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The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies

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OFFICIAL RECORDS: Series 1, vol 25, Part 1 (Chancellorsville)
Page 195 Chapter XXXVII. THE CHANCELLORSVILLE CAMPAIGN.

from the margin of the river, but this margin was strongly guarded by men sheltered behind rifle-pits, which guard and its cover were made quite formidable at every available crossing-place. In fact, every little rise of ground that could shelter the enemy and enable him to check our advance was intrenched and prepared for us.

To gain the immediate banks opposite the center of the enemy's line, however, was practicable in several places where the high ground on our side approached the river and enabled our artillery to command it; but the prospect of their gaining a footing on the heights, exposed as our troops would be for long distances to concentrated artillery fire, and finally to meet fresh infantry behind parapets fully prepared, seemed hopeless. Previous experience in attempting it under General Burnside, when the enemy's preparations were far less complete, had made this a conviction in the mind of every private in the ranks. To turn the enemy's right flank, and cross the river so as to gain the heights below his intrenchments, required a secret move of pontoon-trains and artillery for more than 20 miles, over a broken and wooded country, with clayey soils, which, in the condition of the roads at that time, was impossible.

The difficulty of constructing practicable roads toward King George Court-House was great. The side streams running into the Rappahannock and those running into the Potomac interlaced each other at their sources, so as to quite destroy the continuity of the main dividing ridge, and on every road presented transverse ravines with steep hills and oozing springs, which our wheels soon mixed with the clay, and turned literally to streams of mud. So greatly was the country in this section cut up by ravines that it seemed as if the former geological influences that shaped the course of these streams well nigh made the Rappahannock join the Potomac at this the narrowest part of the northern neck which separates them.

General Lee's spy system was so perfect that the move could not have been kept from him, and it is not saying too much that he could have extended his intrenchments down the river as fast as we could have built practicable roads. Add to this the rapidly increasing width of the river, which our pontoons could not span, and which required 1,000 feet of bridging at the first available point below Skinker's Neck, and the impracticability of this flank movement is obvious. On the enemy's left, even the crossing of the river was a matter of the greatest difficulty.

Above Beck's Island, about 2 1/2 miles above Fredericksburg, the high bluffs on each side close in upon the river, having a height above it of perhaps 150 feet, with slopes generally well wooded, very steep, and deeply cut by side ravines. Favorable conditions of approach to the river from either side first present themselves about 6 miles by the road we had to take above Fredericksburg, at a place called Banks' Ford, not then fordable. Here, too, a foothold on the opposite hills gave a command of all the enemy's line. A place of such importance was guarded by the enemy with the utmost care. His earth parapets, placed so at to sweep with musketry every crossing-place and practicable slope, were in three lines from the water's edge to the summit of the slope, and traversed so as to quite protect the defenders from our artillery fire. It might seem that these successive lines would be of little use after the first one was carried, as those who fled from the first would mask the fire of the other, so that pursued and pursuers might enter together. The tactics of the rebels, however, provided for this; the first lines generally surrendered when overpowered instead of running, and thus no confusion is produced in the succeeding lines. At Banks' Ford, more-


Page 195 Chapter XXXVII. THE CHANCELLORSVILLE CAMPAIGN.
OFFICIAL RECORDS: Series 1, vol 25, Part 1 (Chancellorsville)
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