The Army of the Potomac Moves South – May 3rd, 1864

by Phil Spaugy

Germanna Ford -1864

The Army of the Potomac crossing the Rapidan River, May 1864.

The following are the orders issued by the commander of the Army of the Potomac, Major General George Meade that set his army into motion south, hunting for the Army of Northern Virginia, and it’s famed commander Robert E. Lee. Sadly, for many of the soldiers who crossed the swaying pontoon bridge over the Rapidan, heading into that dark, foreboding area of tangled brush and second growth scrub forest known as the Wilderness, it would be the last river crossing.

Headquarters, Army Of The Potomac,
May 2, 1864.

1. The army will move on Wednesday, the 4th May, 1864.

2. On the day previous, Tuesday, the 3d May, Major-General Sheridan, commanding Cavalry Corps, will move Gregg’s cavalry division to the vicinity of Richardsville. It will be accompanied by one-half of the canvas pontoon train, the engineer troops with which will repair the road to Ely’s ford as far as practicable without exposing their work to the observation of the enemy. Guards will be placed in all the occupied houses on or in the vicinity of the route of the cavalry, and in advance toward the Rapidan, so as to prevent any communication with the enemy by the inhabitants. The same precaution will be taken at the same time in front of the First and Third Cavalry Divisions, and •wherever it may be considered necessary. At 2 o’clock A.m., on the 4th May, Gregg’s division will move to Ely’s ford, cross the Rapidan as soon as the canvas pontoon bridge is laid, if the river is not fordable, and as soon as the infantry of the Second Corps is up will move to the vicinity of Piney Branch Church, or in that section, throwing reconnaissances well out on the Pamunkey road toward Spottsylvania Court House, Hamilton’s crossing, and Fredericksburg. The roads past Piney Branch Church, Tod’s tavern, etc., will be kept clear for the passage of the infantry the following day. The cavalry division will remain in this position to cover the passage of the army trains, and will move with them and cover their left flank. At midnight on the 3d May the Third Cavalry Division, with one-half the canvas pontoon bridge train, which will join it after dark, will move to Germanna ford, taking the plank-road and Cross the Rapidan as soon as the bridge is laid, if the river is not fordable, and hold the crossing until the infantry of the Fifth Corps is up; it will then move to Parker’s store on the Orange Court House plank-road or that vicinity, sending out strong reconnaissances on the Orange plank and pike roads, and the Catharpin and Pamunkey roads, until they feel the enemy, and at least as far as Robertson’s tavern, the Hope Church, and Ormond’s or Robinson’s, All intelligence concerning the enemy will be communicated with promptitude to headquarters, and to the corps and division commanders of the nearest infantry troops.

3. Major General Warren, commanding Fifth Corps, will send two divisions at midnight of the 3d instant by way of Stevensbnrg and the piank-road to the crossing of Germanna ford. So much bridge train as may be necessary to bridge the Rapidan at Germanna ford, with such artillery as may be required, will accompany these divisions, which will be followed by the remainder of the corps at such hour that the column will cross the Rapidan without delay. Such disposition of the troops and artillery as may be found necessary to cover the bridge will be made by the corps commander, who, after crossing, will move to the vicinity of the Old Wilderness tavern on the Orange Court House pike. The corps will move the following day past the head of Cartharpin Run, crossing the Orange Court House plank-road at Parker’s store.

4. Major-General Sedgwick, commanding Sixth Corps, will move at 4 A.m. on the 4th inst, by way of Stevensburg and the Germanna plank-road to Germanna ford, following the Fifth Corps, and after crossing the Rapidan will bivouac on the heights beyond. The canvas pontoon train will be taken up as soon as the troops of the Sixth Corps have crossed, and will follow immediately in rear of the troops of that corps. So much of the bridge train of the Sixth Corps as may be necessary to bridge the Rapidan  at Culpeper Mine ford will proceed to Richardsville in rear of the reserve artillery, and as soon as it is ascertained that the reserve artillery are crossing, it will move to Culpeper Mine ford, where the bridge will be established.  The engineers of this bridge train will at once open a road from Culpeper Mine ford direct to Richardsville.

