« PreviousContinue »
HOOKER had no more faithful and sympathizing friend than PRESIDENT LINCOLN, who was his frequent visitor.
In the arrangement, by BURNSIDE, on assuming command of the Army of the Potomac, of dividing it into Three Grand Divisions of Two Corps each, HOOKER was assigned to command the Center Grand Division, composed of the Third Corps, then under STONEMAN, and the Fifth Corps, under BUTTERFIELD. Fredericksburg (December 13) was fought and lost. The post of honor and responsibility, of covering the withdrawal of the Army across the Rappahannock, in presence and under the guns of the enemy, was ably and successfully conducted by HOOKER'S command (the Fifth Corps, under BUTTERFIELD). A second Fredericksburg was attempted but defeated— The Mud Campaign of Potomac History."
Ineffectual service, resultless combats, heavy losses, drafts, and large expenditures, with political indifference at home, and apparent lack of zeal and confiding faithfulness among officers of rank, shifting of commanders, an unfixed military régime, and indeed desertion was telling upon the morale and strength of the Army of the Potomac. It was in danger of destruction-but not from the enemy. The full private record of these troubles has never been published. History has yet to ascribe adequate reward and proper acknowledgment to the arduous and effective duty performed by the staff and organization that HOOKER, with his intrinsic knowledge of men, had brought around him. Its silent achievements of detail, discipline, esprit de corps, and renewal of patriotism, courage, and faith in that Army, the difficulties encountered, and the results attained in the first sixty days of his command, although thoroughly well-known by all its high officers and good soldiers, have never yet received any sufficient public recognition.
Thus, in camp, as well as amid the strife of actual collision, HOOKER proved himself a leader among men. He was as sagacicus in council and discreet in judgment as he was fearless in the conflict of arms. He made himself, also, generally personally known throughout the Army, and, wherever known, his leadership was acknowledged by every rank.
Every private soldier who wished it visited his own home; every officer was freshly instructed in his special duties; every man was imbued with new military ardor and patriotic zeal; candor, obedience, honor, fidelity, and comradeship were somehow awakened; every soldier saw the President, his Cabinet, and other men of foreign and domestic renown; a personal interest in the success of the war and its conduct was incited; the cavalry was consolidated and organized, as a corps, for the first time, on a basis best adapted for its useful service, and had won its first victory. This organization of the cavalry was followed in other armies. A system of badges and designations for corps, divisions, and brigades was instituted, which fixed responsibility for stragglers and marauding, aided organization, and marvelously increased efficiency and esprit de corps. Altogether, from the disintegrating sections in January, the Army of the Potomac, at the opening of spring, in 1863, became the choicest command that was ever marshalled under an American soldier. HOOKER never ceased, during his life, to accord to his efficient chief-of-staff, who had labored so thoroughly and effectively in attaining this acccomplishment, unstinted praise and commendation.
HOOKER's assignment to the command of this Army had been accompanied by a letter from PRESIDENT LINCOLN, which, though apparently, is not really a reflection upon HOOKER, but rather a tribute to his candor, high-minded patriotism, capacity and good sense. It is, moreover, an evidence of LINCOLN's greatness, and could have had but one author. On these accounts, yet at the risk, in some eyes, of impropriety, it may as well be read here: EXECUTIVE MANSION,
WASHINGTON, D. C., January 26, 1863.
I have placed you at the head of the Army of the Potomac. Of course I have done this upon what appears to me to be sufficient reasons; and yet I think it best for you to know that there are some things in regard to which I am not quite satisfied with you.
I believe you to be a brave and skillful soldier, which, of course, I like. I also believe you do no I also believe you do not mix politics with your profession, in which you are right. You have confidence in yourself, which is a valuable, if not an indispensable quality. You are ambitious, which, within reasonable bounds, does good rather than harm; but I think that during GENERAL BURNSIDE'S command of the Army you have taken counsel of your ambition, and thwarted* him as much as you could, in which you did a great wrong to the country and to a most meritorious and honorable brother officer.
I have heard, in such way as to believe it, of your recently saying that both the army and the government needed a dictator. Of course it was not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you the command. Only those Generals who gain successes can set up dictators. What I now ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship. The government will support you to the utmost of its ability, which is neither more nor less than it has done and will do for all commanders.
I much fear that the spirit which you have aided to infuse into the army, of criticising their commander and withholding confidence from him, will now turn upon you. I shall assist you, as far as I can, to put it down. Neither you nor Napoleon, if he were alive again, could get any good out of an army while such a spirit prevails in it. And now beware of rashness-beware of rashness; but, with energy and sleepless vigilance, go forward and give us victories.
