“We have had five days’ almost constant rain without any prospect yet of its clearing up,” Ulysses S. Grant told Washington on May 16. “The roads have now become so impassable that ambulances with wounded can no long run between here and Fredericksburg. All offensive operations necessarily cease until we can have twenty-four hours of dry weather.”
During the waiting game, the army nonetheless found ways to stay busy. “”[T]he army was employed in constant reconnoitering and skirmishing, developing the enemy’s position and learning the ground,” said Army of the Potomac commander Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade.
Despite the weather, Grant remained optimistic, and he felt his army did, too. “The army is in the best of spirits and feel greatest confidence in ultimate success,” he attested.
On May 17, the break in the weather he’d hoped for finally came. He couldn’t immediately set his army into motion because the roads still needed time to dry, but he himself got to work on his next plan. Since the fight at the Mule Shoe May 12-13, he had been extending his own line leftward, to the east and south. As he did, Lee somehow continued to match him. Yet Grant reasoned that Lee had to be weak somewhere.
Perhaps, he mused, Lee had been pulling from the Brock Road front—just as Grant had been doing—in order to extend his line on the Fredericksburg Road front. If that was so, then it might be worth striking a blow at Lee’s weakened left flank.
Grant ordered the II and VI Corps to ready themselves for a move back toward the area the army had assaulted on May 12. He planned to once more send the two corps toward the old Mule Shoe—now gone—and assault the Confederate left.
“Whole army moved to the right in the night,” observed V Corps commander Gouverneur K. Warren, ordered to hold tight along the Fredericksburg Road. His corps “took up lines and intrenched so that we could hold our position alone, and allow the rest of the army to be used elsewhere.”
The May 18 assault, planned to be every bit as massive as the May 12 assault, would launch at dawn.
(To be continued)