Lee's knowledge of Hooker's movements.
by R. E. Colston, Major-General, C. S. A.The assertion that Hooker's move upon Chancellorsville was a surprise to General Lee is a great mistake. Every day Lee had information of Hooker's movements. The following letter, sent by Lee to Jackson, and by the latter to me, has never been out of my possession since. It shows the remarkable intuition that enabled General Lee on so many occasions to foresee and penetrate the intentions of his antagonist. In this case a demonstration had been made on our extreme right at Port Royal, and without waiting for orders I had gone with a brigade and battery to meet it. I reported the facts to General Jackson, and it is my letter to him to which Lee refers:
The letter was indorsed by Jackson, “Respectfully referred to General Colston for his guidance.” It was also marked “confidential,” and both the front and the back of the envelope were marked “private,” so that not even my adjutant-general should open it in case of my absence. The Federal writers have wondered why Jackson's corps did not complete its work on the evening of May 2d. They do not realize the condition of our troops after their successful charge on Howard. We had forced our way through brush so dense that the troops were nearly stripped of their uniforms. Brigades, regiments, and companies had become so mixed that they could not be handled; besides which the darkness of evening was so intensified by the shade of the dense woods that nothing could be seen a few yards off. The halt at that time was not a mistake, but a necessity. So far from intending to stop, Jackson, when he was wounded, was hurrying A. P. Hill's division to the front to take the place of Rodes's and mine and to continue the attack; A. P. Hill was also wounded soon afterward, and the advance of his troops in the narrow road on which alone they could move was checked by the shell and canister of twelve Napoleon guns, from an elevation within five hundred yards. The slaughter and confusion were greatly increased by this terrible fire in the night, so that the pause in the attack was one of those fatalities of war that no foresight can prevent. It was about 1 o'clock on Sunday, May 3d, that Lee received information that Early had been driven from Marye's Heights and was falling back before Sedgwick. Jackson's corps, which had been fighting since 6 o'clock the previous evening, with very little rest during the night, renewing the conflict at daylight, and capturing the positions at Chancellorsville, was much diminished by casualties and much exhausted by fatigue, hunger, and thirst; but it was preparing to move upon Hooker's last line of intrenchments, erected during the night on very strong positions. My division was in the lead in line of battle. It was then that I received an order to report at once in person to General Lee. I found him standing in a small tent pitched by the roadside. His plain gray sack-coat, with only three stars on the rolling collar, was, like his face, well sprinkled with the dust of the battle-field. In low, quiet tones he said to me: “General, I wish you to advance with your division on the United States Ford road. I expect you will meet with resistance before you come to the bend of the road. I do not want you to attack the enemy's positions, but only to feel them. Send your engineer officer with skirmishers to the front to reconnoiter and report. Don't engage seriously, but keep the enemy in check and prevent him from advancing.” I am confident that these were almost the exact words of General Lee, to which he added, “Move at once,” which I did. I was not a little puzzled at the time (not knowing the situation at Fredericksburg), and I wondered why we were not to continue our advance and hurl Hooker into the river. Lee left the field at Chancellorsville immediately after giving me the above orders, and hastened to Early's support with McLaws's division, Mahone's brigade, and other troops, and compelled Sedgwick to retreat across the Rappahannock.