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12/27/12

Fighting Joe Hooker Takes Command

This entry is part 1 of 15 in the series The Chancellorsville Campaign

General Joseph Hooker“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” Published in 1859, the Charles Dickens’ quotation from “A Tale of Two Cities” describes the results of the Chancellorsville Campaign for Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. It began with the appointment of Maj. Gen. Joseph “Fighting Joe” Hooker to the command of the Army of the Potomac on January 26,1863.

Having inflicted a stinging defeat on the Army of the Potomac at Fredericksburg in December 1862, the Confederates determined to hold the line against their Union foes at the Rappahannock River. Lee ordered the key fords and bridges to be fortified and dispersed his forces into winter quarters to rest and refit.

Meanwhile, President Lincoln determined that Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside was correct when he had initially declined the command of the Army of the Potomac and relieved him of it on January 26, 1863.

In his place, Lincoln appointed Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker to the command of the Union Army of the Potomac. Hooker was elevated from his position as I Corps commander.

Hooker was a career Army officer who had graduated from West Point in 1837. He fought in the Seminole Wars and the Mexican War like most of his peers. He received brevet promotions for his staff leadership and gallantry in three battles: Monterrey (to captain),National Bridge (major), and Chapultepec (lieutenant colonel).

His future Army reputation as a ladies’ man began in Mexico, where local girls referred to The Dashing Joe Hookerhim as the “Handsome Captain”.

At the start of the war he was denied a commission, possibly because of the lingering resentment of General-in-Chief Winfield Scott. However, after First Manassas he wrote a letter to President Lincoln about the mismanagement of the army.

It must have struck a cord because he was appointed, in August 1861, as brigadier general of volunteers to rank from May 17. He commanded a brigade and then division around Washington, D.C., as part of the effort to organize and train the new Army of the Potomac, under Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan.

Hooker made a good name for himself as a combat leader who handled himself well and aggressively sought out the key points on battlefields. He distinguished himself at the Battle of Williamsburg (as a result of which he was promoted to major general as of May 5, 1862) and throughout the Seven Days Battles.

He was a severe critic of McClellan’s cautious tactics, “He is not only not a soldier, but he does not know what soldiership is.” The fighting on the Peninsula cemented Hooker’s reputation in two areas: his devotion to the welfare and morale of his men, and his hard drinking social life, even on the battlefield.

When he assumed command of the Army of the Potomac, it was the worst of times for the main eastern army. Defeated and dispirited, the Union forces were at the point of disintegration. The Army of the Potomac had problems with supplies, sickness and morale.

The first issue that Hooker surprisingly attacked was the question of feeding the army. The government had constructed an excellent system for purchasing and distributing food to the armies. The food was generally good and the vegetables were fresh. Hooker, who had a knack for knowing all of the angles, determined that the commissary officers were routinely stealing the best food and making themselves rich in the process.

Fresh food was being sold in some cases to local residents who were invariably Confederate sympathizers. The commissary officers would pocket the money and falsify the records in order to make it appear that food went to the army.

Union Army commissary officersHooker immediately announced a schedule of rations that were to be delivered to each unit every week. If they were not the commissary officers in charge would be required to file a written statement proving that the warehouse did not have the food in question. This insured that the system was open for all to see.

Hooker then reorganized the method of cooking that the army had been using. Up to now, individual soldiers had each cooked their own rations. This proved to be an unsatisfactory method so Hooker instituted a better way. He instituted a regular system of company cooks who although they weren’t superior chefs were at least better than most individual soldiers.

One veteran, years later, recalled Hooker’s new order: “From the commissary came less whisky for the officers and better rations, including vegetables, for the men. Hospitals were renovated, new ones built, drunken surgeons discharged, sanitary supplies furnished, and the sick no longer left to suffer and die without proper care and attention. Officers and men who from incompetence or disability could be of no further use to the service were allowed to resign or were discharged, and those who were playing sick in the hospitals were sent to their regiments for duty.”

The changes that Joe Hooker instituted began to have an immediate effect on the health ofUnion Army surgeons the troops. Scurvy which had been a serious problem began to disappear. Diarrhea and other serious debilitating diseases began a general decline.

The surgeon general reported to General Hooker that there had been “an improvement and vigor of those who were not reported sick; an improvement which figures will not exhibit but which is apparent to officers whose attention is directed to the health of the men.”

Greater attention was paid to camp and personal sanitation. Living facilities were inspected and cleaned on a regular basis. Proper latrine facilities were upgraded and maintained to prevent situations like contamination of drinking water to occur. Kitchen waste was buried on a daily basis. Drainage ditches were constructed.

General Hooker made sure that all of these changes were embodied in official orders to prevent backsliding. The changes were so well received that Hooker was regularly cheered by his troops whenever they saw the handsome general.

Hooker instituted a regular system of furloughs with one man in each company, in turn, receiving a ten-day leave. In order to discourage desertion, all express packages were required to bear an invoice stating that it did not contain civilian clothes.

Drinking in camp by anyone other than officers was prohibited and guards on the Washington bridges were confiscating $500 worth of liquor a day. Regimental sutlers, however, did a roaring business in such items as brandied peaches.

