Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others.

As the patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor; let every man remember that to violate the law, is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the charter of his own, and his children's liberty.

Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap; let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacs; let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and Let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.

While ever a state of feeling, such as this, shall universally, or even, very generally prevail throughout the nation, vain will be every effort, and fruitless every attempt, to subvert our national freedom.

- Abraham Lincoln, January 27, 1838
  Address Before the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Looking back at Lincoln: On May 6, 1863

On this day in 1863, Lincoln received word of yet another Union defeat (and what would go down as one of Lee's greatest victories,) the battle at Chancellorsville; which was fought at and around the town of Spotsylvania Courthouse, Virginia, from April 30 through May 6.

Lee - outnumbered more than two to one - did the unthinkable: he split his smaller army, sending 28,000 men under famed General Thomas 'Stonewall' Jackson sneaking with a local guide through backroads under cover of the forest to attack Hooker's right flank, while Lee's remaining force of 12,000 faced the brunt of the 70,000 Union forces in the middle.

With cover provided by JEB Stuart's Confederate cavalry, the plan worked perfectly. Confederate forces surprised General Howard's corps on Hooker's right flank while they were cooking dinner, capturing 4000 of them outright, and without a fight (the rest were routed.) For Hooker, who's military career would be forever marred by the outcome of this battle, it went downhill from there.

For Lee, the battle would be an uneasy combination of stunning success and tragedy. On the night of May 2th, General Stonewall Jackson was mistakenly shot by Confederate pickets as he returned to camp. He lost his left arm, and later died of pneumonia. Of his loss, and in reference to Jackson's amputation, Lee lamented "Now I have lost my right arm."

Jackson truly was irreplaceable, to the South and to Lee. The two men - both strategic military geniuses in their own right - seemed to naturally understand each other, and together continually outsmarted their slower more cautious Union counterparts.

Robert E. Lee could trust Jackson with deliberately non-detailed orders that conveyed Lee's overall objectives, what modern doctrine calls the "end state." This was because Jackson had a talent for understanding Lee's sometimes unstated goals and Lee trusted Jackson with the ability to take whatever actions were necessary to implement his end state requirements. Many of Lee's subsequent corps commanders did not have this disposition. At Gettysburg, this resulted in lost opportunities. Thus, after the Federals retreated to the heights south of town, Lee sent one of his new corps commanders, Richard S. Ewell, discretionary orders that the heights (Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill) be taken "if practicable." Without Jackson's intuitive grasp of Lee's orders and the intuition to take advantage of sudden tactical opportunities, Ewell chose not to attempt the assault, and this failure is considered by historians to be the greatest missed opportunity of the battle.

By May 6th, the larger Union force retreated back across the Rappahannock. Lincoln apparently read the Richmond papers to get a clearer idea of what had happened, and then commenced a series of telegraphed messages to General Hooker, including these below. Lincoln, as always, was gracious, although he must have been quite frustrated.

War Department
Washington City, D.C.
May 6. 9/40. AM. 1863

My dear General

The great storm of yesterday and last night, has interrupted the telegraph; so that we think fit to send you Gen. Dix despatch of the contents of Richmond papers. I need not repeat the contents. We also try to get it to you by Telegraph. We have nothing from your immediate whereabouts since your short despatch to me, of the 4th. 4/20. P.M. We hear many rumors, but do not exactly know what has become of Sedgwick. We have heard no word of Stoneman, except what is in Dix's despatch about Col. Davis which looks well. It is no discourgement that you have already fought the bulk of Longstreet's force, nor that Jackson is severely wounded. And now, God bless you, and all with you. I know you will do your best. Waste no time unnecessarily, to gratify our curiosity with despatches. Yours as ever A. LINCOLN

Maj. Genl. Hooker.

Later that morning, Lincoln (who often slept in the telegraph office, so anxious was he to keep up with the latest developments on the battlefield,) sent this followup telegraph:

Washington City, D.C.
May 6. 11/40 1863

Major General Hooker.

We have, through Gen. Dix, the contents of Richmond papers of the fifth (5th) Gen. Dix's despatch in full, is going to you by Capt. Fox of the Navy. The substance is Gen. Lee's despatch of the third (3rd) Sunday claiming that he had beaten you, and that you were then retreating across the Rappahannock; distinctly stating that two of Longstreet's Divisions fought you on Saturday; and that Gen. Paxton was killed, Stonewall Jackson severely wounded, and Generals Heth and A. P. Hill slightly wounded. The Richmond papers also state, upon what authority, not mentioned, that our Cavalry have been at Ashland, Hanover Court-House and other points, destroying several locomotives, and a good deal of other property, and all the Railroad Bridges to within five (5.) miles of Richmond. A. LINCOLN

Lincoln sent yet another telegraph at 12:30 p.m. Hooker's and General Butterfield's replies follow in the annotation:

Washington, D.C.
May 6, 1863--- 12.30 p.m.

General Hooker: Just as I had telegraphed you contents of Richmond papers, showing that our cavalry has not failed, I received General Butterfield's of 11 a.m. yesterday. This, with the great rain of yesterday and last night, securing your right flank, I think puts a new face upon your case; but you must be the judge.



[1] OR, I, XXV, II, 434. Hooker replied at 4:30 P.M., as follows:

"Have this moment returned to camp. On my way received your telegrams of 11 a.m. and 12.30. The army had previously recrossed the river, and was on its return to camp. As it had none of its trains of supplies with it, I deemed this advisable. Above, I saw no way of giving the enemy a general battle with the prospect of success which I desire. Not to exceed three corps, all told, of my troops have been engaged. For the whole to go, there is a better place nearer at hand. Will write you at length to-night. Am glad to hear that a portion of the cavalry have at length turned up. One portion did nothing." (Ibid., p. 435).

Stanton replied, "The President and General-in-Chief left here this afternoon at 4 o'clock to see you. They are probably at Aquia by this time." (Ibid.).

[2] General Daniel Butterfield's despatch to Lincoln is as follows:

"General Hooker is not at this moment able, from pressing duties, to write of the condition of affairs. He deems it his duty that you should be fully and correctly advised. He has intrusted it to me. These are my words, not his.

"Of his plans you were fully aware. The cavalry, as yet learned, have failed in executing their orders. [William W.] Averell's division returned; nothing done; loss of 2 or 3 men. [John] Buford's Regulars not heard from. General [John] Sedgwick failed in the execution of his orders, and was compelled to retire, and crossed the river at Banks' Ford last night; his losses not known.

"The First, Third, Fifth, Eleventh, Twelfth, and two divisions of Second Corps are now on south bank of Rappahannock, intrenched between Hunting Run and Scott's Dam. Trains and Artillery Reserve on north bank of Rappahannock. Position is strong, but circumstances, which in time will be fully explained, make it expedient, in the general's judgment, that he should retire from this position to the north bank of the Rappahannock for his defensible position. Among these is danger to his communication by possibility of enemy crossing river on our right flank and imperiling this army, with present departure of two-years' and three months' [nine-months'] troops constantly weakening him. The nature of the country in which we are prevents moving in such a way as to find or judge position or movements of enemy. He may cross to night, but hopes to be attacked in this position." (Ibid., pp. 421-22).

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