By command of Major-Gen.
May 5, 1863, 1.20 A.M.
Yours received saying you should hold
position. Order to withdraw countermanded.
May 5, 1863, 2 P.M. (should be 2 A.M.).
Gen. Hooker’s order received. Will withdraw my forces immediately.
May 5, 1863, 7 A.M.
I recrossed to the north bank of the Rappahannock last night, and am in camp about a mile back from the ford. The bridges have been taken up.
These despatches explain themselves, if read, as is indispensable, with the hours of sending and receipt kept well in mind. No fault can be imputed to either Hooker or Sedgwick, in that the intention of the one could not be executed by the other. The apparent cross-purpose of the despatches is explained by the difficulty of communication between headquarters and the Sixth Corps.
The order to withdraw, though sent by Hooker before the receipt of Sedgwick’s despatch saying he would hold the corps south of the river, was received by Sedgwick long before the countermand, which was exceptionally delayed, and was at once, under the urgent circumstances, put into course of execution.
As soon as the enemy ascertained that Sedgwick was crossing, Alexander’s artillery began dropping shells in the neighborhood of the bridges and river banks; and Gen. Wilcox, with his own and Kershaw’s brigades, followed up Sedgwick’s movements to the crossing, and used his artillery freely.
When the last column had almost filed upon the bridge, Sedgwick was taken aback by the receipt of Hooker’s despatch of 1.20 A.M., countermanding the order to withdraw as above quoted.
The main portion, however, being already upon the left bank, the corps could not now re-cross, except by forcing the passage, as the Confederates absolutely commanded the bridge and approaches, and with a heavy body of troops. And, as Lee was fully satisfied to have got rid of Sedgwick, upon conditions which left him free to turn with the bulk of his army upon Hooker, it was not likely that Sedgwick could in any event have successfully attempted it. The situation left him no choice but to go into camp near by. An adequate force was sent to watch the ford, and guard the river.
The losses of the Sixth Corps during these two days’ engagements were 4,925 men. Sedgwick captured, according to his report, five flags, fifteen guns (nine of which were brought off), and fourteen hundred prisoners, and lost no material. These captures are not conceded by the Confederate authorities, some of whom claim that Sedgwick decamped in such confusion as to leave the ground strewed with arms, accoutrements, and material of all kinds. But it is probable, on comparison of all facts, and the due weighing of all testimony, that substantially nothing was lost by the Sixth Corps, except a part of the weapons of the dead and wounded.