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[398] thus hope to silence any batteries the rebels might bring to bar our passage. If, then, we should succeed in laying the pontoons, it would simply be a matter of a rush up the heights under cover of the fire of our artillery, and a key position would be gained. It should further be added that the rebels had fortified far more below than they had above; and these considerations determined the choice of some of the fords of the Upper Rappahannock as the point of traverse.

United States Ford, ten miles above Fredericksburgh, was selected as the point. Happily a far greater degree of secrecy than we had hitherto succeeded in preserving as to our projected movements was this time obtained. The pontoons, of which a large additional supply had been obtained in Washington, were sent up by a back-road and under cover of night — at the same time others were sent down the river to other points. Roads were cut to the various fords above; spots were cleared of their timber for positions for batteries — but precisely similar work was carried on at a half-dozen other points.

The weather ever since the battle of Fredericksburgh, with one or two brief exceptions, had been magnificent, and the roads were in excellent condition for military operations. All felt, however, that this season of grace, inviting to action, could not last; that a single night's rain would render the roads impracticable for the whole winter, and we could not help praying that the golden moments might be utilized. Would to Heaven they had!

Although an encouraging degree of secrecy had been observed as to the projected movement, the active preliminary preparations going on — of which the rebels were made aware by their numerous spies on this side of the river — admonished them to be on the look-out here. The advance was determined for Tuesday, the twentieth. On the Thursday previous the rebel pickets were sending up signal rockets all night, and the observations of our own signal corps showed that a division of rebel infantry had been moved up to the vicinity of the ford. Presently mounds of the red clay of the region, which began to become apparent through the glass, showed that the watchful enemy was at work throwing up rifle-pits.

On Monday, at one o'clock, the troops were set in motion, Hooker's command moving in column up by one road, Franklin's by another. It was a march of but ten or a dozen miles, and night saw them encamped in the woods, within convenient distance of the fords. The crossing was to have been attempted on Tuesday morning. Information brought by our spies and scouts from the other side of the river determined a day's delay, and, at the last moment, the plan was changed. Instead of attempting the crossing at United States Ford, Gen. Burnside resolved to make it at Banks's Ford--four miles below — and the movement was put off for another day. On Wednesday morning the crossing would take place. With the first gray dawn the pontoons would be laid under the direction of the corps of engineers, protected by our sharpshooters. It was presumed that a couple of hours would suffice to see this done, and four hours was considered enough for the crossing of the whole infantry force.

The crossing of a river, though in itself an operation belonging rather to tactics than to strategy, may yet be a cardinal point in a whole system of strategic movements. Our hope was that we should surprise the enemy at Banks's Ford. Hooker's and Franklin's grand divisions would then be thrown across the river, while at the same time one of Sumner's corps (the Second) would make a feint with pontoons, etc., some miles below Fredericksburgh. The key of the whole situation is the hills in the rear of Taylor's house, a mile back from the ford, and a mile and a half below it. If we should succeed in making the heights, and taking possession of this position, the game would be entirely in our own hands. The strong rebel position in the rear of Fredericksburgh would thus be turned, and just as soon as this was effected, Gen. Sumner was to cross at the old place, directly opposite Fredericksburgh, and attack the works in front. The reserve grand division of Gen. Sigel was assisting in guarding the line of the river and our lines of communication.

On Tuesday every preparation had been made. That day Gen. Burnside issued a general order, announcing that “the army of the Potomac was about to meet the enemy once more,” and that “the auspicious moment had arrived to strike a great and mortal blow to the rebellion, and to gain that decisive victory which is due to the country.” This order was read to the men that evening, and night found the infantry encamped in the woods within easy speaking distance. The positions for the batteries had all been selected. The batteries were at hand. The pontoons were within reach, a short distance back of the river.

We were sitting, the editor-in-chief of the Times and the present writer, in our tent at headquarters that evening, looking forward to a start on horseback for the scene of operations before daylight the following morning. About nine o'clock a light, ominous pattering was heard on the canvas roof. “It is rain!” was the exclamation, and, looking out from the tent, the heavens showed all the signs of a terrible storm. From that moment we felt that the winter campaign had ended.

It was a wild Walpurgis night, such as Goethe paints in the “Faust” while the demons held revel in the forest of the Brocken. All hopes that it would be a “mere shower” were presently blasted. It was evident we were in for a regular north-easter, and among the roughest of that rough type. Yet was there hard work done that fearful night. One hundred and fifty pieces of artillery were to be planted in the position selected for them by Gen. Hunt, Chief of Artillery--a man of rare energy and of a high order of


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