Tilgham commanding, in front, gallantly pressed back the enemy's pickets and skirmishers until he was discovered in force. A detachment of Berdan's Sharpshooters, from Whipple's division, accompanied each regiment. A number of prisoners and full reports of the enemy's dispositions were among the satisfactory results of this brilliant reconnaissance. Colonel Blaisdell was not withdrawn until night, when he received the emphatic commendation of Major-General Hancock, from whose front the advance was made.
My attention was now withdrawn from Chancellorsville, where Berry and Whipple remained in reserve, by several report in quick succession from General Birney, that a column of the enemy was moving along his front toward our right. This column I found on going to the spot to be within easy range of Clark's battery (about 1,600 yards), and Clark so effectually annoyed the enemy by his excellent practice that the infantry sought cover in the woods or some other road more to the south, while the artillery and trains hurried past in great confusion, vainly endeavoring to escape our well-directed and destructive fire.
This continuous column-infantry, artillery, trains, and ambulances-was ordered for three hours moving apparently in a southerly direction toward One Court-House, on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, or Louisa Court-House, on the Virginia Central. The movement indicated a retreat on Gordonsville or an attack upon our right flank-perhaps both, for if the attack failed the retreat could be continued. The unbroken mass of forest on our right favored the concealment of the enemy's real design. I hastened to report these movements through staff officers to the general-in-chief, and communicated the substance of them in the same manner to Major-General Howard, on my right, and also to Major-General Slocum, inviting their co-operation in case the general-in-chief should authorize me to follow up the enemy and attack his columns.
At noon I received orders to advance cautiously toward the road followed by the enemy, and harass the movement as much as possible. Immediately ordering Birney to push forward over Scott's Run and gain the heights in the Wilderness, I brought up two battalions of sharpshooters, under Colonel Berdan, to be deployed as skirmishers and as flankers, so as to get all possible knowledge of the enemy's movement and of the approaches to his line of march. At the same time I communicated again with Major-Generals Slocum and Howard, and was assured of their prompt co-operation.
Two bridges having been rapidly thrown over Scott's Run, Birney's division, the Twentieth Indiana leading, pressed forward briskly, meeting considerable opposition from skirmishers thrown out by McLaws' division of the enemy's forces, which was found in position to cover the enemy's distance. Reaching the iron foundry, about a mile from his first position, Birney's advance was checked by a 12-pounder battery of the enemy, which, at short range from Welford's house, near the road, poured in a destructive fire. Livingston's battery was sent forward and put in position between the foundry and the front, and soon silenced the enemy's battery. This battery was afterward relieved by Randolph's, and effectually held this important point, upon which the success of the movement depended. Ascertaining from a careful examination of the position that it was practicable to gain the road and break the enemy's column, I so reported to the general-in-chief, adding that as I must expect to encounter a heavy force and a stubborn resistance, and bearing in mind his admonition to move cautiously, I should not advance