I accordingly sent orders to Banks to move forward to the same place with all speed. Banks arrived at Culpeper in due season, but to my surprise I received a note from General Sigel, dated at Sperryville, about 6.30 in the evening, acknowledging the receipt of my order, and asking me by what road he should come to Culpeper. As there was but one road, and that a broad stone turnpike, that led directly from Sperryville to Culpeper, I was at a loss to know how General Sigel could entertain any doubts upon the subject. This doubt of General Sigel's delayed the arrival of his corps at Culpeper several hours.
When the reports began to come in from General Bayard that the enemy was advancing upon him, and that his cavalry was forced to retire, I advanced Crawford's brigade of Banks' corps to observe the enemy, to support Bayard in holding the enemy in check, and in determining his force and movements as far as possible.
Ricketts' division of McDowell's corps was on the same day (8th of August) moved to a point 2 1/2 or 3 miles south of Culpeper, and near to the place where the road from Madison Court-House to Culpeper comes into the road from Barnett's Ford to Culpeper. Early on the morning of the 9th I received informed from General Buford, at Madison Court-House, that the enemy was on his right, on his left, and partly in his rear, and that he was retiring toward Sperryville.
On the morning of the 9th of August I pushed Banks in front with his corps to join the brigade of that corps which had gone to the front the day previous. General Banks was instructed by me to move his corps to the position occupied by that brigade; to take up a strong position there to check the advance of the enemy. This instruction was in a personal interview with General Banks at my headquarters at Culpeper.
I told General Banks if the enemy advanced to attack him he should push his skirmishers well to the front and notify me immediately, it being my wish to gain all the time possible to concentrate our forces at Culpeper Court-House. General Banks' corps at that time, from his consolidated report transmitted to me a few days previous, numbered over 12,000 infantry and artillery, and this I understood to be the strength of his corps when he was pressed to the front.
Three miles in rear of the position which I expected him to occupy was Ricketts division of McDowell's corps.
Desultory firing was kept up all day long on the 9th, during which time I received a number of reports from General Banks, in none of which did he consider that the enemy was in any great force in front of him. In one of his notes, dated about 3 o'clock in the day, he mentioned that the enemy was displaying his cavalry ostentatiously; that he had seen no considerable force of infantry, and that he did not believe that they intended to attack. These notes I have, and I can submit them to the court if they so desire it. The last note I received from General Banks was dated about 5 o'clock. He spoke then of the skirmishers approaching each other, and did not indicate that he expected any engagement or ask for any assistance.
Before I had received this note, however, the artillery firing had become so rapid and continuous that I feared a general engagement was going on or might be brought on at any moment. I therefore instructed General McDowell to push forward Ricketts' division as rapidly as possible to the field. General McDowell was in nowise responsible for anything connected with these movements, but in all respects carried out my instructions faithfully and zealously.
By referring to General Roberts' evidence in connection with the foregoing it will be seen that General Banks, who was to act on the defensive and hold the enemy in check till the army could be concentrated, believing the enemy not in force, assumed the offensive, and attacked him, contrary to the expectations of the commander-in-chief, and thus was repulsed with heavy loss before the arrangements which the latter had made could be completed.
It will also be seen it was ordered that General Sigel should follow and support General Banks; and from General Pope's testimony, that General Sigel did not do so because of his unnecessary delay in complying with the orders to march to Culpeper, which caused him to arrive too late, it had been arranged by General Pope, as I afterward understood, that Rickett's division of my corps should constitute the reserve because the other division of the corps (King's) was on the march from Fredericksburg, and he wished to put Ricketts' where King could join him on his arrival, and thus avoid dislocating my command.
The delay in the arrival of General Sigel caused Ricketts to be sent forward in his stead.