150 Years Ago This Week: Another change in command

January 1863

On Saturday, Jan. 24, President Lincoln in Washington conferred with Army Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Henry Halleck on the military situation, and awaited the arrival of his commander of the Army of the Potomac, Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside, from Fredericksburg.

Gen. Joseph Hooker
Gen. Joseph Hooker

The next day, Gen. Burnside conferred with President Lincoln early and pressed for removal of Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, Maj. Gen. William B. Franklin, and several other of his subordinates from command. If this was not done, Gen. Burnside told the President, he would resign from his command.

Later that morning, Mr. Lincoln conferred with Sec. of War Edwin Stanton and Gen. Halleck, and told them that he was relieving Gen. Burnside from command and replacing him with Gen. Joseph Hooker. Gen. Burnside had been reluctant to take command of the Union army in Virginia, and had been defeated both by Gen. Lee at Fredericksburg in December and by mud in January.

Inept but earnest, Gen. Burnside was better fit to command a lesser military organization, and was transferred to the western theatre of war. Gen. Hooker wanted the army command position, and he had a reputation as a fighter; “Fighting Joe Hooker” was his sobriquet.

Gen. Hooker formally assumed command of the Army of the Potomac at Fredericksburg on Jan. 26. The president had this advice for his new army commander: “There are some things in regard to which, I am not quite satisfied with you. I believe you to be a brave and skillful 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 valuable, if not an indispensable quality. But I think that during Gen. 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 command of the Army. 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 early winter of 1863 saw fighting elsewhere. Brig. Gen. John Marmaduke’s Confederate raiding expedition to Batesville, Ark.; a Union reconnaissance from Murfreesboro to Auburn in Tennessee; and a Union scouting party operated between Bolivar, Tenn. and Ripley, Miss. On the South Carolina coast, the first regiment of U.S. South Carolina Colored Troops completed its organization.

The CSS Alabama seized a Union vessel off Santo Domingo while raiding in the Caribbean Sea. In Philadelphia on Jan. 27, A.D. Boileau, the proprietor of the Philadelphia Journal, was arrested and conveyed to Washington for publishing anti-Northern material.

In Richmond, President Jefferson Davis wrote to Gov. Joe E. Brown of Georgia, complimenting him on cutting back cotton cultivation in his state, and urging the cultivation of produce, saying provisions were vital to the success of the armies in the field..

On Jan. 28, President Davis wrote to Maj. Gen. Theophilus Holmes in the Trans-Mississippi Department: “The loss of either of the two positions – Vicksburg and Port Hudson – would destroy communications with the Trans-Mississippi Department and inflict upon the Confederacy an injury which I am sure you have not failed to appreciate.”

Another heavy snowstorm hit Virginia and both armies lying adjacent to the Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg. The next day, the Confederate Congress authorized borrowing Z15 million through the French financier Emile Erlanger.

On Jan. 30, Maj. Gen. Ulysses Grant assumed command of the entire military operation against Vicksburg, and proceeded with plans to isolate and take the river bastion. At Charleston, S.C., the Federal gunboat Isaac Smith, operating in the Stono River, was fired upon by Confederate batteries, went aground and was captured.

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Arthur Candenquist
About Arthur Candenquist 193 Articles
A long-time historian, researcher, lecturer and author, Arthur Candenquist serves as secretary-treasurer of the Rappahannock County Sesquicentennial Committee. He can be reached at AC9725@cs.com.