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McClellan after the Peninsula disaster, commanded the left wing of the Army of the Potomac at Antietam. He was not covetous of the honor now given him. He had already twice declined it, and only now accepted the command as a duty under the urgent advice of members of his staff. His instincts were better than the judgment of his friends. A few brief weeks sufficed to demonstrate what he had told them-that he "was not competent to command such a large army.

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The very beginning of his work proved the truth of his self-criticism. Rejecting all the plans of campaign which were suggested to him, he found himself incapable of forming any very plausible or consistent one of his own. As a first move he concentrated his army opposite the town of Fredericksburg on the lower Rappahannock, but with such delays that General Lee had time to seize and strongly fortify the town and the important adjacent heights on the south bank; and when Burnside's army crossed on December 11, and made its main and direct attack on the formidable and practically impregnable Confederate intrenchments on the thirteenth, a crushing repulse and defeat of the Union forces, with a loss of over ten thousand killed and wounded, was the quick and direful result.

It was in a spirit of stubborn determination rather than clear, calculating courage that he renewed his orders for an attack on the fourteenth; but, dissuaded by his division and corps commanders from the rash experiment, succeeded without further damage in withdrawing his forces on the night of the fifteenth to their old camps north of the river. In manly words. his report of the unfortunate battle gave generous praise to his officers and men, and assumed for himself all the responsibility for the attack and its failure. But its secondary consequences soon became irreme

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diable. By that gloomy disaster Burnside almost completely lost the confidence of his officers and men, and rumors soon came to the President that a spirit akin to mutiny pervaded the army. When information came that, on the day after Christmas, Burnside was preparing for a new campaign, the President telegraphed him:

"I have good reason for saying you must not make a general movement of the army without letting me know."

This, naturally, brought Burnside to the President for explanation, and, after a frank and full discussion between them, Mr. Lincoln, on New Year's day, wrote the following letter to General Halleck:

"General Burnside wishes to cross the Rappahannock with his army, but his grand division commanders all oppose the movement. If in such a difficulty as this you do not help, you fail me precisely in the point for which I sought your assistance. You know what General Burnside's plan is, and it is my wish that you go with him to the ground, examine it as far as practicable, confer with the officers, getting their judgment and ascertaining their temper; in a word, gather all the elements for forming a judgment of your own, and then tell General Burnside that you do approve, or that you do not approve, his plan. Your military skill is useless to me if you will not do this."

Halleck's moral and official courage, however, failed the President in this emergency. He declined to give his military opinion, and asked to be relieved from further duties as general-in-chief. This left Mr. Lincoln no option, and still having need of the advice of his general-in-chief on other questions, he indorsed on his own letter, "withdrawn because considered harsh by General Halleck." The complication, however,

continued to grow worse, and the correspondence more strained. Burnside declared that the country had lost confidence in both the Secretary of War and the general-in-chief; also, that his own generals were unanimously opposed to again crossing the Rappahannock. Halleck, on the contrary, urged another crossing, but that it must be made on Burnside's own decision, plan, and responsibility. Upon this the President, on January 8, 1863, again wrote Burnside:

"I understand General Halleck has sent you a letter of which this is a copy. I approve this letter. I deplore the want of concurrence with you in opinion by your general officers, but I do not see the remedy. Be cautious, and do not understand that the government or country is driving you. I do not yet see how I could profit by changing the command of the Army of the Potomac; and if I did, I should not wish to do it by accepting the resignation of your commission."

Once more Burnside issued orders against which his generals protested, and which a storm turned into the fruitless and impossible "mud march" before he reached the intended crossings of the Rappahannock. Finally, on January 23, Burnside presented to the President the alternative of either approving an order dismissing about a dozen generals, or accepting his own resignation, and Mr. Lincoln once more had before him the difficult task of finding a new commander for the Army of the Potomac. On January 25, 1863, the President relieved Burnside and assigned Major-General Joseph Hooker to duty as his successor; and in explanation of his action wrote him the following characteristic letter:

"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 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 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 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 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 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."


Perhaps the most remarkable thing in this letter is the evidence it gives how completely the genius of President Lincoln had by this, the middle of his presidential

term, risen to the full height of his great national duties and responsibilities. From beginning to end it speaks the language and breathes the spirit of the great ruler, secure in popular confidence and official authority, equal to the great emergencies that successively rose before him. Upon General Hooker its courteous praise and frank rebuke, its generous trust and distinct note of fatherly warning, made a profound impression. He strove worthily to redeem his past indiscretions by devoting himself with great zeal and energy to improving the discipline and morale of his army, recalling its absentees, and restoring its spirit by increased drill and renewed activity. He kept the President well informed of what he was doing, and early in April submitted a plan of campaign on which Mr. Lincoln indorsed, on the eleventh of that month:

"My opinion is that just now, with the enemy directly ahead of us, there is no eligible route for us into Richmond; and consequently a question of preference between the Rappahannock route and the James River route is a contest about nothing. Hence, our prime object is the enemy's army in front of us, and is not with or about Richmond at all, unless it be incidental to the main object."

Having raised his effective force to about one hundred and thirty thousand men, and learning that Lee's army was weakened by detachments to perhaps half that number, Hooker, near the end of the month, prepared and executed a bold movement which for a while was attended with encouraging progress. Sending General Sedgwick with three army corps to make a strong demonstration and crossing below Fredericksburg, Hooker with his remaining four corps made a somewhat long and circuitous march by which he crossed both the Rappahannock and the Rapidan above

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