The behavior of Burnside in so bitter a trial was such as to attract sympathy. Yet his army had lost confidence in his leadership, and therefore suffered dangerously in morale. Many officers whispered their opinions in Washington, and, as usual, Congress gave symptoms of a desire to talk. Influenced by these criticisms and menacings, on December 30 the President ordered Burnside not to enter again upon active operations without first informing him. Burnside, much surprised, hastened to see Mr. Lincoln, and learned what derogatory strictures were in circulation. After brief consideration he proposed to resign. But Mr. Lincoln said: “I do not yet see how I could profit by changing the command of the army of the Potomac; and, if I did, I should not wish to do it by accepting the resignation of your commission.” So Burnside undertook further manoeuvres. These, however, did not turn out well, and he conceived that a contributing cause lay in the half-heartedness of some of his subordinates. Thereupon he designed against them a defensive or retaliatory move in the shape of an order dismissing from the service of the United States four generals, and relieving from command four others, and one colonel. This wholesale decapitation was startling, yet was, in fact, soundly conceived. In the situation, either the general, or those who had lost faith in the general, must go. Which it should be was conclusively settled by the length of the list of condemned. The President declined to ratify this, and Burnside’s resignation inevitably followed. His successor was the general whose name led the list of those malcontent critics whom he had desired to displace, and was also the same who had once stigmatized McClellan as “a baby.” Major-General Joseph Hooker, a graduate of West Point, was now given the opportunity to prove his own superiority.
The new commander was popularly known as “Fighting Joe.” There was inspiration in the nickname, and yet it was not quite thus that a great commander, charged with weighty responsibility, should be appropriately described. Upon making the appointment, January 26, 1863, the President wrote a letter remarkable in many points of view:—
“GENERAL,—I have placed you at the head of the army of the Potomac. Of course, I have done this upon what appears to me to be sufficient reasons; and yet I think it best for you to know that there are some things in regard to which I am not quite satisfied with you. I believe you to be a brave and skillful soldier,—which, of course, I like. I also believe you do not mix politics with your profession,—in which you are right. You have confidence in yourself,—which is a valuable, if not an indispensable quality. You are ambitious,—which, within reasonable bounds, does good rather than harm; but I think that, during General Burnside’s command of the army, you have taken counsel of your ambition and thwarted him as much as you could, in which you did a great