« PrejšnjaNaprej »
at which General Burnside expected supplies, were occupied in force by the enemy. These statements are contained in a document dated November 15, 1863. All these assertions are both in substance and in form incorrect.
Mr. Lincoln had given suggestions, not instructions. His words in closing his letter to General McClellan are: "This letter is in no sense an order." General Burnside did not deviate from the President's wishes, if these are to be understood by his words. He refers particularly to Aquia Creek and Fredericksburg, as points through which supplies were to be forwarded; as the army moved upon a "chord line." The lines would be "lengthened a little, if you press closer to the Blue Ridge part of the way." The President, in another paragraph of his letter, says that he "would press closely" to the enemy, "fight him, if a favorable opportunity should present, and, at least try to beat him to Richmond on the inside track” It cannot be denied that General Burnside's plan was completely in accordance with the spirit of the President's letter, and even with the language of that document when rationally interpreted. General Halleck, therefore, in accusing General Burnside of deviating from the President's instructions, is accusing wrongfully.
The second statement, that the President assented to some other plan than that which was written is disproved by General Halleck's own testimony given before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, on the 22d of December, 1862. The following questions by Mr. Gooch and answers by General Halleck are conclusive upon this point: "Q. When you were there [at Warrenton] was the time considered that it would take to move the army from where it was to Falmouth, opposite Fredericksburg? A. No, sir; for it was not determined at that time that the movement should be made.' Q. 'Was it not determined it should be made provided the President assented to it? A. Yes, sir; and he was immediately to commence his preparations as though it had been assented to until telegraphed to the contrary, but not to make any movement.'
Q. 'Was or was not the time requisite for the movement of the army from where it was to Falmouth considered at that time?' A. 'It may have been spoken of in conversation. We had a long conversation of three or four hours, and it may have been alluded to; nothing definite was decided upon in relation. to the time it would take. Indeed, I remarked when I left him that he was of opinion that he would-cross a portion of his forces at the fords above the junction of the rivers. That was the opinion that he expressed before I left.' Q. And the residue at Falmouth? A. Yes, sir.'"* A. Yes, sir.'"* Here the chief thought, both in Mr. Gooch's and General Halleck's minds, was the movement to Falmouth. Only casually did the idea of crossing at the upper fords occur, and that too in relation to the crossing of a portion of the army. It is evident that the written plan of General Burnside was the only plan which General Halleck, on the 22d of December, believed to have received the President's assent. His idea of another verbal plan, as spoken of in the following November, was without question an after thought. Corroborative evidence on this point is given in the testimony of General Meigs on the same day. He says: "From
what little I heard of the discussion between General Halleck and General Burnside-I only heard a part of it-I expected that a portion of General Burnside's army would cross above Fredericksburg, and I think he used the expression, that within twenty-four or forty-eight hours, I do not remember which, after he got permission to move, his cavalry would be in Fredericksburg, the main body of his army, however, not crossing above but crossing at Falmouth." General Haupt's testimony before the same committee has not one word favoring the declaration of General Halleck-that a "small force was to be sent north of the river to enable General Haupt to reopen the railroad and re-build the bridges" while the army was to cross by the upper fords. All of General Haupt's testimony shows that he had in mind the necessity of making provision for the
*Report of the Committee on the Conduct of the War, Part I., pp. 675.
transportation of the supplies of a large army from Aquia Creek to Fredericksburg and beyond. He declares, moreover, that "on Friday, November 14, General Halleck informed him that the change of base was approved by the President."*
General Halleck's third assertion is that the points in question were held in force by the enemy. There were but a few pickets at Aquia Creek, and those ran away as soon as some of our troops a small part of the engineer brigade-landed there. At Fredericksburg there was not a large force. Captain Dahlgren had made a dash into that place with a few cavalrymen not long before the army moved, and General Sumner testified, that he thought he "could have taken Fred-' ericksburg and the heights on the other side of it any time within three days after" his arrival, if the pontons had been at Falmouth, for he did "not think there was much force of the enemy there up to that time." A remark of General Halleck's, in the same report, respecting an expectation of General Burnside, that "gunboats were to cover the crossing" of his troops at Falmouth has no foundation whatever. Thus General Halleck stands open to the grave charge of attempting, in an official document, to mislead the public mind.
