It was a strategic plan that every Civil War general dreamed of. Steal a march on your enemy. Turn his flank. Force him to attack you at a place of your choosing, rather than assault him in his prepared defenses. The plan was complex; the opportunities for things to go wrong were many, but such was Maj. Gen. Thomas Hooker’s plan for the Chancellorsville campaign, and for the most part, the plan worked very well.
The Army of the Potomac finally began to move on Monday, April 27, 1862. Howard’s XI Corps, followed by Slocum’s XII Corps, and then Meade’s V Corps, left their camps near Stafford and marched about fifteen miles west, where they crossed the Rappahannock River at Kelly’s Ford. The long column then turned southeast toward the Rapidan River. The three corps then marched through most of the Wilderness, arriving at their assigned positions in the vicinity of Chancellorsville on Thursday, April 30.
On April 28 Reynolds’ I Corps and Sedgwick’s III Corps moved up from their camps in preparation for crossing the Rappahannock to seize the city of Fredericksburg for the second time. Hooker intended these two corps, along with Gibbon”s division of the II Corps, to keep Lee’s attention focused on a threatened frontal assault, while the bulk of the Army of the Potomac established a new position on Lee’s western flank.
By late afternoon of Thursday, April 30, Hooker’s grand design had been carried out most successfully. All of the troops assigned to deploy around Chancellorsville were in place, except two divisions of Couch’s II Corps. French’s third division and Hancock’s first division had set out along the road closest to the river on the 29th. Progress was slow and back-breaking, because the men of these two divisions, among whom were our friends in the Fourteenth Connecticut, had to repair the deeply rutted and, in places, impassable roads so the artillery could be brought up. The roads were in very poor condition because of Burnside’s “Mud March” in January.
After two days, the men of the Fourteenth finally arrived at the bridge across the Rappahannock at U.S. Ford about 5:00 p.m. Before they were allowed to cross, the following statement from Maj. Gen. Hooker was read to the men:
“The operations of the last three days have determined that the enemy must either ingloriously fly or come out from behind his entrenchments and give us battle on our own ground, where certain destruction awaits him.”
That evening he was also heard to boast that even God Almighty could prevent him from achieving victory.