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May 28, 1863: Lincoln frustrated, Gen. Hooker on the defensive

May. 28, 2013 - 04:30PM   |  
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WASHINGTON — President Lincoln is growing increasingly frustrated with stalled efforts to turn up the heat on the Confederate capital of Richmond.

In January, Lincoln appointed Gen. “Fighting Joe” Hooker, commander of the Army of the Potomac, with clear marching orders: take the war to the enemy.

“Beware of rashness, but with energy, and sleepless vigilance, go forward, and give us victories,” Lincoln is said to have told Hooker, sources at the White House tell Military Times.

After two years of fighting, Hooker is the fourth commander to lead the majority of forces on the Eastern front, with each of his predecessors fired by Lincoln for failing to find that winning edge.

But Hooker may very well find himself answering to a fifth commander soon if better progress isn’t made, top War Department officials say.

Although Hooker is widely praised for reorganizing and restoring the morale of Union forces after their devastating loss at Fredericksburg in December, his spring offensive towards Richmond was stopped cold in Chancellorsville early this month before it had really begun.

Now, amid reports of plans for a Confederate parry into the north, he may soon find himself chasing Gen. Robert E. Lee’s rebel Army of Northern Virginia through the Blue Ridge Mountains, perhaps even defending against an attack on Washington.

Meanwhile, Hooker is gaining a less savory reputation on other fronts. One of his own cavalry officers describes Hooker’s headquarters as “a combination of barroom and brothel.” So, much so, in fact, that ladies of the night are quickly becoming known as “hookers” among the troops.

That is not the moral high ground Lincoln was hoping to lay claim to with his Emancipation Proclamation, announced in January, just weeks after the Union’s trouncing at Fredericksburg and shortly before the U.S. President put his hopes in Hooker’s hands.

The War of Independence cost the lives of some 25,000 patriots. Already, this war to save that Union has cost hundreds of thousands on the battlefield. And as casualties on both sides continue to mount, there appears to be no end sight.

With 11 states — along with the new territory of Arizona — claiming allegiance to the Confederacy even while Richmond presses Europe not only for recognition, but active support in the war effort, the stakes couldn’t be higher for Hooker to find a way to break the stalemate. Or for Lincoln to find someone who can.

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