After dark, May 5, 1863, Union soldiers left their trenches and began making their way toward U.S. Ford. A cold rain drenched the soldiers to the skin and turned the woodland roads to mud. At the ford, the Rappahannock River rose five feet in three hours, overflowing its banks. Union engineers hastily dismantled one of the three pontoon bridges in order to lengthen the other two. Hooker's generals advised him to cancel the movement, but still the retreat continued.
At dawn, Confederate troops crept forward from these trenches and discovered that the Federals were gone. Lee ordered immediate pursuit. "Go after them!" he snapped to Brig. Gen. Dorsey Pender, "Damage them all you can!" But it was too late. By 8 a.m., the last Union brigade had safely crossed the river, and engineers cut the bridges free. The Army of the Potomac would live to fight another day.