The Hooker Problem (August 6, 1863)

The Union had an interesting problem during the war: What to do with former commanders of the Army of the Potomac? George McClellan was in exile in New Jersey, eventually to emerge as the Democratic candidate for president. Ambrose Burnside had been packed off to the Department of the Ohio and would eventually return to command of the IX Corps and serve under Meade—to the benefit of neither. Now the question was, what to do with Joe Hooker?

I think I told you confidentially that Halleck had ordered me to halt and cease pursuing Lee, that I had given my judgment against the measure, but had been over-ruled. I do not know the reason.

The other day, as you saw in the papers, I pushed my cavalry forward, which alarmed them (the enemy), so that Lee immediately withdrew all his infantry behind the Rapidan. I am quite sure if I was to advance now, he would fall back to Richmond. What I fear from the delay is that he will recruit faster than I, for, from all I can gather, I fear our draft will prove a perfect failure, and that the few men it does produce will be worthless, and will desert the first opportunity. As the question never will be settled till their military power is destroyed, I think it unfortunate we do not take advantage of their present depression to push them as far as possible.

I think I told you that the President wrote me privately, to know if I would object to Hooker being assigned to a corps under me, and that I answered, no. To-day I have a private letter from _______ written undoubtedly at Halleck’s instigation, saying it is reported Hooker is to be sent, provided I apply for him, and urging me strongly not to do so, on the ground that he will go to work to get up cliques against me, and to demoralize my army. I have written to _________ exactly what has occurred, and said that though my relations with Hooker would not justify me in objecting to his being ordered, yet I had no idea of applying for him, and I did not think either Hooker or his friends could or would expect me to do so. It would be very difficult for Hooker to be quiet under me or any one else, and I sincerely trust some independent command will be found for him, and that it will not be necessary to send him here.

(Hooker did not rejoin the Army of the Potomac. He was sent out West, along with the XI and XII Corps, and fought well at Chattanooga. Hooker later became the focus of various machinations to have him replace Meade as commander of the Army of the Potomac, but nothing came of it. )

Meade’s correspondence taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 2, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), pp.141-2. Available via Google Books.

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