LINCOLN, Abraham. Autograph telegram signed ("A. Lincoln") as President, TO MAJOR GENERAL JOSEPH HOOKER (1814-1879), Washington, 27 May 1863. 1 page, an oblong (2¾ x 7 3/8 in.), small stain, evidence of mounting on verso.
THE ROAD TO GETTYSBURG: AN IMPATIENT LINCOLN QUERIES HOOKER ABOUT CONFEDERATE MOVEMENTS FOLLOWING HOOKER'S LOSS AT CHANCELLORSVILLE
A succint but pointed query from President Lincoln, who, in his role as Commander-in-Chief sought information about Confederate intentions in the wake of the disastrous Union defeat at Chancellorsville. In the Spring of 1863, Hooker, the newly appointed commander of the Army of the Potomac, set in motion a campaign intended to force Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia from its strong positions above Fredericksburg. Leaving one corps of his army opposite the Confederates as a decoy, Hooker sent nearly 100,000 men across the Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers well beyond the Confederate right. The plan remained a well-kept secret. The swiftly executed Union move caught Lee by surprise, and by May 1, the main Union Army was in the rear of his force. Lee moved quickly to counter the Federal advance with his armies, which amounted to only half the soldiers of his foe.
With victory in his grasp, the boisterous Hooker, who had immodestly bragged that he would succeed against Lee where others had failed, suddenly halted his advance and placed his men in defensive positions, leaving his right flank unprotected. Lee, characteristically, took full advantage of Hooker's caution. Dividing his already small army into two segments, he sent the larger, under the formidable Stonewall Jackson, on a 16-mile march around the Union flank. When Jackson finally launched his assault late in the afternoon of the 2nd, he shattered the unprepared Union line. Bitter fighting throughout the following day drove Hooker from the field having suffered 17,278 casualties. Chancellorsville is widely regarded as Lee's greatest moment, even though the irreplacable Jackson succumbed to a mortal wound.
Hooker's elaborate efforts to prevent Lee from learning of his operations, though, had left President Lincoln in a state of uncertainty about the developments on the military front. Hooker saw threats to the secrecy of his plan at every quarter and once confided to the President that he was hesitant to reveal his strategy: "It almost makes me tremble...to disclose a thing concerning it to anyone except yourself" (Sears, Chancellorsville, p. 137). Once the operation began, his reports to Washington became even more infrequent. When rumors of the battle reached the capital, Lincoln became desperate for more information. On May 6, when news arrived that Hooker had retreated back across the river, the President was shocked. According to Noah Brooks "His face was ashen and he was obviously distraught...he began to pace the room, hands clasped behind his back, muttering, 'What will the country say? Oh, what will the country say?'" (Sears, p. 433).
While Hooker made attempts to keep Lincoln better informed in the immediate period after his retreat, as May wore on, his reports again grew infrequent. Here, three weeks after the Chancellorsville debacle, as new rumors indicated that the Army of Northern Virginia might be resuming active operations, Lincoln impatiently writes to his close-mouthed commander: "Have you Richmond papers of the morning? If so, what news?" Hooker, in his reply, acknowledged that "rumors and reports of rumors indicate that imporant changes are being made" by the rebels, but "nothing is sufficiently developed to determine what these changes are..."
Indeed, Lee had every intention of following up his victory, and was preparing for his second invasion of the North. Hooker too had begun to plan another offensive, one he assured Lincoln would bring better results. But before he could put it into operation, Lee again seized the initiative, launching his invasion on June 10. Not surprisingly, on June 27, when Hooker offered his resignation, Lincoln quickly accepted it and replaced him with Pennsylvanian George Gordon Meade. The Army's new commander promptly took up the pursuit of Lee's invading force and, on July 1, the two armies met at Gettysburg in what would be the greatest battle of the war.
ublished in Original Records, I, xxv, II, 529 and Basler, 6:233.