April 4, 1863 – President Abraham Lincoln headed a group leaving Washington to review Major General Joseph Hooker’s revamped Army of the Potomac.
Lincoln boarded the steamer Carrie Martin to go to Hooker’s headquarters at Falmouth in northern Virginia. He was accompanied by First Lady Mary Lincoln, his son Tad (celebrating his 10th birthday), Attorney General Edward Bates, old Springfield friend Dr. Anson G. Henry, Sacramento Union correspondent Noah Brooks, and others. The trip began amidst a heavy snowstorm.
At Falmouth, Hooker proceeded with plans to destroy the Confederate army and march on Richmond. He directed all corps commanders to move surplus baggage to the rear and notified the War Department to have siege equipment ready for when the army arrived outside the Confederate capital. This included shovels, picks, axes, and sandbags, along with a naval flotilla to bring 1.5 million rations up the Pamunkey River for the troops.
The presidential party arrived on the 5th, Easter Sunday. They disembarked at Aquia Creek, which had been decorated with patriotic bunting and flags to welcome them. A special train took them to Hooker’s headquarters, three miles from the Rappahannock River. Hooker’s chief of staff, Major General Daniel Butterfield, showed the guests to their quarters, which consisted of three large hospital tents.
Lincoln met with Hooker and began discussing strategy. When Lincoln said, “If you get to Richmond, General,” Hooker cut him off: “Excuse me, Mr. President, but there is no ‘if’ in this case. I am going straight to Richmond if I live.” Lincoln later told Noah Brooks, “That is the most depressing thing about Hooker. It seems to me that he is over-confident.” The president later added, “The hen is the wisest of all the animal creation, because she never cackles until the egg is laid.”
Lincoln also disapproved of Hooker’s ongoing debate with his commanders on how best to get around the Confederate army and take Richmond. Hooker’s recent request for siege equipment indicated that his grand objective was the enemy capital and not the enemy army. Lincoln tried settling this matter with a memorandum making it clear that “our prime object is the enemies’ army in front of us, and is not with, or about, Richmond…”
Hooker planned a cavalry review of the “finest army on the planet” for his visitors that day, but the snowstorm postponed it to the 6th. On that date, the presidential party watched over 15,000 horsemen pass them in the largest concentration of cavalry ever assembled on the continent. This was the new Cavalry Corps that Hooker had created, led by Major General George Stoneman.
Attorney General Bates called the cavalry parade “the grandest sight I ever saw.” Young Tad especially enjoyed the pageantry. Hooker made sure to stage the review in plain sight of the Confederates across the Rappahannock as an impressive show of force. Hooker also hoped that staging such reviews would boost army morale. He told Lincoln, “I only regret that your party is not as large as our hospitality.”
Lincoln and the other guests spent the next few days observing more reviews and riding among the troops. Hooker staged a “Grand Review” of the infantry on the 9th, which a Pennsylvania officer called “the most magnificent military pageant ever witnessed on this continent.”
Nearly 85,000 troops marched past President and Mrs. Lincoln and their son in lines stretching for miles on Falmouth Heights. A correspondent on the scene reported that “the President merely touched his hat in return salute to the officers, but uncovered to the men in the ranks.”
Lincoln and Hooker sat upon their horses beside each other, with Lincoln in his usual tailcoat and stovepipe hat, and Hooker in full dress uniform. Many soldiers considered Lincoln “an ungainly looking man,” but they cheered him out of respect “for his integrity, and good management of the war.” A soldier described the first lady as “a pleasant, but not an intelligent looking woman.”
The president met with Hooker and Major General Darius N. Couch, the senior corps commander, before returning to Washington on the morning of the 10th. The Army of the Potomac now numbered 133,450 effectives and 70 batteries totaling 412 guns. The Confederates had less than half this strength. Lincoln told Hooker and Couch, “I want to impress upon you two gentlemen, in your next fight, put in all your men.”
CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 271-72; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9192-203, 9214-25; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 235, 249-51; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 278; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 513-16; Goolrick, William K., Rebels Resurgent: Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 102-03, 111; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 335-36; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 585; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 127-29