January 26, 1863
President Lincoln sends a paternal letter of advice to boastful and blustering General Joseph Hooker, newly named commander of the Army of the Potomac.
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 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 down. Neither you, nor Napoleon, if he were alive again, could get any good out of any army, which 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.
Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning discusses with President Lincoln his decision to have General Hooker replace General Ambrose Burnside as commander of the Army of the Potomac: “Burnside has resigned the command of the army of the Potomac and been succeeded by Hooker. There was a rumor in the Senate today that genl Sumner and Franklin refused to fight under him Hooker, and that they had both been arrested. I was uneasy about it, and after dinner, just as night went to the Presidents to learn the facts. He told me that on Saturday Burnside was here, and informed him that various causes had contributed to lose him the confidence of the army, and that he was satisfied the service would suffer by it if he continued longer in command, and he desired to relinquish it, which he did. That the President did not know what better to do than tp appoint Hooker, altho he was not satisfied with his conduct — for he was one of those who had thwarted Burnside — but he appointed him, and knowing that Sumner and Franklin did not wish to be under his command, and would not probably cooperate heartily with him, he had simply relieved them of the commands, but that they had not bee arrested. I remarked that from all I could learn from such men and officers of the army as I had seen Genl McClelland possessed their confidence to a greater extent than any other man, and I thought they would fight under him better than under any other Genl we had. He said McClelland stood very high with all educated military men, but the fact was he would not fight
I expressed the apprehension from the difficulty to be encountered in recruiting our army. We must keep it up to the maximum allowed by law to enable us to succeed — that i feared we could not now raise soldiers by enlistment, and we were so divided, and party spirit was so rancorous that an attempt to draft would probably be made the occasion of resistance to the government. He replied that the rebel army was diminishing as fast as ours — I answered that they were united as one man, and we were fatally divided — that their government, call it what they would, was an absolute despotism to which every one yielded unquestioning obedience, and that they could put their whole force in the field — but we were and must be dependent on the will of the people, and unless we could, in some way, regain their confidence, I feared the democrats would soon begin to clamour for compromise, and even make an effort to carry the Western states off with the South. To this he said that whenever they proposed either the people would leave them, and they would be effectually broken down &c.