Sunday, October 18, 2009

'My God! What Will The Country Say?'

37th of 45 excerpts from Lincoln by David Herbert Donald:
[T]he plans for a great spring assault on the Confederacy were finally in place. A huge armada, including both ironclad monitors and conventional warships, was being prepared to attack Charleston, the heart of the Confederacy. Generals Grant and Sherman were readying a new campaign to capture Vicksburg, the last major link between the eastern states of the Confederacy and the trans-Mississippi region. From New Orleans, General Banks was supposed to push north to join forces with Grant. In eastern Tennessee, Rosecrans was poised for a drive that would capture Chattanooga, break the most important rail connection between the seaboard and Mississippi Valley states of the Confederacy, and, most important of all from Lincoln's point of view, liberate the long suffering Unionists of the mountain regions. And in the East, Hooker's vast Army of the Potomac was eager to advance against Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.

. . . But with his native caution, the President was not ready to predict victory. When asked about the chances for Union success in the operations that were already under way, he remarked, "I expect the best, but I am prepared for the worst."

Over the next few weeks all of Lincoln's forebodings seemed to be justified. On April 7 [1863], while he was with the Army of the Potomac, Samuel F. Du Pont's fleet of nine ironclads steamed into Charleston harbor and attacked Fort Sumter. By the end of the day five of DuPont's ironclads had been badly damaged, and he was forced to withdraw. . . . Equally disappointing were the operations on the Mississippi River. After Grant's army spent much of the spring digging a canal on the Louisiana side of the Mississippi River in the hope of bypassing Vicksburg, the banks caved in, and the whole enterprise was abandoned. . . . By way of contrast, in
Tennessee, Rosecrans offered only inaction. . . .

Hooker (right), after a most promising start, paused at Chancellorsville and failed to push his offensive. Lee took advantage of his hesitation, boldly divided his much smaller army, and sent "Stonewall" Jackson by a circuitous route to fall on Hooker's right. The Confederates gained another major victory, and Hooker was forced to retreat to the north side of the Rappahannock.

News of the battle of Chancellorsville was slow in reaching Washington. Highly optimistic predictions after the first day's fighting withered as more and more bad news came in. Lincoln spent most of his time at the War Department, showing "a feverish anxiety to get facts." He feared that Hooker had been licked, although he still held on to a shred of hope. But in mid-afternoon of May 6, holding a telegram in his hand, he came into the room in the White House where Dr. Henry and Noah Brooks were talking. His face was ashen, and his voice trembled as he said to his guests, "Read it -- news from the Army." At no other time, Brooks thought, did the President appear "so broken, so dispirited, and so ghostlike." As Brooks and Dr. Henry read of Hooker's defeat and his retreat back across the river, Lincoln paced up and down the room, exclaiming, "My God! My God! What will the country say? What will the country say?"

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