President Lincoln Reviews Fifth Corps

April 9, 1863

President Lincoln reviews the one corps of the Army of the Potomac that he had not been able to review the previous day.  Along with Major General John Reynolds, President Lincoln reviewed the First Corps, including freed slaves serving in the army.   Journalist Noah Brooks writes: “On the 9th the First Corps, commanded by General Reynolds, was reviewed by the President on a beautiful plain at the north of Potomac Creek, about eight miles from Hooker’s headquarters. We rode thither in an ambulance over a rough corduroy road; and, as we passed over some of the more difficult portions of the jolting way, the ambulance driver, who sat well in front, occasionally let fly a volley of suppressed oaths at his wild team of six mules.  Finally Mr. Lincoln, leaning forward, touched the man on the shoulder, and said:

‘Excuse me, my friends, are you an Episcopalian?’

“The man, greatly startled, looked around and replied:

‘No, Mr. President; I am a Methodist.’

‘Well,’ said Lincoln, ‘I thought you must be an Episcopalian, because you swear just like Governor Seward, who is a church-warden.’  The driver swore no more.

As we plunged and dashed through the woods, Lincoln called attention to the stumps left by the men who had cut down the trees, and with great discrimination pointed out where an experienced axman made what he called ‘a good butt,’ or where a tyro had left conclusive evidence of being a poor chopper.  Lincoln was delighted with the superb and inspiriting spectacle of the review that day.  A noticeable feature of the doings was the martial music of the corps; and on the following day the President, who loved military music, was warm in his praise of the performances of the bands of the Eleventh Corps, under General Howard, and the Twelfth, under General Slocum.  In these two corps the greater portion of the music was furnished by drums, trumpets, and fifes, and with the most stirring and thrilling effect.  In the division commanded by General Schulz was a magnificent array of drums and trumpets, and his men impressed us as the best drilled and most soldierly of all who passed before us during the day.

I recall with sadness the easy confidence and nonchalance which Hooker showed in all his conversations with the President and his little party while we were at his headquarters.  The general seemed to regard the whole busines of command as if it were a larger sort of picnic.  He was then, by all odds, the handsomest soldier I ever laid my eyes upon.  I think I see him now: tall, shapely, well dressed, though not natty in appearnace; his fair ed and white complexion glowing with health, his bright blue eyes sparkling with intelligence and animation, and his auburn hair tossed back upon his well-shaped head.  His nose was aquiline, and the expression of his somewhat small mouth was one of much sweetness, though rather irresolute, it seemed to me.  He was a gay cavalier, alert and confident, overflowing with animal spirits, and as cheery as a boy.  One of his most frequent expressions when talking with the President was, “When I get to Richmond,’ or ‘After we have taken Richmond,’ etc.  The President, noting this, said to me confidentially, and with a sign: ‘That is the most depressing thing about Hooker.  It seems to me he is overconfident.”

One night when Hooker and I were alone in his hut, which was partly canvas and partly logs, with a spacious fireplace and chimney, he stood in his favorite attitude with his back to the fire, and looking quizzically at me, said, ‘The Prsident tells me that you know all about the letter he wrote to me when eh put me in command of the army.’  I replied that Mr. Lincoln had read it to me; whereupon Hooker drew the letter from his pocket, and said, ‘Wouldn’t you like to hear it again?’  I told him that I should, although I had been so much impressed by its first reading that I believed I could repeat the greater part of its from memory.  That letter has now become historic; then it had not been made public.  As Hooker read on, he came to this sentence:

You are ambitious, which, within reasonable bounds, does good rather than harm; but I think during Burnside’s command of the army you took 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. (Sic)

Here Hooker stopped, and vehemently said: ‘The President is mistaken.  I never thwarted Burnside in any way, shape, or manner.  Burnside was preeminently a man of deportment: he fought the battle of Fredericksburg on his deportment; he was defeated on his deportment; and he took his deportment with him out of the Army of the Potomac, thank God!’  Resuming the reading of Lincoln’s letter, Hooker’s tone immediately softened, and he finished it almost with tears in his eyes; and as he folded it, and put it back in the breast of his coat, he said, “That is jsut such 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.’  Then he added, ‘After I have got to Richmond, I shall give that letter to you to have published.’”

Lincoln friend Anson Henry, who accompanied the presidential party, wrote: “I feel very sure that we have got the right man at last, and one that will take his army into Richmond before the end of 90 days, but not through Fredericksburg, for he will find a way to get around that strong hold, & put an over whelming force between their arm & Richmond.”

Presidential aide John G. Nicolay writes his fiancée: “I am still enjoying the quiet in the house produced by the President’s absence. He has not yet returned from Fredericksburg, or rather Falmouth, and consequently the crowd that usually haunts the antechamber and my office keep at a distance.  He will probably be back again by tomorrow, when they will once more swarm in upon us like Egyptian locusts.”

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Published in: on April 9, 2013 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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