Hooker was appointed Jan. 26, 1863; and Burnside, with a few earnest words, took leave of the army.
The troops received their new chief with a heartiness and confidence, which, since McClellan’s re-instatement, had not been equalled. Hooker was to all the soul and embodiment of the growth and history of this weather-beaten Army of the Potomac. And the salutary changes he at once began to make,—for Hooker never lacked the power of organization,—were accepted with alacrity; and a spirit of cheerful willingness succeeded speedily to what had been almost a defiant obedience.
The army was in a lamentably low state of efficiency. Politics mingled with camp duties; and the disaffection of officers and men, coupled with an entire lack of confidence in the ability of the Army of the Potomac to accomplish any thing, were pronounced. Desertions occurred at the rate of two hundred a day, facilitated by relatives, who sent from home civilian clothing to soldiers at the front. Hooker states that he found 2,922 officers, and 81,964 enlisted men, entered as absent on the rolls of the army, a large proportion from causes unknown. Sharp and efficient measures were at once adopted, which speedily checked this alarming depletion of the ranks. Furloughs in reasonable quantity were allowed to deserving men and a limited number of officers. Work was found for the rank and file in drill and outpost duty sufficient to prevent idle habits. The commissariat was closely watched, and fresh rations more frequently issued, which much improved the health of the army. The system of picket-duty was more thoroughly developed, and so vigilantly carried out as to impress its importance upon, as well as teach its details to, the troops.
The cavalry, hitherto distributed by regiments throughout the army, was now consolidated into one corps, and from this time became a valuable element in the service, for it daily grew in efficiency. And such opportunities of doing field-work as a body were afforded it as circumstances allowed.
The grand divisions of Burnside were abolished, and the army divided into seven infantry corps.