General Burnside, having received the President's assent to his plan, and trusting that General Halleck would be as good as his word in forwarding pontons and supplies, proceeded to put his designs in execution. In accordance with the President's suggestion, he determined to move rapidly. He had organized his army into three grand divisions, of two corps each, the right under General Sumner, the centre under General Hooker, and the left under General Franklin. General Sumner's command started at daylight on the 15th of November, and the remainder of the army on the 16th. The Ninth Corps made demonstrations towards the Rappahannock, and the cavalry guarded the fords as the army passed. General Sumner's advance reached Falmouth on the 17th, and was
*Report of Committee on Conduct of the War, Part 1., p. 683.
opened upon by a battery of artillery posted upon the opposite side of the river. One of our own batteries was brought up and soon silenced the enemy, who fled, leaving four guns unprotected. General Sumner wished to cross, but as his orders were simply to occupy Falmouth without crossing, and as the fords in the neighborhood were impracticable, he halted his troops until the remainder of the army should come up. General Franklin concentrated his command at and near Stafford Court House. General Hooker was upon the road for three days, reached Hartwood on the 19th, and remained there over the 20th. While he was at Hartwood he addressed a letter to General Burnside suggesting that he could cross his grand division at one of the fords in the vicinity, and march on Sexton's Junction. He requested permission to do so, alleging that he could live on the country through which he passed. General Burnside declined allowing this march to be made, for the reason that the army was not sufficiently supplied for such a detached movement, and also because he was unwilling that a body of men, not over twenty-five thousand in number, should march out upon an isolated expedition into an enemy's country and in the face of a superior hostile force. Such a movement, though partaking of the characteristic daring of General Hooker, was not sufficiently prudent to ensure its success.
General Burnside left Warrenton on the 16th, and on the 19th arrived at Falmouth. To his great surprise, no ponton train was there, and there was no intelligence of any. The movement had been made with great celerity as the President had suggested. But beyond Falmouth there was no possibility of an advance. A wide and deep river lay between the army and the coveted heights beyond Fredericksburg. There were no means of crossing. Below Falmouth not a wheeled vehicle could cross without boats. Above, the fords were impracticable without pontons except for a few cavalrymen in line, or infantry jumping from rock to rock. Moreover, rain began to fall, the river commenced rising, supplies were short, and the roads were in bad condition. The enemy's cavalry had fol
lowed the army occasionally skirmishing with our rear guard. The movement had been developed, but it had failed. It had depended for success upon the prompt arrival at Falmouth of the ponton train. Without that nothing could be done. The fords were examined and pronounced to be impassable. Yet General Burnside hoped to "cross over by the United States Ford some cavalry and infantry with some light pieces of artillery." No enemy had yet appeared on the opposite bank in any great force, and the expectation of moving across the Rappahannock was not yet wholly dissipated. But, if General Burnside moved now, he must march his entire army, for General Lee was also moving. Precious time was passing. General Lee and the rebel government were somewhat puzzled to understand the reason of the sudden disappearance of our army from Warranton, and its as sudden reappearance at Falmouth was still more inexplicable. But whatever was the motive, it was General Lee's duty to meet this force as speedily as possible and check its advance. Accordingly he hurried across the country and occupied the heights of Fredericksburg. The golden opportunity had passed. The unguarded avenue to Richmond was barred. The gates were closed. When General Burnside woke on the morning of the 22d, and looked across the river, he saw the enemy's cannon frowning on his position and the enemy's bayonets gleaming in the early light.