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As the Army of the Potomac was to move simultaneously with him, Lee could not detach from his army with safety, and the enemy did not have troops elsewhere to bring to the defense of the city in time to meet a rapid movement from the north of James River.
I may here state that, commanding all the armies as I did, I tried, as far as possible, to leave General Meade in independent command of the Army of the Potomac. My instructions for that army were all through him, and were general in their nature, leaving all the details and the execution to him. The campaigns that followed proved him to be the right man in the right place. His commanding always in the presence of an officer superior to him in rank has drawn from him much of that public attention that his zeal and ability entitle him to, and which he would otherwise have received.
The movement of the Army of the Potomac commenced early on the morning of the 4th of May,under the immediate direction and orders of Major-General Meade, pursuant to instructions. Before night the whole army was across the Rapidan (the Fifth and Sixth Corps crossing at Germanna Ford, an the Second Corps at United States [Ely's] Ford, the cavalry, under Major-General Sheridan, moveing in advance), with the greater part of its trains, numbering about 4,000 wagons, meeting with but slight opposition. The average distance traveled by the troops that day was about twelve miles. This I regarded as a great success, and it removed from my mind the most serious apprehensions I had entertained, that of crossing the river in the fact of an active, large, well-appointed, and ably-commanded army,and how so large a train was to be carried through a hostile country and protected. Early on the 5th the advance corps (the Fifth, Major General G. K. Warren commanding) met and engaged the enemy outside his intrenchments near Mine Run. The battle raged furiously all day, the whole army being brought into the fight as fast as the corps could be got upon the field, which, considering the density of the forest and narrowness of the roads, was done with commendable promptness.
General Burnside, with the Ninth Corps, was at the time the Army of the Potomac moved, left with the bulk of his corps at the crossing of the Rappahannock River and Alexandria railroad, holding the road back to Bull Run, with instructions not to move until he received notice that a crossing of the Rapidan was secured, but to move promptly as soon as such notice was received. This crossing he was apprised of an the afternoon of the 4th. By 6 o'clock of the morning of the 6th he was leading his corps into action near the Wilderness Tavern, some of his troops having marched a distance of over thirty miles, crossing both the Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers. Considering that a large proportion (probably two-thirds) of his command was composed of new troops, unaccustomed to marches and carrying the accouterments of a soldier, this was a remarkable march.
The battle of the Wilderness was renewed by us at 5 o'clock on the morning of the 6th, and continued with unabated fury until darkness set in, each army holding substantially the same position that they had on the evening of the 5th. After dark the enemy made a feeble attempt to turn our right flank, capturing several hundred prisoners and creating considerable confusion. But the promptness of General Sedgwick,who was personally present and commanded that part of our line, soon reformed it and restored order. On the morning of the 7th reconnaissances showed that the enemy had fallen behind his intrenched lines, with pickets to the front, covering
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