The operations of Sunday morning, in common with many of our battles, furnish scarcely more than a narrative of isolated combats, having more or less remote or immediate effect upon each other.
The difficulty of the ground over which our armies were constantly called upon to manoeuvre explains “why the numerous bloody battles fought between the armies of the Union and of the secessionists should have been so indecisive. A proper understanding of the country, too, will help to relieve the Americans from the charge, so frequently made at home and abroad, of want of generalship in handling troops in battle,—battles that had to be fought out hand to hand in forests, where artillery and cavalry could play no part; where the troops could not be seen by those controlling their movements; where the echoes and reverberations of sound from tree to tree were enough to appall the strongest hearts engaged, and yet the noise would often be scarcely heard beyond the immediate scene of strife. Thus the generals on either side, shut out from sight and from hearing, had to trust to the unyielding bravery of their men till couriers from the different parts of the field, often extending for miles, brought word which way the conflict was resulting, before sending the needed support. We should not wonder that such battles often terminated from the mutual exhaustion of both contending forces, but rather, that, in all these struggles of Americans against Americans, no panic on either side gave victory to the other, like that which the French under Moreau gained over the Austrians in the Black Forest.” (Warren.)
The Confederates had their general plan of action, viz., to drive their opponents from the Chancellor House, in order to re-unite their right and left wings, and to obtain possession of the direct road to Fredericksburg, where lay Early and Barksdale. To accomplish this end, they attacked the centre of Hooker’s army,—the right centre particularly,—which blocked their way towards both objects.
It had been no difficult task to divine their purpose. Indeed, it is abundantly shown that Hooker understood it, in his testimony already quoted. But, if he needed evidence of the enemy’s plans, he had acquired full knowledge, shortly after dawn, that the bulk of Stuart’s corps was still confronting Sickles and Williams, where they had fought the evening before; and that Anderson and McLaws had not materially changed their position in front of Geary and Hancock. He could have ascertained, by an early morning reconnoissance, (indeed, his corps-commanders did so on their own responsibility,) that there was no enemy whatsoever confronting his right and left flanks, where three corps, the First, Fifth, and Eleventh, lay chafing with eagerness to engage the foe. And the obvious thing to do was to leave a curtain of troops to hold these flanks, which were protected by almost insuperable natural obstacles, as well as formidable intrenchments, and hold the superfluous troops well in hand, as a central reserve, in the vicinity of headquarters, to be launched against the attacking columns of the enemy, wherever occasion demanded.