Hooker’s Division Commanders

This entry is part 4 of 15 in the series The Chancellorsville Campaign

The Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker’s Army of the Potomac contained a number of division commanders who would earn their stripes during the Chancellorsville Campaign. Several of them would move up to corps command in the ensuing years.

General Winfield Scott HancockPerhaps, the best known of these division commanders was Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock. The 38 year old Pennsylvanian was an 1844 graduate of West Point. At the start of the war, Hancock served as a quartermaster but was quickly promoted to brigadier general on September 23, 1861.

The army was in need of trained commanders and Hancock was given a brigade in the division of Brig. Gen. William F. “Baldy” Smith, Army of the Potomac. During the Peninsula Campaign, he earned the nickname, “Hancock the Superb” for his battlefield leadership.

During the Battle of Antietam, Hancock assumed command of the I Division following the mortal wounding of Maj. Gen. Israel B. Richardson in the horrific fighting at “Bloody Lane.”   He led the division in the bloody assaults on Marye’s Heights in the Battle of Fredericksburg the following month and was wounded in the abdomen.

One of the lesser-known division commanders, Brig. Gen. David Birney had a rather General David Birneycheckered career during the Civil War. After the Battle of Seven Pines he was accused of disobeying an order from his corps commander allegedly for “halting his command a mile from the enemy.”

Birney was court-martialed, but with strong positive testimony from Philip Kearny, he was acquitted and restored to command. After Kearny’s death at Chantilly, Birney assumed division command.

At Fredericksburg, he was once again accused of allegedly refusing to support Maj. Gen. George G. Meade‘s division’s attack on the left flank of the Union line. He was again exonerated and continued to command his division. Birney led his division in heavy fighting at Chancellorsville, where they suffered more casualties (1,607) than any other division in the army.

General Adolph Von SteinwehrBaron Adolph Wilhelm August Friedrich von Steinwehr was a German-Brunswick army officer who emigrated to the United States, became a geographer, cartographer, and author, and served as a Union general in the American Civil War.

He began the war as a regimental commander and progressed through brigade command to division command by Second Manassas. His division mostly included German immigrants. There first real fight was at Chancellorsville where they were in the center of Jackson’s Flank Attack on May 2, 1863.

Brig. Gen. Alpheus Williams had a distinguished career during the Civil War, starting by training volunteers in Michigan. He was promoted to brigade command in October 1861 and moved up to division command in March 1862.

Williams’ Division fought in the Shenandoah Valley where they were outmaneuvered by General Alpheus WilliamsStonewall Jackson. They were defeated at Cedar Mountain by Jackson. During the Antietam Campaign, his troops discovered the famous lost orders, Special Order No. 191.

At Antietam, Williams’ corps commander, Maj. Gen. Joseph Mansfield was killed and Williams assumed temporary command. The corps suffered 25% casualties in assaulting Jackson, and Brig. Gen. George S. Greene‘s division was forced to withdraw from its advanced position at the Dunker Church. Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum replaced Williams as permanent corps commander immediately after the battle.

At the Battle Chancellorsville, Williams’ Division  entrenched hastily and was able to stop the Confederate advance before it overran the entire army, but it suffered 1,500 casualties in the process.




Series Navigation<< Hooker’s Corps Commanders (Part II)Hooker’s Plan at Chancellorsville >>James Longstreet’s Division Commanders >>

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