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‘ [207] which will tend to his discomfiture and defeat.’ * * ‘If the enemy should endeavor to retire by Culpeper and Gordonsville, you will endeavor to hold your force in his front and harass him day and night, unceasingly. If you cannot cut off from his columns large slices the general desires that you will not fail to take small ones. Let your watchword be fight, and let all your orders be fight, fight, fight, bearing in mind that time is as valuable to the general as rebel carcasses. It is not in the power of the rebels to oppose you with more than 5,000 sabres and those badly mounted, and after they leave Culpeper without forage or rations. Keep them from Richmond and sooner or later they must fall in our hands. * * It devolves upon you, general, to take the initiative in the forward movement of this grand army, and on you and your noble command must depend in a great measure the extent and brilliancy of our success.’ The orders closed with this emphatic caution: ‘Bear in mind that celerity, audacity and resolution are everything in war, and especially it is the case with the command you have and the enterprise upon which you are about to embark.’

Such were the orders under which, two weeks or more later than was first proposed, Generals Stoneman and Averill crossed the Rappahannock from Fauquier into Culpeper county, and bivouacked near the above river. The passage was made on April 29th, and that evening, as General Stoneman states, the division and brigade commanders assembled together and ‘we spread our maps and had a thorough understanding of what we were to do and where we were to go.’

Early on the following morning Stoneman, with his command, set out for the Rapidan at Raccoon Ford and a ford below and pushed on without serious opposition to destroy the Central Railroad, the James River Canal and the Richmond and Fredericksburg road.

Averill moved towards Brandy Station, Culpeper and Rapidan Station, for the purpose of masking Stoneman's movement, and cutting Lee's communications towards Gordonsville. His instructions said: ‘In the vicinity of Culpeper you will be likely to come against Fitzhugh Lee's brigade of cavalry, consisting of about 2,000 men, which it is expected that you will be able to disperse and destroy without delay to your advance. At Gordonsville the enemy have a small provost guard of infantry, which it is expected you will destroy, if it can be done without delaying your forward movement.’

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