Lincoln Appoints Fighting Joe Hooker to Lead Army of Potomac

January 25, 1863/2013
Volume 4, Issue 4 (120 Issues Since 15 October 2010)

Lincoln Appoints Fighting Joe Hooker to Lead Army of the Potomac

January 25, 1863. General Ambrose Burnside, angered by the open criticism of his subordinates, asked Lincoln for permission to dishonorably discharge several of his generals. Instead, Lincoln relieved Burnside of his command and gave it to one of Burnside’s most strident critics, Fighting Joe Hooker.

Fighting Joe Hooker

Fighting Joe Hooker

Lincoln appointed Hooker despite real concerns about his abilities. The next day, upon Hooker’s appointment, Lincoln handed him the following letter, in which the President discusses Hooker’s strengths and weakness with great candor:

General,

I have placed you at the head of the Army of the Potomac. Of course I have done this upon what appear 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 a skilful soldier, which, of course, I like. 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 Gen. 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 it’s 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
A. Lincoln

Hooker was deeply touched by the tone of the letter. Reading the letter aloud at one point to a journalist, Hooker said, “The President is mistaken. I never thwarted Burnside in any way, shape or manner.” He then continued to read the letter aloud. When he finished, he folded it, put it back in the breast pocket of his coat, and almost with tears in his eyes, said, “That is just such a letter as a father might write to his son. It is a beautiful letter, and, although I think he was harder on me than I deserved, I will say that I love the man who wrote it.”

Fighting Joe Hooker was the third general Lincoln turned to to lead the Union army. Five months after he wrote this letter and just before the Battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln replaced Hooker with General George Meade.

– Submitted by Peter A. Gilbert, Vermont Humanities Council Executive Director

SOURCE

Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler. From http://showcase.netins.net/web/creative/lincoln/speeches/hooker.htm

INTERESTING LINK

Major General Joseph “Fighting Joe” Hooker, The California State Military Museum

The Destruction Of Fighting Joe Hooker, American Heritage

Leave a comment

Filed under Civil War Book of Days: 1863

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s