Stanton: The Life and Times of Lincoln's Secretary of War

By Benjamin P. Thomas; Harold M. Hyman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIII
WAR IN GOOD EARNEST

BOASTING LOUDLY of what he would do when the spring rains ended and the roads dried out, Hooker prepared for his promised assault. Then, in the first week of May, he had made his first large-scale contact with Lee, and seemed to be seized with indecision. Although outnumbered two to one, Lee resorted to daring strategy, sending "Stonewall" Jackson on a wide flanking movement to the left that would bring him in on Hooker's rear. Perfectly executed, the maneuver caught Hooker by surprise and crushed the Union right. The two main armies came to grips near the hamlet of Chancellorsville. Hooker imposed a strict censorship. For three days the War Department learned virtually nothing except that Hooker had been wounded and that his army was in a desperate plight. Then it became clear that Hooker's defeat was complete. Stanton's fears that he was only a mediocre commander, incapable of directing large numbers of men in battle, were proved distressingly correct.

On May 6 word came that Hooker, his wound not serious, had withdrawn across the river. But the Union losses would amount to 17,000 men. Lincoln paced his office, groaning: "My God, what will the country say?" And Stanton, as he checked the endless casualty lists, seemed crushed, admitting to a White House secretary that "this is the darkest day of the war." The Army of the Potomac, which he had so painstakingly supplied, which he felt was his own creation and had become his very idol, had failed again. Now military defeat, cabinet intrigues, and home-front disaffection kept Stanton "in a condition of a candle burning at both ends," a clerk recalled. But there was work to do.1

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1
O.R., XXV, pt. 2, 148, 269-70, 300-1, 351, 435; Morse, Welles Diary, I, 293-4; A. E. H. Johnson, "Reminiscences of the Hon. Edwin M. Stanton,"loc. cit., 76-7;

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