Ayrs, one of which would have to leave the road for the other to pass, and to save the time that would be lost be each division in changing their relative places I determined to send General Ayres' division instead of General Griffin's, as it greatly simplified and expedited the operations and saved the men's strength, so sorely tried. It had besides the effect to prevent the separation of brigades from their proper divisions and keep each intact, a matter of importance.
As quickly as I could write it, I, at 11 p. m., issued the following order:
I. General Ayres, instead of halting his command as directed in his last order (see mine on p. , will proceeded down the plank road to Dinwiddie Court-House and report to General Sheridan. He will send a staff officer to report here when the head of the column arrives.
II. General Crawford and General Griffin will mass their divisions at the point where this order reaches them, and report their position by the officer that brings it. A change of plank makes this change of order necessary.
I not here, a little out of the order of time, that I did not learn the position of General Crawford and General Griffin till 1 a. m., and so difficult had it began to get the troops in motion on this intensely dark and stormy night that although this order from me was sent one hour and a half after the one from them to fall back to the plank road, yet it found them still in the same position.
It must be remembered that our troops, so near the enemy, could not be roused by drums and bugles and loud commands, but each order had to be communicated from each commander to his subordinate-from the general till it reached the non-commissioned officers, which latter could only arouse each man by shaking him. The obstacles to over-come in carrying out so many orders and changes of orders in the darkness of a stormy, starless night, when the moon had set, requires a statement of them in detail.
In order to comply with General Meade's first order I had first to send an officer to each division; then Major, Cope was the only officer capable of taking an order to General Bartlett's brigade, and he was sent. I had sent Major Gentry to ascertain General Bartlett's position, but he, taking the White Oak road, found the enemy holding the junction of it with the one General Bartlett was on, and he failed, as before stated, to find a way to him.
I had to send another officer for the pioneers, and go with them at once to the crossing of Gravelly Run to make the bridge. I had to send another to the bridge itself to report the condition of the crossing. I had, with my full complement of staff officers, the following available, all the others being engaged in their appropriate departments: Colonel Bankhead, Major Gentry, Major Cope, Captain Benyaurd, Captain Wadsworth, and Captain Winslow.
Having, under these circumstances, made my dispositions to execute one order for a general movement promptly, it is easy to see what strait I would be placed in to countermand those orders before the officers sent out with the first orders returned. After I had sent the order last quoted, I informed General Meade what I had done, as follows:
I issued my orders on General Webb's first dispatch to fall back, which made the divisions retire in the order they could most readily move in, viz, Ayres, Crawford, and Griffin. I cannot change them to-night without producing confusion that will render all my operations nugatory. I will now send General Ayres to General Sheridan, and take General Griffin and General Crawford to move against the enemy, as this last dispatch directs I should. Otherwise, I cannot accomplish the apparent objects of the orders I have received.