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[116] thousand men,1 leaving the remainder of the army of the Potomac to hold the entrenched lines. The movement was to be in three columns. The Ninth corps had the right, immediately west of its former position, the Second corps was on the left with Gregg's cavalry, while the Fifth corps was to move between the other two, on a line part of which had to be opened as the troops advanced. The geography of the country was perplexing in the extreme. Not only was the region covered with a dense forest and an undergrowth as impenetrable as in the Wilderness, but Hatcher's run, a tortuous and difficult stream, must be crossed and re-crossed several times. This creek flows east as far as the Boydton road, crossing it under a bridge at Burgess's mill, but shortly afterwards makes a bend, and then runs almost due south for several miles. It lay directly in the path of the national army, covering every approach to the Boydton road.

Parke, who was to start out nearest the enemy, had been instructed not to assault, if he found the rebels entrenched and their works well manned, but to confront them and be prepared to advance promptly, whenever, by the movement of the other two corps, the enemy was compelled to give way.2

1 This was the number reported to Grant by Meade as available for the operation.

2 It has been asserted that the plan of this movement included a vigorous attack by Parke upon the right of the rebel entrenched line; but no such attack was contemplated by Grant. His words to Meade were almost those in the text: ‘Parke, who starts out nearest to the enemy, should be instructed that if he finds the enemy entrenched and their works well manned, he is not to attack, but confront him and be prepared to advance promptly when he finds that by the movement of the other two columns to the right and rear of them, they begin to give way.’ Meade's order to Parke, however, contained these words: ‘It is probable that the enemy's line of entrenchments is incomplete at that point, and the commanding general expects by a secret and sudden movement to surprise them and carry their half-formed works.’ This did not express Grant's view, and when the order was submitted to him, he said to Meade: ‘The only point in which I could suggest a change is in regard to Parke. If he finds the enemy's fortifications in good defensible condition, I think he should only confront them until the movement of the other two corps had its effect.’ To this Meade replied: ‘The orders for to-morrow intend that Parke should act in the manner you suggest; that is to say, he will not attack if he finds the enemy in such position and force as render it injudicious to do so; but as the movement is to be made at daylight, or just before, he will have to make a partial attack to ascertain the exact condition of affairs, unless he waits until after daylight; and if he does, I am quite sure he will have no chance.’

The difficulty Meade found in expressing Grant's idea, may be thought to illustrate the unadvisability of any intervention between the general-in-chief and the corps commanders.

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