Dripping wet Union soldiers stepped out of the North Anna River’s Jericho Ford on May 22, 1864, setting foot in Hanover County, Virginia. Concerned with building fires to boil their coffee, they were unaware that Confederate General Robert E. Lee observed them through a spyglass from a high vantage point. The commander of the Army of Northern Virginia was evaluating the degree to which they threatened his left flank.
Too sick to mount a horse, Lee took a carriage from his headquarters to the location. Racked with an intensifying intestinal ailment and a high temperature, he dismissed the distant Yankees from his worries. Lee believed the Army of the Potomac’s main force intended to cross the river somewhere downstream. “This is nothing but a feint,” Lee said as he dictated orders to Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill, commander of the Confederate III Corps, instructing him to remain in camp.
Hill’s troops had just completed a 30-mile march from Spotsylvania and were bivouacked at Anderson’s Station. Although Hill was responsible for covering Jericho Ford, he had failed to do so. But Lee’s intuition was dulled by his illness. On the heels of the little vanguard that crossed the North Anna were four divisions of Maj. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren’s V Corps.