“Some delay occurred in getting the troops into position, owing to the broken and irregular nature of the ground, and the difficulty of ascertaining the disposition of the enemy’s forces.” (Lee.) But more or less steady skirmishing had been kept up all day,—to cover the disposition of the Confederate line, and if possible accurately to ascertain the position and relative strength of the ground held by Sedgwick’s divisions.
Not until six were Lee’s preparations completed to his satisfaction; but about that hour, at a given signal, the firing of three guns, a general advance was made by the Confederate forces. Early, on the right of the line, pushed in, with Hoke on the left of his division, from the hill on which Downman’s house stands, and below it, Gordon on the right, up the hills near the intrenchments, and Hays in the centre.
On Early’s left came Anderson, whose brigades extended—in order, Wright, Posey, Perry—to a point nearly as far as, but not joining, McLaws’s right at about Shed’s farm; Mahone of Anderson’s division remained on McLaws’s extreme left, where he had been placed on account of his familiarity with the country in that vicinity; and Wilcox occupied his ground of Sunday.
Alexander established his batteries on a prominent hill, to command the Union artillery, which was posted in a manner to enfilade McLaws’s line. It was Alexander’s opening fire which was the signal for the general assault.
The attack on the corner held by Brooks, was not very heavy, and was held in check chiefly by his skirmish-line and artillery. “The speedy approach of darkness prevented Gen. McLaws from perceiving the success of the attack until the enemy began to re-cross the river.” “His right brigades, under Kershaw and Wofford, advanced through the woods in the direction of the firing, but the retreat was so rapid, that they could only join in the pursuit. A dense fog settled over the field, increasing the obscurity, and rendering great caution necessary to avoid collision between our own troops. Their movements were consequently slow.” (Lee.)
Early’s assault on Howe was made in echelon of battalions, and columns, and was hardy in the extreme. It was growing dark as the attack began, and Hays’s and Hoke’s brigades (says Early) were thrown into some confusion by coming in contact, after they crossed the plank road, below Guest’s house. Barksdale remained at Marye’s hill, with Smith on his left in reserve.
The weakness of Howe’s long line, obliged that officer carefully to study his ground, and make arrangements for ready withdrawal to an interior line, if overmatched by the enemy; and he stationed his reserves accordingly. To the rear of the centre of his first line, held by Gen. Neill’s brigade, and two regiments of Grant’s, was a small covering of woods; here a portion of his reserves, and sufficient artillery, were concentrated. The main assault was made upon his left by Hoke and Hays. Their first