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headquarters Army of the Potomac, South bank of the North Anna river, Wednesday, May 25--12 M.
After three weeks of marching and fighting, here, then, is the Army of the Potomac, sixty miles from its starting point north of the Rapidan, safely planted south of the North Anna river, and within twenty-five miles of the objective point which, for three years, has been the goal of all the bloody struggles of this army. The hasty despatches which alone it has been possible to send amid the turmoil of action have acquainted you with the more salient facts at least in our later movements, and I shall confine these notes to the record of the operations of the past two or three days. They comprise the strategic operations employed in turning the fortified lines of Spottsylvania and the tactical operations of yesterday and to-day, in crossing the North Anna river, and the actions succeeding the passage. Taken together, they form, perhaps, the most substantial successes of the campaign, and have been gained with a gratifyingly small sacrifice of life.

The experience of the two weeks we spent before the lines of Spottsylvania brought the conviction that that position could not be carried save by an expenditure of blood out of all proportion to the results of any possible victory that could be achieved there. To have been able to bring on a decisive engagement there would undoubtedly have been greatly to our advantage, for we had there a front of operations in easy distance of our proximate base, Fredericksburg, while the enemy was at a long remove from his. In these relations, a battle that would have effectually broken Lee's army would have placed us in the most advantageous position for destroying it in the retreat that would have followed. I think it was with some regret that General Grant was eventually compelled to abandon the hope of delivering such a battle. Day by day the Commanding General continued to throw out toward the left, with the hope of overlapping and breaking in the rebel right wing; and from occupying, as we did at first, a line two or three miles north, and extending five or six miles west of Spottsylvania Court-house, we finally came to hold a line running almost due east from that point and about four miles in extent, our left resting at Massaponax Church. But just in proportion as we stretched to the left, Lee extended his right to conform to our line, and intrenched himself, till finally he came to have a front practically impregnable. Nothing, in fact, can be imagined more formidable than the improvised works which each army has learnt to construct, to cover itself withal. A layer of stout logs, breast high, forms the framework on which a thick parapet of earth is thrown up; in front of this line the timber for several hundred yards is felled, making an elaborately interlaced abattis. Imagine, one, two or three such lines along the enemy's front; plant behind each a line of battle, rake the obstructed approaches with a lavish supply of artillery, and place in front of all several lines of rifle-pits, and you will form a conception, though still an inadequate one, of the nature of the task imposed upon this army when it is proposed to “move on the enemy's works.” Yet in several instances, as you know, and as all the world will some day learn with wonder, the illustrious valor of the Army of the Potomac has plucked victory from these jaws of hell, and bayoneted an unflinching foe in the very enceinte of his citadel. Advices from day to day have informed you of the different attempts that were made to carry the enemy's lines, successively on the right, the centre and the left; of the partial successes achieved, and of our not few repulses. Of our successes, the most complete was undoubtedly that won by Hancock on the morning of the twelfth instant, when his corps struck the famous salient on the right of the rebel line and captured nearly the entire division holding it. Doubtless, could we have known in advance precisely what the upshot of that attack would be, our assailing force, instead of being prepared merely with the view of carrying the position, would have been formed so as to push the success to its consequences, and the whole rebel army might then and there have been doubled up, routed and destroyed. No such golden opportunity again presented itself, and after seeking it in blood-bought reconnoissances on our right and centre, and after a sacrifice of some fifteen thousand killed and maimed men had attested the thoroughness of the effort to secure a decisive victory, the head of the army resolved to force the enemy's abandonment of his lines, with the determination of seeking elsewhere the arena for a new trial of battle.

With this view, it was needful, first of all, that the army should accumulate such supplies as would allow it to cut loose from its old base, and enable it to advance far enough to open a new and more accessible one. This done, it was very certain that by simply massing on the left of our front we would so threaten Lee's communications as to compel him to evacuate his fortified line; in other words, we would effect a turning movement on the rebel right flank. True to the expectation, when the rebels on Friday discovered the corps of Hancock, which, the day before, had been feeling their extreme left, shifted over to their extreme right, Lee began to look out for his lines of retreat. On Friday night, May twenty, Hancock took up his march, advanced due east to Massaponax Church, there diverged on one of the main roads leading due southward from Fredericksburg, continued on during the night and the following day, and on Saturday evening, May twenty-first, occupied Bowling Green, with the head of his column at Milford, distant from the point of starting seventeen miles. He met no enemy.

On the very same night in which Hancock started, Lee began to withdraw. In the dead of night (one o'clock A. M. of Friday-Saturday),

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