Letter to Joseph Hooker (January 26, 1863)

Ranking

#13 on the list of 150 Most Teachable Lincoln Documents

Annotated Transcript

“I have placed you at the head of the Army of the Potomac….”

Audio Version

On This Date

HD Daily Report, January 26, 1863

Image Gallery

 

Close Readings

Matthew Pinsker: Understanding Lincoln: Letter to Joseph Hooker (1863) from The Gilder Lehrman Institute on Vimeo.

Custom Map

Hooker
View in Larger Map

Other Primary Sources

Noah Brooks quoting Joseph Hooker about Jan. 26 letter

Daily Evening Bulletin, “The Rising Man, Hooker – His Testimony as to the Battle of Fredericksburg,” January 26, 1863

The New York Herald, “The New Commander of the Army of the Potomac,” January 27, 1863

Joseph Hooker to Abraham Lincoln, April 17, 1863

Abraham Lincoln to Joseph Hooker, June 10, 1863

 

 

How Historians Interpret

“In naming Hooker, Lincoln read aloud to that general one of his most eloquent letters, a document illustrative of his deep paternal streak. Like a wise, benevolent father, he praised Hooker while gently chastising him for insubordination toward superior officers … Hooker thought it was ‘just such a letter as a father might write to a son. It is 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.’ (As John G. Nicolay remarked, ‘it would be difficult to find a severer piece of friendly criticism.’) Boastfully, Hooker told some fellow officers: ‘After I have been in Richmond I shall have the letter published in the newspapers. It will be amusing.”

Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (2 volumes, originally published by Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008) Unedited Manuscript By Chapter, Lincoln Studies Center, Volume 2, Chapter 30 (PDF), pp. 3282-3284

 

“Rather uncertainly Lincoln turned to Joseph Hooker. The general had some decided negatives. He was known to be a hard drinker. He had been outspoken almost to the point of insubordination in his criticisms of Burnside’s incompetence, and he let it be known that he viewed the President and the government at Washington as ‘imbecile and played out.’ ‘Nothing would go right,’ he told a newspaper reporter, ‘until we had a dictator, and the sooner the better.’ But the handsome, florid-faced general had performed valiantly in nearly all the major engagements of the Peninsula campaign and at Antietam, where he had been wounded, and his aggressive spirit earned him the sobriquet ‘Fighting Joe.’ Lincoln decided to take a chance on him. Calling Hooker to the White House, he gave the general a carefully composed private letter, which commended his bravery, his military skill, and his confidence in himself. At the same time, he told Hooker, ‘there are some things in regard to which, I am not quite satisfied with you.’ He lamented Hooker’s efforts to undermine confidence in Burnside and mentioned his ‘recently saying that both the Army and the Government needed a Dictator.’ … The appointment of Hooker, which was generally well received in the North, relieved some of the immediate pressure on the President. Everybody understood that the new commander would require some time to reorganize the Army of the Potomac and to raise the spirits of the demoralized soldiers. The President could, for the moment, turn his attention to other problems.”

– David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), 411-412

 

Further Reading

 

Searchable Text

Executive Mansion
Washington, January 26, 1863.
 
Major General Hooker
 
General:
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 for 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 it down. Neither you, nor Napoleon, if he were alive again, could get any good out of an army, while 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.
Yours very truly 
A. LINCOLN

 

Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Father Abraham
Register Today
The next round of the open online graduate course on "Understanding Lincoln" with Prof. Matthew Pinsker from House Divided Project and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History begins on June 3, 2014 and lasts until August. Registration is now open, but closes on May 27 and spaces are limited! Click below to sign up either for grad credit or to audit:
About Site

Editor: Matthew Pinsker
House Divided Project
PO Box 1773 / Dickinson College
Carlisle, PA 17013
717-245-1525
hdivided@dickinson.edu

Contributing Editors
Additional Credits
Permissions and Citations
How to Use

Log in

“Best of the Web”
Named "Best of the Web" in Nov. 2013 by NEH EDSITEMENT
House Divided Project
Navigate our highlights here