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[596]

Crawford, with great difficulty, advanced as ordered, through woods and swamps all but impenetrable, and in which many of his men were lost, while regiments were hopelessly separated from their division, until he was directly on the flank of the Rebel intrenchments; when he, too, was halted by Warren to give time for consultation with Meade — the country having proved entirely different from what was expected. Hancock was now but a mile from Crawford's left; but the dense woods left them in entire ignorance of each other's position. And now, of course, as Hancock was extending his right (Gibbon's division, now under Egan) to find Crawford's left, and receiving a mistaken report that the connection had been made, though a space of 1,200 yards still intervened, Lee threw forward Hill to strike Hancock's right and roll it up after the established fashion.

Hill's leading division, under Heth, crossed the run, making for Hancock, and, following a forest path, swept across in front of Crawford's skirmishers and across the interval between Crawford and Hancock, without clearly knowing where it was. Arriving opposite Hancock's position, Hill, seeing but unseen, silently deployed in the woods, and, at 4 P. M., charged; striking Mott's division, whose first notice of an enemy's approach was a volley of musketry. The brigade (Pierce's) thus charged gave way; a battery was lost; and, for a moment, there was a prospect of another Reams's station disaster. Hancock of course instantly sent word to Egan to change front and hurry to the rescue; but Egan had already done that at the first sound of Hill's guns; and, as the enemy, emerging into the cleared space along the Boydton road, pushed across that road in pursuit of Mott's fugitives, firing and yelling, Egan struck them in flank with two brigades, sweeping down the road, retaking the lost guns, and making over 1,000 prisoners. The disconcerted Rebels retreated as rapidly as they had advanced; but, over 200 of them, fleeing in utter confusion toward the run, fell into Crawford's lines, and were captured. Could Crawford have instantly comprehended the situation and advanced, their loss must have been far greater.

Warren was with Meade in the rear of Crawford's line, when Hill's blow was struck, and at once ordered up Ayres to the support of Hancock; but night fell before Ayres could get up.

Simultaneously with the charge on Hancock's front, Wade Hampton, with five brigades of cavalry, charged his left and rear, guarded by Gregg's cavalry; and Hancock was required to send all his available force to Gregg's support. Hampton persisted till after dark, but gained no ground, and was ultimately beaten off. Hancock's total loss by the day's operations was 1,500; that of the enemy was greater.

Hancock was now authorized by Meade either to withdraw or to hold on and attack next morning, if he could do so safely with the aid of Ayres and Crawford. Being short of ammunition, with no certainty that any more would reach him, or that Ayres and Crawford could bring up their divisions in season for the attack that would naturally be made on him at daybreak, Hancock prudently

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Winfield S. Hancock (12)
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