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[384] fortification went on very slowly, on account of the great scarcity of tools, and the inclement weather, the ground being frozen for many days, and when the enemy crossed the river, on the 11th of December, there were ready for him on the whole line, only about forty detached pits, holding a gun each, but without shelter for ammunition or for infantry supports.

Each army closely picketed the river bank in its front, but there was no picket firing, and for the first time in the war, the individuals on each side were content to walk post quietly, but a hundred yards apart, and await orders to kill from their commanders. So for three weeks, daily, the opposing forces drilled and paraded in sight, and in range of each others, numerous guns, or gathered on the hill tops and watched the Federal balloons floating above the smoke of their numberless fires, and the slow growth of the red batteries, so soon to become volcanoes of carnage.

Meanwhile the Federal advance was delayed in several ways. On the arrival of the head of his column, under Sumner, General Burnside forbade the crossing, then easy to accomplish, by fording, until his communications should be established. By the time that this was done, the opposing force had been so augmented, that it was deemed advisable to wait for pontoon bridges, and when these arrived the balloonists reported such an increase of the Confederate force behind the opposite hills, that a flank movement was preferred to a direct advance, and arrangements were made to cross at Skenker's Neck, twelve miles below Falmouth. Before these arrangements were complete, General Lee's attention had been drawn in that direction by the appearance of some gunboats below Port Royal, and Jackson's corps had been brought from Orange Courthouse, and D. H. Hill's and Early's division of that corps thrown in that neighborhood, and the balloonists seeing this, reported that the plan was discovered, and it was thereupon abandoned. General Burnside had hoped to postpone active operations until Spring,1 but the temper of the Federal administration, and the northern people, would allow no such delay, so he decided to give up his flank movement, make a direct attack, and endeavor to surprise Lee before he could concentrate.

It will be seen from the topography of the situation, as shown in any map of the battle-field, that the crossing of the river could scarcely be seriously contested by the Confederates; the Stafford Heights on the north side approaching close to the river, and completely commanding

1 Swinton, Army of the Potomac, p. 233.

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