MS-1863.06.05 – Lincoln to Hooker

The Road to Gettysburg

This document (intended to be sent as a telegraph) reveals Abraham Lincoln and Army of the Potomac General Joseph Hooker reacting to the earliest signs of what would become the second invasion of the North by Robert E. Lee’s confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Hooker and Lee had been facing off near Fredericksburg since Lee’s dramatic victory at the Battle of Chancellorsville. Now Lee appeared to be on the move and Hooker wrote Lincoln for advice.

Lincoln’s reply reveals his growth as commander in chief since the beginning of the war. Mostly deferring to General in Chief Henry Halleck, Lincoln nonetheless correctly predicts that Lee will try to lure Hooker to Fredericksburg by leaving a small force there—allowing Lee to slip across the Potomac into Maryland. Hooker did not take the bait, and the two armies clashed at Brandy Station only four days later. The battle was indecisive, and Lee continued his advance, culminating at Gettysburg the following month.

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Washington, D.C., June 5. 1863

Major General Hooker

     Yours of to-day was received an hour ago. So much of professional military skill is requisite to answer it, that I have turned the task over to Gen. Halleck. He promises to perform it with his utmost care. I have but one idea which I think worth suggesting to you, and that ^is^ in case you find Lee coming to the North of the Rappahannock, I would by no means cross to the South of it. If he should leave a rear force at Fredericksburg, tempting you to fall upon it, it would fight in intrenchments, and have ^you^ at disadvantage, and so, man for man, wont you at that point, while his main force would in some way be getting an advantage of you ^Northward^– In one word, I would not take any risk of being entangled upon the river,


Washington, D.C., 186

like an ox jumped half over a fence, and liable to be torn ^by dogs,^ front and rear, without a fair chance to gore one way or kick the other. If Lee would come to my side of the river, I would keep on the same side & fight him, or act on the defence, according as might be my estimate of his strength relatively to my own. But these are mere suggestions which I desire to be controlled by the judgment of yourself and Gen. Halleck.

A. Lincoln

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