5. Major-Gcneral Hancock, commanding Second Corps, will send two divisions, with so much of the bridge train as may be necessary to bridge the Rapidan at Ely’s ford, and such artillery as may be required, at midnight of the 3d instant, to Ely’s ford. The remainder of the corps will follow at such hour that the column will cross the Rapidan without delay. The canvas pontoon train at this ford will be taken np as scon as the troops of this corps have passed, and will move with it at the head of the trains that accompany the troops. The wooden pontoon bridge will remain. The Second Corps will enter the Stevensburg and Richardsville road at Madden’s, in order that the route from Stevensburg to the plank-road may be free for the Fifth and Sixth Corps. After crossing the Rapidan the Second Corps will move to the vicinity of Chandler’s or Chancellorville.

6. It is expected that the advance divisions of the Fifth and Second Corps, with the wooden pontoon trains, will be at the designated points of crossing not later than 6 A.m. of the 4th instant.

7. The reserve artillery will move at 3 A.m. of the 4th instant and follow the Second Corps, passing Mountain Run at Ross’s mills or Hamilton’s crossing at Ely’s ford, take the road to Chancellorville, and halt for the night at Hunting Creek.

8. Great care will be taken by the corps commanders that the roads are promptly repaired by the pioneers wherever needed, not only for the temporary wants of the division or corps to which the pioneers belong, but for the passage of the troops and trains that follow on the same route.

9. During the movement on the 4th and following days, the commanders of the Fifth and Sixth Corps will occupy the roads on the right flank to cover the passage of their corps, and will keep their flankers well out in that direction.

The commanders of the Second Corps and reserve artillery will in a similar manner look out for the left flank. Wherever practicable, double columns will be used to shorten the columns. Corps commanders will keep in communication and connection with each other, and co-operate wherever necessary. Their picket lines will be connected. They will keep the Commanding General constantly advised of their progress and of everything important that occurs, and will send staff officers to acquaint him with the location of their headquarters. During the movement of the 4th instant headquarters will be on the route of the Fifth and Sixth Corps. It will be established at night between those corps and the Germanna plank-road.

10. The infantry troops will take with them fifty rounds of ammunition upon the person, three (3) days’ full rations in the haversacks, three (3) days’ bread and small rations in the knapsacks, and three days’ beef on the hoof.  Each corps will bring with It one half of its intrenching tools, one hospital wagon, and one medium wagon for each brigade; one-half of the ambulance trains and the light spring-wagons, and pack animals allowed at the various headquarters. No other trains o;- means of transportation than those just specified will accompany the corps, except such wagons as may be necessary for the forage for immediate use for five (5) days. The artillery will have with them the ammunition of the caissons only.

11. The subsistence and other trains loaded with the amount of rations, forage, infantry and artillery ammunition, etc., heretofore ordered, the surplus wooden pontons of the different corps, etc., will be assembled under the direction of the Chief Quartermaster of the army in the vicinity of Richardsville, with a view to crossing the Rapidan by bridges at Ely’s ford and Culpeper Mine ford.

12. A detail of 1,000 or 1,200 men will be made from each corps as guard for its subsistence and other trains; this detail will be composed of entire regiments as far as practicable. No other guards whatever for regimental, brigade, division, or corps wagons will be allowed. Each detail will be under the command of an officer selected for that purpose, and the whole will be commanded by the senior officer of the three. This guard will be so disposed as to protect the trains on the march and in park. The trains are likewise protected by cavalry on the flank and rear.

18. Major-General Sheridan, commanding the Cavalry Corps, will direct the First Cavalry Division to call in its pickets and patrols on the right on the morning of the 4th instant and hold itself ready to move and cover the trains of the army; it will picket and watch the fords of the Rapidan from Rapidan Station to Germanna ford. On the morning of the 5th the First Cavalry Division will cross the Rapidan at Germanna ford and cover the right flank of the trains while crossing the Rapidan and during their movement in rear of the army.

The signal stations on Cedar, Poney, and Stoney Mountains will be maintained as long as practicable.

14. The wooden pontoon train at Germanna and Ely’s fords will remain for the passage of General Burnside’s Army. That at Culpeper Mine ford will be taken up under the direction of the Chief Engineer as soon as the trains have crossed, and will move with the train of its corps.

By command of Major-general Meade,

S. WILLIAMS, Asst, Adjutant-General,