LINCOLN. Abraham. Autograph letter signed ("A. Lincoln") as President, to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, a draft telegram, Head Quarters, Army of the Potomac [Falmouth, Virginia], 7 May 1863. 1 page, oblong, laid down on card.
"HAVE YOU ANY NEWS?": TWO DAYS AFTER THE CHANCELLORSVILLE DISASTER, LINCOLN--WITH HOOKER'S ARMY IN THE FIELD--URGENTLY QUERIES STANTON ON THE WAR SITUATION
A terse note, freighted with Lincoln's uneasiness about General Hooker and the general state of the Union war effort after the humiliation of Chancellorsville. He anxiously inquires: "Have you any news? and if any what is it? I expect to be up tonight." At 4 P.M. on the 6th, Lincoln and chief of staff Halleck made an urgent excursion to the Army of the Potomac's headquarters, at Falmouth, to learn for themselves what had become of Hooker's grand spring offensive. In late April, Hooker launched a lumbering move across the Rappahannock, aimed at destroying Lee's left flank and cutting off the Confederate lines of communication to Richmond. Lee, seeing it coming a mile away, moved his troops out of Fredericksburg so he could bottle up Hooker's advancing throng of 70,000 in the thickets of The Wilderness. In response, Hooker immediately immobilized his forces at Chancellorsville and awaited Lee's attack. Even Lee was momentarily dumbfounded by this sudden surrender of the initiative by a superior force, but he soon figured how to best capitalize on it. Splitting his already divided force, he sent Stonewall Jackson's 26,000 men to attack Hooker's frozen right. Over several days of fighting, between 1 May and 5 May, Lee drove Hooker back across the Rappahannock in disarray.
Lincoln came back up to Washington that night of 7 May, impressed with the troops but uneasy about their commanding General and his evident lack of focus. He wrote Hooker: "The recent movement of your army is ended without effecting its object...What next? Have you already in your mind a plan wholly, or partially formed? If you have, prosecute 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" (CW, 6:201).
Hooker's plan was to wait and see what Lee did. As usual, the rebel commander had a much firmer grasp of what he was about. In the face of both military and political upheaval--Lincoln's arrest of Ohio Congressman Clement Vallandigham on 13 May had ignited a tremendous uproar--Lee decided to invade the North in the hopes of breaking Union morale and winning Southern independence. But as Lee moved up the Rappahannock and into Pennsylvania, Hooker headed south towards Richmond. An exasperated President found it necessary to remind him that "Lee's Army, and not Richmond, is your true objective point." By the end of June, Lincoln had become convinced that he had yet another dud on his hands in Hooker, and promptly replaced him with George G. Meade, just in time for the mighty clash at Gettysburg.
Published in Basler, 6:201.