Joseph Hooker was a prominent Union officer who commanded the Army of the Potomac from January 26, 1863 to June 28, 1863 during the American Civil War.
Joseph Hooker was born in Hadley, Massachusetts on November 13, 1814. His parents were Joseph Hooker, a local storekeeper, and Mary Seymour. Hooker attended school at the Hopkins Academy in Hadley, Massachusetts before enrolling at the United States Military Academy in 1833. An average student, Hooker graduated from West Point in 1837, twenty-ninth out of his class of fifty cadets.
After graduation, Hooker was brevetted as a second lieutenant with the 1st U.S. Artillery in Florida, during the Second Seminole War (1835-1842). Hooker also served in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) in staff positions with Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott. During that conflict, he was brevetted to captain (1846), major (1847), and lieutenant colonel (1847) for gallantry. After the Mexican-American War, Hooker's career floundered when he testified against Scott during court martial proceedings that Scott had initiated against fellow officer Gideon Pillow. Hooker was assigned to the Pacific Division, where he resigned his commission on February 21, 1853 to become a farmer in Sonoma, California. After several years of farming, Hooker requested to be reinstated in the U.S. Army in 1858, but he was denied, possibly because of his lingering feud with Scott. In 1859, Hooker was commissioned as a colonel in the California militia.
When the American Civil War began, Hooker traveled east and requested a commission in the U.S. Army, but again, he was denied. After viewing the Union defeat at the Battle of Bull Run I as a civilian, Hooker successfully petitioned President Abraham Lincoln for a commission in the Union army. He was commissioned as a brigadier general in the volunteer army on August 6, 1861 (effective to May 17).
During the first year of the Civil War, Joseph Hooker organized and trained the Army of the Potomac in Washington, D.C. When Major General George McClellan launched his Peninsula Campaign in 1862, Hooker commanded the 2nd Division of the 3rd Corps of the Army of the Potomac. During this campaign, Hooker acquired the sobriquet "Fighting Joe" because a typographical error changed a newspaper headline. The headline should have read "Fighting – Joe Hooker" to "Fighting Joe Hooker." Hooker never liked the nickname because he believed that "People will think I am a highwayman or a bandit." During the Peninsula Campaign, Hooker was promoted to major general of volunteers on May 5, 1862. After the campaign ended dismally for the Union, Hooker was openly critical of McClellan for his overly-cautious leadership.
After the failed Peninsula Campaign, Confederate General Robert E. Lee launched his Maryland Campaign, invading the North. On September 6, 1862, Hooker assumed command of the 3rd Corps of Major General John Pope's Army of Virginia. Six days later, his corps was assigned to the Army of the Potomac and designated as the 1st Corps. During the Maryland Campaign, Hooker fought with distinction at the Battle of South Mountain (September 14, 1862) and at the Battle of Antietam (September 17, 1862), where he was wounded in the foot. For his gallantry in action, Hooker was promoted to brigadier general in the regular army on September 20, 1862. When he returned to duty after his injury, Hooker was placed in command of the 5th Corps of the Army of the Potomac from November 10 to November 16, 1862.
On November 7, 1862, Major General Ambrose Burnside replaced Major General George McClellan as commander of the Army of the Potomac. Burnside restructured the army, consolidating several corps into three "Grand Divisions." On November 16, 1862, Burnside placed Hooker in command of a Grand Division consisting of the 3rd and 5th Corps. At the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 11–15, 1862), Hooker's Grand Division suffered major losses during fourteen futile assaults on Marye's Heights, ordered by Major General Burnside over Hooker's protests. After the battle, Hooker was publicly critical of Burnside's leadership. Burnside initiated actions to rid himself of Hooker and several other subordinate officers, but before he could do so, President Lincoln relieved Burnside of his command. On January 26, 1863, the US War Department issued General Orders, No. 20 announcing that "Major General A. E. Burnside, at his own request, be relieved from the command of the Army of the Potomac." The order went on to state that "Major General J. Hooker be assigned to command the Army of the Potomac." On the same date, Lincoln addressed a letter to Hooker, admonishing him to "Beware of rashness, but with energy, and sleepless vigilance, go forward, and give us victories."
