WILMINGTON — Gary Kersey, renowned expert on Abraham Lincoln and local Rotary member, recently spoke to the the Wilmington Rotary Club at their noon meeting about President Lincoln and General Joseph Hooker.
Kersey told Rotarians and student guests that on January 1863, Lincoln invited Hooker to study problems and issues he would face as head of the Army of the Potomac. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton objected to Hooker. Lincoln gave a letter to Major General Hooker to read, which cited Hooker as brave, a leader … and stated that he was egotistical: “Hooker has improved conditions for the Army. Better food, hospital is better, more fruits and vegetables in diet of men, shoes and clothes, and whiskey ration. Hooker was getting Army organized.”
The Lincoln family boarded the Carrie Martin steamer ship on April 4. The ship arrived the next day at Aquia Creek supply base. The president was greeted to the ringing of bells, whistles and cannon booms.
The enormity of this supply base was astounding — 1 million pounds of feed per day for the 70,000 horses and mules. Wooden crude shelters for nearly all the troops. Food and supplies for the 125,000 men encampment is immense. The Lincolns then took a trip on locomotive and flatcar with benches to Hooker’s headquarters.
General Hooker was a handsome blond man with robust blue eyes. The party stayed in three tents with heat stoves, mattresses and feather ticks. The snow was deep on Easter Sunday. The next day the president reviewed cavalry, with some 22,000 horses.
Lincoln visited each sick soldier. On the last day, he reviewed 21,000 soldiers who were all polished and ready for the review.
Later, the Battle of Chancellorsville was a disaster for the Union Army. Stonewall Jackson executed an end-around and spooked the Army.
Lincoln visited Hooker after the battle and asked Hooker about his plans and visited the sick. Other generals said Lee had invaded Pennsylvania.
Hooker wanted to remove troops from Harper’s Ferry to join the army and chase Lee into Pennsylvania. Lincoln and his advisor, Holt, did not want to remove the troops. General Hooker said he would resign if they would not be going to Gettysburg.
Lincoln accepted Hooker’s resignation and General George Gordon Meade took command of the Army.
Kersey ended his talk with this query: Would history be different if Hooker had still been in charge and lost at Gettysburg?