President Lincoln Visits General Hooker in Wake of Chancellorsville Defeat

May 7, 1863

President Lincoln, who left Washington on Wednesday, confers with General Joseph Hooker and General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck at Hooker’s headquarters to discuss military strategy in the wake of the recent defeat at Chancellorsville.   General George Meade, who will succeed Hooker in several weeks, is summoned to the meeting.   Historian Freeman Cleaves writes in Meade of Gettysburg: “Summoned to headquarters to see Lincoln and Halleck, Meade was politely received.  During a two-hour visit, including lunch, ‘all sorts of things’ were discussed, but little was said regarding Chancellorsville, nor were any opinions asked.  Lincoln appeared almost indifferent.  The result of the battle, Meade quoted him as saying, ‘was in his judgement most unfortunate…he did not blame any one — he believed every one had done all in his power; and that the disaster was one that could not be helped.’  Lincoln was tired of changing generals after every battle, but if his summons to Meade was for the purpose of gaining a better acquaintance, he probably had not wasted his time.”

Charles F. Benjamin wrote in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War: “When General Hooker telegraphed to Washington that he had brought his army back to the north side of the river, because he could not find room for it to fight at Chancellorsville, President Lincoln grasped General Halleck and started for the front post-haste. He would likewise have taken the Secretary of War, in his anxiety, but for the obvious indelicacy of the latter’s appearance before Hooker at such a moment. Mr. Lincoln went back to Washington that night, enjoining upon Halleck to remain till he knew ‘everything.’” Benjamin added: “When he got back to his post, a conference of the President and Secretary of War with himself was held at the War Department, whereat it was concluded that both the check at Chancellorsville and the retreat were inexcusable, and that.. Hooker must not be in trusted with the conduct of another battle.  Halleck had brought a message from Hooker to the effect that as he had never sought the command, he could resign it without embarrassment, and would be only too happy if, in the new arrangement, he could have the command of his old division and so keep in active service.”

Lincoln later returns to Washington and writes General Hooker: “The recent movement of your army is ended without effecting it’s object, except perhaps some important breakings of the enemies communications. What next? If possible I would be very glad of another movement early enough to give us some benefit from the fact of the enemies communications being broken, but neither for this reason or any other, do I wish anything done in desperation or rashness. An early movement would also help to supersede the bad moral effect of the recent one, which is sure to be considerably injurious. Have you already in your mind a plan wholly, or partially formed? If you have, prossecute it without interference from me. If you have not, please inform me, so that I, incompetent as I may be, can try [to] assist in the formation of some plan for the Army.”

Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles writes in his diary: “Our people, though shocked and very much disappointed, are in better tone and temper than I feared they would be. The press had wrought the public mind to high expectation by predicting certain success, which all wished to believe.  I have not been confident, though I had hopes.  Hooker has not been tried in so high and responsible a position.  He is gallant and efficient as commander of a division, but I am apprehensive not equal to that of General-in-Chief.  I have not, however, sufficient data for a correct and intelligent opinion.  A portion of his plan seems to have been well devised, and his crossing the river well executed.  It is not clear that his position at Chancellorsville was well selected, and he seems not to have been prepared for Stonewall Jackson’s favorite plan of attack.  Our men fought well, though it seems not one half of them were engaged. I do not learn why [General George} Stoneman was left, or why Hooker recrossed the river without hearing from him, or why he recrossed at all.”

It is not explained why Sedgwick and his command were left single-handed to fight against greatly superior numbers — the whole army of Lee in fact — on Monday, when Hooker with’ all his forces was unemployed only three miles distant. There are, indeed, many matters which require explanation.

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Published in: on May 7, 2013 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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