Yours, very truly,
Having proved himself an organizer, HOOKER's Chancellorsville campaign exhibited him as a strategist and tactician of the first order. His was the fate of war. It is only just to say that, to his death, HOOKER never relinquished the conviction that there was disregard of time, and its consequent fatalities, if not incapacities, in the left wing of his Army, with which HOOKER was not personally present, in this memorable campaign. On the right, where,
* In this the President was in error. That some officers high in rank under BURNSIDE are open to this charge is a matter of common history. But, whatever were HOOKER's faults, his opinions, or expressions, he was by instinct and by education too much of a soldier to injure his cause or his commander by inefficient performances or disloyal deeds.
having chosen his position, he forced the enemy to attack him, his presence brought order to a field dismayed by the rout of a panicstricken corps, and held fresh troops well in hand, next day, for a final blow, to be delivered at the opportune hour. This hour was anxiously awaited, under terrific slaughter; and, when the crisis came, HOOKER was stricken down and carried into the Chancellor House as one bears away the dead. True, he shortly revived, asserted himself, and showed himself among his troops; but appreciating the gravity of all the circumstances and of the results. to the country, should that morning's fight bring on disaster, HOOKER Confided the immediate disposition of the troops about him to the officer of highest rank near him most available. This was GENERAL MEADE, to whom HOOKER, while helpless, referred a request to continue the battle by attacking, with fresh troops, the exhausted and decimated foe. GENERAL MEADE declined the responsibility of directing attack, on the ground that there was an officer of higher rank with the Army (GENERAL COUCH). Before this officer, in a distant part of the field, arrived, or indeed could be intelligently charged with the situation, the grand opportunity of the day had escaped. The convergence of the Union lines became a necessary consequence, and the two wings of LEE's army united at the ruins of the Chancellorsville mansion.
It is a sad hour for a great army, in the crisis of a great battle, with the country in the balance, at the very acme of victory or defeat, for its commanding General to lie helpless, prostrate from the shock of hostile missile. (This injury, in a few years, brought him paralysis, and afterward, his death.) But this was Chancellorsville, and such was HOOKER's fate. Disabled thus, at the crisis-and how and why it was the crisis, can not be detailed in this placeHOOKER can not strictly be said to be responsible for the impotent conclusions of the encounter so auspiciously begun. Chancellorsville understood is no riddle. The causes which turned it from a Union victory to a Union retreat are not among those which affect the military skill of its commander.
HOOKER'S grand physique did not long succomb. Before his
Army had rested in its camps he was on duty, and little was known of his personal escape.
LEE could not surprise HOOKER as HOOKER surprised LEE by his presence at Chancellorsville. Shortly after LEE started for Pennsylvania, HOOKER marched his Army so that he had a shorter route than LEE, either to Washington or to Richmond. Had LEE's Northern move been a feint he would have had to fight HOOKER at the place of the latter's selection. As its was not a feint, HOOKER planned the concentration of the Army at the place of the great Pennsylvania battle. Without the dispositions and marches of troops, as outlined by HOOKER, and executed by his chief-of-staff, Gettysburg would not have been the place of meeting; without the spirit of HOOKER, which pervaded the troops who sought the enemy, and drew him there into premature attack, and fought him so quickly that no battle elsewhere was then possible, who shall say what Gettysburg might have been,
HOOKER was relieved prior to Gettysburg, at his own request. HALLECK had prevented the march of a body of troops at Harper's Ferry, which HOOKER preferred to utilize in the field by abandoning that post, no longer useful. HOOKER had obtained from LINCOLN, on assuming command, the assurance that HALLECK should should not interfere with his plans. This interference of HALLECK being regarded, therefore, by HOOKER, as a breach of a necessary condition, he promptly responded by a telegraphic request to be relieved, and GENERAL MEADE the next day assumed the command. A few days afterward Harper's Ferry was abandoned, as HOOKER, in his day bad in vain planned.
The morning he relinquished his command at Frederick, a well-known staff officer and friend of GENERAL HOOKER entered his tent to say good-bye, and added that he had hoped to have fought the coming battle under his old commander, of whom he had first learned war. To this HOOKER replied, with moistened eyes, and in his familiar way: "It is all right, (calling him by name), GENERAL MEADE is a good officer and a brave man, and will command this army well." Then he added the sentiment that, in