirmishers. The line on the wings is probably not so much massed. It is subsequently testified by many in the Eleventh Corps, that the centre of the line appears to advance en echiquier, the front companies of each line of columns firing while the rear columns are advancing through the intervals.
The march through the woods up to Dowdall’s clearing has not disturbed the lines so materially as to prevent the general execution of such a manoeuvre.
But the Confederate reports show that the regiments were all in line and not in column. The appearance of columns was due to the fact that the second and third lines, under Colston and A. P. Hill, were already pressing up close in the rear of the first under Rodes, thus making a mass nine deep. The intervals between regiments were accidental, occasioned by the swaying of the line to and fro as it forced its way through the underbrush.
It is perhaps no more than fair to say that whatever laxity was apparent at this hour in the Eleventh Corps was by no means incompatible with a readiness to give a good account of itself if an attack should be made upon its front.
Such is the situation at six P.M. Now Jackson gives the order to advance; and a heavy column of twenty-two thousand men, the best infantry in existence, as tough, hardy, and full of elan, as they are ill-fed, ill-clothed, and ill-looking, descends upon the Eleventh Corps, whose only ready force is four regiments, the section of a battery, and a weak line of pickets.
The game, in which these woods still abound, startled at the unusual visitors, fly in the advance of Jackson’s line towards and across the Dowdall clearing, and many a mouth waters, as fur and feather in tempting variety rush past; while several head of deer speedily clear the dangerous ground, before the bead of willing rifles can be drawn upon them.
This sudden appearance of game causes as much jollity as wonder. All are far from imagining its cause.
The next sound is that of bugles giving the command, and enabling the advancing troops to preserve some kind of alignment. At this the wary prick up their ears. Surprise stares on every face. Immediately follows a crash of musketry as Rodes sweeps away our skirmish line as it were a cobweb. Then comes the long and heavy roll of veteran infantry fire, as he falls upon Devens’s line.