commanding general and yourself in regard to the constructions to be placed on the language you used at the consultation of corps commanders, held on the night of the 4th instant, and you desire me to state my recollection of what you said, and the impression your observations made on me at the time.
Before proceeding to comply with your request, it will not be irrelevant to refer to the regret which I expressed, when the consultation began, that written inquiries or propositions were not submitted to the council, upon which each member might vote yea or nay, thus excluding all occasion for doubt or disagreement as to the advice given and contributing much to the precision of the opinions expressed. If my suggestions, predicated upon the unsatisfactory mode in which the deliberations of the council were to be conducted, had not been disregarded, the issue of which you inform me could not have arisen.
You expressed the opinion that General Hooker should attack the enemy; that a retrograde movement in his presence, flushed with the success of his flank attack, the retreat of Sedgwick and the reoccupation of Fredericksburg had become impossible. This opinion afterward yielded somewhat to other considerations; among these were our deficiency in supplies; our imperiled communications, the hazards of a general engagement with an enemy, whose forces we could not estimate, and who could choose his own time and place to accept battle; the instructions which required the commanding general to protect Washington; and the consequences to the North which would follow disaster to this army. At the close of the discussion, my impression was that your original preferences appeared to have been surrendered to the clear conviction of the commanding general of the necessity which dictated his return to the north bank of the Rappahannock, and his unhesitating confidence in the practicability of withdrawing his army, without loss of men or material.
I am, general, very respectfully, your most obedient servant,
D. E. SICKLES,
Major-General, Commanding Third Army Corps.
HEADQUARTERS ELEVENTH ARMY CORPS,
May 26, 1863.
Commanding Fifth Army Corps:
GENERAL: Your letter of the 22nd was received only yesterday, and I hasten to reply.
You request me to state my recollection of what you said at the consultation of corps commanders on the night of May 4, instant, and the impression it made upon me at the time. I understood you at first to say that you thought it best to attack, for you believed a retreat would be disastrous. After General Hooker returned to the tent, just before we broke up, and gave his decided opinion that he would withdraw the army in safety, I think you made no further objections, and, from something you said-what, I do not precisely recall-the impression I had was, that your opinion in favor of an attack was contingent upon the practicability of withdrawing the army to this side of the Rappahannock.
O. O. HOWARD,