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[326] marching toward Banks Ford, which was at this time undefended, although some intrenchments had been erected there. The possession of Banks Ford by Hooker would shorten the distance between Chancellorsville and his left wing under Sedgwick, by several miles.

The advancing forces first came into collision on the Pike. Sharp fighting followed, Semmes's brigade coming up on the left of Mahone and bearing the brunt of it against Sykes's regulars. Sykes's orders had been, however, only to advance to the first ridge beyond the forest, and he maintained his position there, though menaced by the extension of the Confederate lines beyond his flank, until orders were received from Hooker to withdraw to the original position within the forest. Similar orders were also sent to Slocum on the Plank road, and to Griffin and Humphreys who had advanced, nearly five miles down the River road, entirely unopposed, and who were within sight of Banks Ford when the orders for the countermarch reached them. Slocum's corps had not become seriously engaged, but its skirmishers had been driven in and its right flank threatened by Wright's brigade. This advanced upon the line of an unfinished railroad, which, starting from Fredericksburg, ran through the Wilderness generally a mile or two south of the Plank road.

Up to the moment of the withdrawal of his troops, Hooker's campaign had been well planned and well managed, and its culmination was now at hand in the open field—as he had desired. He could scarcely hope for more propitious circumstances, and, by all the rules of the game, a victory was now within his grasp. His lieutenants received the order to fall back with surprise and regret. The advance, upon both the Plank road and the Pike, had cleared the forest and reached fairly good positions. An officer was sent to Hooker to explain and request permission to remain, but he returned in a half-hour, with the orders repeated.

Hooker has been severely blamed for these orders, subverting all the carefully prepared plans only published to the army that morning. It is interesting to learn the cause. Reports from the balloons and signal officers had informed him of the march

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