If, at eleven P.M., when Sedgwick received the order, he had immediately marched, regardless of what was in his front, straight through the town, and up the heights beyond, paying no heed whatever to the darkness of the night, but pushing on his men as best he might, it is not improbable that he could have gained the farther side of this obstacle by daylight. But is it not also probable that his corps would have been in questionable condition for either a march or a fight? It would be extravagant to expect that the organization of the corps could be preserved in any kind of form, however slight the opposition. And, as daylight came on, the troops would have scarcely been in condition to offer brilliant resistance to the attack, which Early, fully apprised of all their movements, would have been in position to make upon their flank and rear.
Keeping in view all the facts,—that Sedgwick was on unknown ground, with an enemy in his front, familiar with every inch of it and with Sedgwick’s every movement; that he had intrenchments to carry where a few months before one man had been more than a match for ten; that the night was dark and foggy; and that he was taken unawares by this order,—it seems that to expect him to carry the heights before daylight, savors of exorbitance.
But it may fairly be acknowledged, that more delay can be discovered in some of the operations of this night and morning, than the most rigorous construction of the orders would warrant. After the repulse of Wheaton and Shaler, a heavier column should at once have been thrown against the works. Nor ought it to have taken so long, under the stringency of the instructions, to ascertain that Gibbon would be stopped by the canal, and Howe by Hazel Run; or perhaps to organize the assaulting columns, after ascertaining that these flank attacks were fruitless.
All this, however, in no wise whatsoever shifts any part of the responsibility for the loss of this campaign, from Hooker’s to Sedgwick’s shoulders. The order of ten P.M. was ill-calculated and impracticable. Hooker had no business to count on Sedgwick’s corps as an element in his problem of Sunday at Chancellorsville.
Sedgwick’s movements towards his chief were certainly more rapid than those of Sickles on Saturday, and no one has undertaken to criticise the latter. Nor would Lee be lightly accused of tardiness for not attacking Sedgwick in force until Monday at six P.M., as will shortly be detailed, when he had despatched his advance towards him shortly after noon on Sunday, and had but a half-dozen miles to march. And yet Lee, precious as every moment was to him, consumed all these hours in preparing to assault Sedgwick’s position in front of Banks’s Ford.