When Hooker assumed command of the Army of the Potomac, morale was sinking, and desertions were rising. Hooker spent his first few months in charge of the army implementing reforms that raised the spirits of his soldiers. By spring, the army was ready for another offensive. Hooker's first test as commander of the army came at the Battle of Chancellorsville (April 30-May 6, 1863), where he proved no match for Robert E. Lee. Despite being outnumbered nearly two to one, Lee out maneuvered the federal army and drove them from the field. During the battle, Hooker suffered a concussion when a cannon shell exploded at his headquarters.
Lee's victory at Chancellorsville prompted the Confederate to launch a second invasion of the North in June. As Lee moved north, Lincoln ordered Hooker to move in a parallel direction, keeping the Army of the Potomac between Lee and the nation's capital. On June 28, 1863, Hooker attended a strategy meeting with the President and General-in-chief Henry W. Halleck. When a dispute arose regarding the disposition of troops at Harper's Ferry, Hooker's offered to resign his command. Lincoln quickly accepted the resignation and placed Major General George Meade in command of the Army of the Potomac.
After Hooker's resignation, he and two corps of the Army of the Potomac were reassigned to the Army of the Cumberland and sent west to help lift the siege of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Hooker's troops performed well at the Battle of Lookout Mountain (November 24, 1863) and the Battle of Chattanooga (November 23–25, 1863).
As Confederate General Joseph Johnston's Army of Tennessee retreated from Chattanooga into Georgia, Hooker commanded the 20th Corps of the Union Army of the Tennessee, which followed in pursuit. On July 22, 1864, Major General James B. McPherson, commander of the Army of the Tennessee, was killed during the Battle of Atlanta. Being the senior general in line of succession, Hooker expected Major General William T. Sherman to assign command of the army to him. When Sherman instead chose Major General Oliver Howard, Hooker asked to be relieved of his command. He was transferred to the non-combat command of the Northern Department (comprising the states of Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois), headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, from October 1, 1864, until the end of the war.
While in Cincinnati, Hooker met and married Olivia Groesbeck, sister of a former Ohio Congressman, William S. Groesbeck, on October 3, 1865. On March 13, 1865, Hooker was brevetted to major general in the regular army. He mustered out of the volunteer service on September 1, 1866. After being partially paralyzed by a stroke, Hooker retired from the regular army on October 15, 1868, with the rank of major general. He spent the remaining years of his life living near New York City, New York.
Joseph Hooker died while visiting Garden City, New York on October 31, 1879. He was buried in Spring Grove Cemetery, in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Cite this Entry
"Joseph Hooker," Ohio Civil War Central, 2017, Ohio Civil War Central. 25 May 2017 <http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=530>
"Joseph Hooker." (2017) In Ohio Civil War Central, Retrieved May 25, 2017, from Ohio Civil War Central: http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=530
- Abraham Lincoln
- Ambrose E. Burnside
- Army of the Cumberland
- Army of the Potomac (USA)
- Army of the Tennessee
- Army of Virginia
- Battle of Antietam
- Battle of Atlanta
- Battle of Bull Run I
- Battle of Chancellorsville
- Battle of Chattanooga
- Battle of Fredericksburg
- Battle of Lookout Mountain
- General Orders, No. 144 (U.S. War Department)
- General Orders, No. 181 (U.S. War Department)
- General Orders, No. 194 (U.S. War Department)
- General Orders, No. 20 (U.S. War Department)
- General Orders, No. 238 (U.S. War Department)
- General Orders, No. 263 (U.S. War Department)
- General Orders, No. 316 (U.S. War Department)
- General Orders, No. 41 (U.S. War Department)
- General Orders, No. 66 (Army of the Potomac)
- George B. McClellan
- George G. Meade
- James B. McPherson
- John Pope
- Joseph E. Johnston
- Maryland Campaign
- Mexican-American War
- Peninsula Campaign
- President Lincoln's Letter to Joseph Hooker
- Robert E. Lee
- Special Orders, No. 223 (Headquarters of the Army)
- William T. Sherman
- Winfield Scott
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