Monday, April 22, 2013

April 23, 1863 (Friday): "The Slanders of this Wretch"

Burnside's Bridge Antietam

Camp near Falmouth, Va., April 23, 1863.
Honorable E. M. STANTON,
Secretary of War:
    I see that Burnside's stupid order, Numbers 8, has at last found its way into the newspapers. It causes me no regret, and would no one else if the character of the author was as well understood by them as myself. His moral degradation is unfathomable. My attention was first called to it by his statement under oath that I had expressed to him my approval of his refusal to let me cross the river on the march down from Warrenton in the transfer of our line of operations.
    I had previously been informed of his cowardice at the first Bull Run, had witnessed his follies at South Mountain, heard of his blundering sacrifice of life at the bridge at Antietam, and felt the madness of the slaughter at Fredericksburg, but during all the time had given him credit for possessing common integrity.
Up to the hour of his departure from this army, he uniformly professed the warmest friendship for me-never uttered a word of complaint of my not having zealously supported him in all of his operations, myself and my command.
    In his order relinquishing command of this army, three days after the date of General Orders, Numbers 8, he speaks of me in terms of unusual praise, as will be remembered by all, and yet behind my back, assassin like, is trying to stab.
    It has, and still grieves me to reflect that my surroundings at this time are such that I cannot call him to account for his atrocities, swallow his words or face the music, before going into another fight. I like to feel easy at such times, with a name and character unclouded, and cannot bear to go into battle with the slanders of this wretch uncontradicted and the author of them unchastised. He must swallow his words as soon as I am in a condition to address him, or I will hunt him to the ends of the earth.
    His conduct toward others named in the order appears to have been no less treacherous and cowardly, for several of them were counting with a good deal of certainly on being made major-generals, on his assurance that he would use his influence to that end-this subsequent to the date of that order.
By his false swearing he has hitherto escaped the doom which awaits him. He has misled the investigating committee, and at no distant time the reverse and slaughter of Fredericksburg will be divided be
tween him and no one else. The attack and mode of it were his, despite the advice, opinions, counsels, and protests of his grand division commanders. Where I went there was not one chance in twenty of succeeding. He alone is responsible.
    I am now satisfied my command was taken from me at the battle of Fredericksburg for the reason that the newspaper had connected my name with the command of the army, and that was also the reason he would not let me cross the river and march here on the south side of the Rappahannock.
    To-day, from his own evidence, he cannot tell within 5 miles of where he intended to make his main attack on Fredericksburg and has no other idea of the organization and government of an army than that of arranging it in a way that the commanding general will have nothing to do. The nearer the army reaches that point, the greater excellence in his estimation. In his opinion, this army had become tolerably good during his exercise of its command, and yet it was on the verge of dissolution; he did nothing and knew nothing of it.
We have had another severe storm to-day, and it is not over yet. I am thankful that the army is not on the road, for in no direction could I advance 3 miles a day in the present condition of the country.
    Very respectfully, &c.,

    Major-General, Commanding.

 Official Records, Series I., Vol. 25, Part 2, Pages 855-856.

Burnside refers to the order drafted by Burnside for the President's signature but not signed by Lincoln, which would have removed from office a number of senior officers, including Hooker.  Of Hooker the order read; " General Joseph Hooker, major-general of volunteers and brigadier-general U.S. Army, having been guilty of unjust and unnecessary criticisms of the actions of his superior officers, and of the authorities, and having, by the general tone of his conversation, endeavored to create distrust in the minds of officers who have associated with him, and having, by omissions and otherwise, made reports and statements which were calculated to create incorrect impressions, and for habitually speaking in disparaging terms of other officers, is hereby dismissed the service of the United States as a man unfit to hold an important commission during a crisis like the present, when so much patience, charity, confidence, consideration, and patriotism are due from every soldier in the field."

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