On the fifth of May we left Lee victorious in Virginia; but with his indispensable lieutenant, Stonewall Jackson, mortally wounded.
Though thoroughly defeated at Chancellorsville, Hooker soon recovered control of the Army of the Potomac and prepared to dispute Lee's right of way. Lee faced a difficult, perhaps an insoluble, problem. Longstreet urged him to relieve the local pressure on Vicksburg by concentrating every available man in eastern Tennessee, not only withdrawing Johnston's force from Grant's rear but also depleting the Confederates in Virginia for the same purpose. Then, combining these armies from east and west with the one already there under Bragg, the united Confederates were to crush Rosecrans in their immediate front and make Cincinnati their great objective. Lee, however, dared not risk the loss of his Virginian bases in the meantime; and so he decided on a vigorous counter-attack, right into Pennsylvania, hoping that, if successful, this would . produce a greater effect than any corresponding victory could possibly produce elsewhere.
On the ninth of June a cavalry combat round Brandy Station, in the heart of Virginia, made Hooker's staff feel certain that Lee was again going up the Valley and on to Maryland. At one time, for want of supplies, Lee had to spread out his front along a line running eighty miles northwest from Fredericksburg to Strasburg. Hooker, on the keen alert, implored the Government to let him attack the three Confederate corps in detail. Success against one at least was certain. Lincoln understood this perfectly. But the nerves of his colleagues were again on edge; and no argument could persuade them to adopt the best of all possible schemes of defense by destroying the enemy's means of destroying them. They insisted on the usual shield theory of passive defense, and ordered Hooker to keep between Lee and Washington whatever might happen. This absurd maneuver was of course attended with all the usual evil results at the time. Equally of course, it afterwards drew down the wrath of the wiseacre public on their own representatives. But wiseacre publics never stop to think that many a government is forced to do foolish and even suicidal things in war simply because it represents the ignorance and folly, as well as the wisdom, of all who have the vote.
Yet both the loyal public and its Government had some good reasons to doubt Hooker's ability, even apart from his recent defeat; and Lincoln, wisest of all--except in applying strategy to problems he could not fully understand--felt almost certain that Hooker's character contained at least the seeds of failure in supreme command. "He talks to me like a father," said Hooker, on reading the letter Lincoln wrote when appointing him Burnside's successor. This remarkable letter, dated January 26, 1863, though printed many times, is worth reading again:
"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 wrong to the country and to a most meritorious and honorable brother officer. I have heard, in such way as to believe it, of your recently saying that both the army and the Government needed a Dictator. Of course it was not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you the command. Only those generals who gain successes can set up dictatorships. What I now ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship. The Government will support you to the utmost of its ability, which is neither more nor less than it has done and will do for all commanders. I much fear that the spirit which you have aided to infuse into the army, of criticizing their commander and withholding confidence from him, will now turn upon you. I shall assist you as far as I can to put it down. Neither you nor Napoleon, if he were alive again, could get any good out of an army while such a spirit prevails in it. And now, beware of rashness, but with energy and sleepless vigilance go forward, and give us victories."
Then came Chancellorsville, doubts at Washington, interference by Stanton, ill-judged orders from Halleck, and some not very judicious rejoinders from Hooker himself, who became rather peevish, to Lincoln's alarm. So when, on the twentyseventh of June, Hooker tendered his resignation, it was promptly accepted. With Lee in Pennsylvania there was no time for discussion: only for finding some one to trust.
Lee, as usual, had divined the political forces working on the Union armies from Washington and had maneuvered with a combination of skill and daring that exactly met the situation. Throwing his left forward (under Ewell) in the Shenandoah Valley he had driven Milroy out of Winchester on the fourteenth of June and next day secured a foothold across the Potomac. Then the rest of his army followed. It was so much stretched out (to facilitate its food supply) that Lincoln again wished to strike it at any vulnerable spot. But the Cabinet in general (and Stanton in particular) were still determined that the Union army should be their passive shield, not their active sword. On the twenty-fourth Ewell was already beginning to semicircle Gettysburg from the Cumberland Valley. On the twenty-eighth, the day on which Meade succeeded Hooker in the Federal command, the Confederate semicircle, now formed by Lee's whole army, stretched from Chambersburg on the west, through Carlisle on the north, to York on the east; while the massed Federals were still in Maryland, near Middletown and Frederick, thirty miles south of Gettysburg, and only forty miles northwest of nervous Washington.
Hooker's successor, George G. Meade, was the fifth defender of Washington within the last ten months. Luckily for the Union, Meade was a sound, though not a great, commander, and his hands were fairly free. Luckily again, he was succeeded in command of the Fifth Corps by George Sykes, the excellent leader of those magnificent regulars who fought so well at Antietam and Second Manassas. The change from interference to control was made only just in time at Washington; for three days after Meade's free hand began to feel its way along the threatened front the armies met upon the unexpected battlefield of Gettysburg.