- 25 Jan 2021 13:24
January 26, Monday
Major General Joseph Hooker proudly takes command of the Federal Army of the Potomac at Fredericksburg. A West Point graduate, Hooker served in the Mexican War, during which he was brevetted for gallantry three times. Yet in the same conflict he earned the undying enmity of General-in-Chief Winfield Scott for conspiring to have him removed, and became known for hard drinking and high living. Like many of his colleagues Hooker left the Army after the Mexican War, and later failed miserably as a farmer in California. When the Civil War came, Hooker headed for Washington. For a time he couldn’t get a US Army commission because General Scott remembered his insubordinate ways in the Mexican War. After watching the Federal debacle at the first Battle of Bull Run, the brash young civilian called on Lincoln at the White House and blurted out to the President with characteristic immodesty, “It is no vanity in me to say that I am a damned sight better general than any you, sir, had on that field.”
The President decided to give him an opportunity to prove his contention, and Hooker was commissioned a brigadier general of volunteers. He earned a reputation as an aggressive commander in the campaign on the Peninsula, at Second Bull Run, and at Antietam, and came to be known as “Fighting Joe”—at least partly because of a typo. During the Peninsular Campaign, a typesetter for a New York newspaper labeled a story about the action around Williamsburg: “Fighting—Joe Hooker.” The tag was only to identify the story at the newspaper and was not for publication; it meant simply that fighting was going on and that Hooker was involved. But the title was printed, inadvertently and without the dash, appearing as “Fighting Joe Hooker.” The sobriquet will stick for the rest of his life. Hooker hates it, he thinks the name makes him seem like “a hot-headed, furious young fellow, accustomed to making furious and needless dashes at the enemy.”
Still, Lincoln knows that Hooker can be arrogant and impulsive; he wants to impress on the general that he will be expected to overcome such shortcomings, and fulfill the promise of his better qualities. Today the President offers some stern advice in a remarkable letter to the new army commander:
“General, I have placed you at the head of the Army of the Potomac. Of course I have done this upon what appears 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 skilful [sic] 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 General 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 a way as to believe it, of your recently saying that both the army and the government needed a dictator. Of course, it is 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 its 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 criticizing their commander, and withholding confidences 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.”
Hooker carries the letter around in his pocket and reads it to his friends. “He talks to me like a father,” he says of the President. “I shall not answer this letter until I have won him a great victory.”
Skirmishing occurs at Township, Florida; Mulberry Springs, Arkansas; Grove Church near Morrisville, Virginia, and near Fairfax Court House and Middleburg, Virginia.
On the high seas CSS Alabama seizes another vessel off San Domingo.
“Ours may become the first civilization destroyed, not by the power of enemies, but by the ignorance of our teachers and the dangerous nonsense they are teaching our children. In an age of artificial intelligence, they are creating artificial stupidity.”