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[360] employs it should be entitled to the credit of the results obtained, that he should have his information so exact that the mass falls directly upon a vulnerable and vital point of the enemy's position. If there thould be a mistake in this, the chief merit belongs to those exertions and arrangements by which the mistake is corrected, or in the new dispositions which the occasion demands as requisite and which may be practicable. But General Sheridan's calculation, as to the position of the left flank of the enemy's line, was faulty, and to a very serious extent, considering that he had placed all the troops in position for the move. The changes we had to make afterward required the greatest exertion of myself and staff, when everything was in motion, and in woods of the difficult nature usually found in Virginia, no one of the command being at all acquainted with the ground over which we were moving.

After the forward movement began, a few minutes brought us to the White Oak Road, distant about a thousand yards. There we found the advance of General McKenzie's cavalry, which, coming up the White Oak Road, had arrived there just before us. This showed us, for the first time, that we were too far to our right of the enemy's left flank. General Ayres' right crossed the road in the open field, and his division commenced changing front at once, so as to bring his line on the right flank of the enemy's position. Fortunately for us, the enemy's left flank so rested in the woods that he could not fire at us as we crossed this open field, and the part of it that faced us formed a very short line. This General Ayres attacked at once, the firing being heavy, but less than usually destructive, on account of the thick woods. The rapid change of front by General Ayres caused his right flank, at first, to get in advance of General Crawford, owing to the greater distance the latter had to move, and exposed it to be taken in flank by the enemy. Orders were sent by me to General Crawford to oblique his division to the left and close up this interval.

As soon as I had found the enemy's left flank, orders were sent to General Griffin, by several staff officers, to move also obliquely to the left, and come in to the support of General Ayres. But as Griffin's division was moving out of sight in the woods, the order only reached him in the neighborhood of the place marked “Chimneys” on the map. While giving orders thus, I did not think it proper to leave my place in the open field, because it was one where my staff officers, sent to different parts of the command, could immediately find me on their return, and thus I could get information from all points at once, and utilize the many eyes of my staff and those of my subordinate commanders, instead of going to some special point myself, and neglect all others.

The time had not arrived, in my judgment, for me to do that. It may be that at this time it was that General Sheridan thought I did not exert myself to inspire confidence in the troops that broke under a not very severe fire. There was no necessity for my personal presence for such purpose reported from any part of the field.

The time which elapsed before hearing from General Crawford or General Griffin convinced me they must have passed on beyond the right of General Ayres. Leaving sufficient means to send any important information after me, I then rode rapidly to the right, near the Chimneys, and was received with a considerable fire from the enemy across the open field. As I afterward learned, the fire from this position of the enemy occasioned some unsteadiness in General Ayres' right, and also caused the left of General Crawford to oblique to the right, so as to keep the protection of the ridge and trees. I remained here till General Griffin arrived with his division, when I directed him to attack the enemy on the right of General Ayres, and this he proceeded to do. I then rode back to General Ayres' position, and found that he had captured the enemy's extreme left, and some thousand prisoners. This information I sent to General Griffin, and then rode as rapidly as possible to direct General Crawford, as circumstances might require.

Before proceeding further, I will give quotations from Major Cope's report relating to the preceding:

You sent me to General Griffin with an order to bring his division toward the White Oak Road, by the flank, in order to be in better supporting distance of the second division. Also to inform General Crawford that he was going somewhat too far to the right. I found Generals Griffin and Crawford to the right of the Chimneys, and gave them your orders. At this time the enemy had a line of skirmishers running from the left of their line of works, by the Sidney House, toward Hatcher's Run. You came to where General Griffin was, and then returned to the White Oak Road, where I joined you a few minutes after. The part of the enemy's line where you were had been carried by General Ayres, and you sent me again to General Griffin, with this information, and with an order to push forward as fast as possible. He had already reached the Sidney House, and was pushing forward across the field. I delivered your order, and gave him the direction to advance, which was west.

I also annex an extract from General Ayres' report, describing his operations after the forward movement began:

After moving through a wood into an opening, the skirmishers engaged those of the enemy, pushing them back. Soon after crossing the White Oak Road, finding the enemy's fire to come from the left, I changed front to the left by facing the Second brigade to the left, and filing it to the left. Not to lose time, I also threw the First brigade

(his reserve) “into the front line on the left of the Second. The Third brigade, soon after engaging the enemy, finding its right flank in the air (I must confess that I experienced anxiety also on this account) portions ”

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R. B. Ayres (10)
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