Cram was directed to push his brigade on to Hardwood Church. The various reports that came in from the front appeared to indicate that the enemy was in considerable force, and that he was moving in the direction of Stafford and Dumfries. Under this impassion, the cavalry force would be at daylight in the morning en echelon, the left advanced up the river as far possibly as Deep Run, thus effectually cutting off the retreat of the enemy by the route which he came, and his escape would have been very difficult, if not impossible. About midnight information was received from General Averell that he had arrived with his division at Hardwood Church, whereupon I sent orders to General Pleasonton to move at once for Morrisville, keeping south of Aquia Creed and keeping a good lookout for any trails of the enemy going north.
Shortly afterward I left for Hardwood Church, accompanied by my aides-de-camp. At Falmouth i overtook the Reserve Brigade, and sent forward to direct the commanding officer to push on as fast as the state of the roads would permit, and to get through, if possible, to Hardwood before daylight, and in case I should not be there, to report to General Averall. The head of the column arrived at 4.30 at a point in the vicinity of Hardwood, near which General Avarell was in bivouac, and the rear closed up about daybreak. As soon as the rear was closed up, I directed the brigade to advance, the First Cavalry leading, followed by the Second. General Averell, with his division, joining, I turned over the advance to him, with directions to push on as fast as circumstances would permit. I remained at Hardwood myself, retaining a portion of the Reserve Brigade at that point. I sent a squadron to Richmonds' Ford, toward which i learned a party of the enemy had gone, and over which I learned, through Captain Callender, who accompanied this squadron, the party had recently passed by swimming the river.
Another squadron i sent on the road leading direct to Warrenton, with the view of ascertaining whether any parties had passed direct from Kelly's Ford toward Dumfries. this party, having gone beyond Spotted Tavern, returned without discovering any trail, a thing easily seen had the enemy passed that way, as the ground was than covered with snow. Three officers with small parties were sent out to intercept and communicate with General Pleasonton, supposing he had received and acted upon the orders sent him the night previous.
These officers had directions to order General Pleasonton to return to this camp, as I had learned from undoubted authority that enemy had recrossed the river, and been informed by Captain Callender that the river was swimming and rising fast; and I knew there was no hope of doing anything. The force with General Averell I intended, with the permission of the general commanding, to employ in the destruction of the Reppahannock railroad bridge, and for the purpose I had sent to general Couch for axes, which the general promptly forwarded to me. Before, however, the axes arrived, I received the following, the first communication I received in writing:
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
February 26, 1863-6.30 a. m.
GENERAL: General Hooker directs that in the event of your inability to cut off the enemy's cavalry, your will follow them to their camp, and destroy them.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Major-General, Chief of Staff.