Defending Hooker (May 23, 1863)

Joseph Hooker and his staff, photographed in Falmouth in June 1863. That's Daniel Butterfield seated to Hooker's left (Library of Congress).

Joseph Hooker and his staff, photographed in Falmouth in June 1863. That’s Daniel Butterfield seated to Hooker’s left (Library of Congress).

Meade may have been disappointed with Joe Hooker, but it appears he was not willing to actively undercut his army commander. His letter of May 23 is an exercise in restraint, in which Meade corrects his wife’s mistaken impressions of Hooker’s conduct at Chancellorsville.

The story of Hooker losing his head, and my saving the army, is a canard, founded on some plausible basis. When Hooker was obliged to give up Chancellorsville and draw in his lines, I fortunately had anticipated this, and was prepared with my troops to take up the new line in a very short time, and to receive within it the broken columns from the old line. About this time Hooker, who had just been stunned by being struck with a pillar of a house, hit by a shot, felt himself fainting and had to dismount from his horse and lie on his back for ten or fifteen minutes. During this time he was constantly calling for me, and this operation above referred to was executed by me. Outsiders, particularly his staff, not knowing my previous preparations and expectation of having to do this, and seeing it so well and quickly done, were astonished, and gave me more credit than I was entitled to, and hence arose the story that I saved the army. Hooker never lost his head, nor did he ever allow himself to be influenced by me or my advice. The objection I have to Hooker is that he did not and would not listen to those around him; that he acted deliberately on his own judgment, and in doing so, committed, as I think, fatal errors. If he had lost his head, and I had been placed in command, you may rest assured a very different result would have been arrived at, whether better or worse for us cannot be told now; but it certainly would have been more decisive one way or the other. Secretary Chase was in camp day before yesterday at headquarters. He neither honored me with a visit, nor did he invite me to visit him; of course I did not see him. He returned in the afternoon, accompanied by Wilkes, of the Spirit of the Times. It is understood that the Cabinet is divided, Chase upholding Hooker, Blair and Seward in opposition. I have always thought Hooker would be allowed another chance, and I sincerely trust and hope, and indeed believe, he will do better, as I think he now sees the policy of caution is not a good one. Until our recent imbroglio, he has always spoken of me very warmly, though he has never asked my advice, or listened to my suggestions. What he is going to do or say now I don’t know, but I shall not count on any very friendly offices from him. Still, I should be sorry to see him removed, unless a decidedly better man is substituted.

Meade’s letter taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 1, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), pp. 380-1. Available via Google Books.

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