Hooker realized that part of the army’s problems were due to idleness and instituted a regular order of drilling. The drill fields were in use from dawn to dusk. Officers were trained in the evenings and imparted their training on their troops. Hooker reinstituted the same kinds of parades and reviews that George McClellan had loved.

It was during this period that Joe Hooker devised a series of unit badges that the United States military uses too this very day. The badges identified each corps and each division within that corps by shape and color. The new symbols appeared on the shoulders and hats of every soldier in the Army of the Potomac.

Hooker also resolved to move several corps commanders out of the army. Maj. Gen. William Franklin resigned his command, refusing to serve under Hooker. He would later return to the army as a corps commander in the Department of the Gulf and participated in the ill-fated 1864 Red River Campaign.

Maj. Gen. William “Baldy” Smith reverted to the rank of brigadier general and commanded a division-sized force of militia within the Department of the Susquehanna in Pennsylvania during the critical days of the Gettysburg Campaign, repelling Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart at a skirmish in Carlisle.

Maj. Gen. Edwin V. “Bull” Sumner was ordered to take command in Missouri but died in Syracuse, New York before he could take up his new assignment. His dying words were emblematic of the service to his country, “The II Corps never lost a flag or a cannon. That is true-never lost one. God save my country, the United States of America.” With that he died having served his country in war and peace for 44 years.

 

 

 

09/1/11

Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant

From the beginning of the war Abraham Lincoln had searched for a military commander in the East. He was looking for a fighting general, one who had the ability to lead the Federal forces to victory in the East and end the war. It take him until March 1864 to find one: Ulysses S. Grant.

At first he appointed Irvin McDowell. McDowell was a professional soldier of no great ability. He led the Federal army to a crushing defeat at the First Bull Run (Manassas).

General George McClellanLincoln then replaced him with George B. McClellan who had served in western Virginia at the beginning of the war. He was a dashing, charismatic leader who forged the Army of the Potomac from the shattered fragments of McDowell’s army. However, McClellan was a perfectionist who did not wish to take his creation into battle under less than ideal conditions.

After a great deal of pressure McClellan embarked on a campaign to take Richmond. He embarked his massive force, moved them by water to Yorktown and marched them up the narrow Virginia Peninsula. After a number of battles, first against Joseph Johnston and then when he was wounded, against Robert E. Lee, McClellan forces where back where they began at Harrison’s Landing.

Rather than sacking McClellan Lincoln took the indirect approach and appointed a western general John Pope who was given the command of the Army of Virginia. Pope immediately blundered into a Confederate trap and was crushed at Second Bull Run. The Confederates then invaded Maryland.

Lincoln swallowed his pride and asked McClellan to resume complete command of the Army.  At Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland the Army of the Potomac fought what was to be the bloodiest one-day battle in American history. At Antietam McClellan was exposed as a timidBloody Lane at Antietam commander. Failing to use his overwhelmingly superior forces in a coordinated attack, he fed his forces into the battle piecemeal. The Confederates were able to blunt all of his assaults. He then compounded his mistakes and allowed the battered enemy to withdraw back to Virginia. Lincoln replaced McClellan for the final time.

He was replaced by Ambrose Burnside who in December 1862 tried to force the Confederate lines at Fredericksburg on the Rappahannock River. Showing his inability to improvise in the field Burnside persisted in frontal assaults on the main Confederate positions resulting in horrendous casualties. Burnside was replaced by debonair, self-promoting “Fighting Joe” Hooker.

Hooker proclaimed that his headquarters would be in the saddle. One newspaper said that Hooker had his headquarters in his hindquarters. At Chancellorsville Hooker was completely out-maneuvered and defeated by Robert E. Lee with a Confederate army half his army’s size. Lincoln was in complete despair saying: “My God! What will the country say?”

Hooker was replaced by George Gordon Meade in late June 1863 when Lee again led his Army of Northern Virginia on an invasion of the north. At Gettysburg Meade led the Federal army to victory in a three-day defensive battle. Like McClellan at Antietam, Meade failed to follow up his victory and the Confederates returned to the safety of Virginia to rest and refit. Lincoln again despaired for the Union.

That November Meade took his army on a half-hearted offensive that tried to force the Confederate entrenchments at Mine Run. The Army of the Potomac limped back to their encampments with nothing to show for it. Meade was not to answer Lincoln’s need for a fighting general.

Through all of the inept, timid commanders in the East one general in the West stood out as a commander who understood the need to destroy the General Ulysses S. Grantenemy’s army utterly: Ulysses S. Grant. Grant was a West Point graduate who had served with some distinction in the Mexican War. After that war he had drifted into civilian life in St. Louis and Galena, Illinois where he worked at his father’s tannery.

At the onset of the war Grant recruited a company of volunteers and led them to Springfield. In the capitol he accepted a position from the governor to train troops. He was good at it but was anxious for a field command. At the end of August 1861 he was given the command of the District of Cairo. He was commanded to make an attack against Confederate forces at Belmont, Kentucky. In an amphibious assault he led 3,100 union troops against Fort Belmont on November 7, 1861. He initially held the fort but was forced to retreat by overwhelming force.

Grant then decided to work his way down the Mississippi River and capture Confederate water fortresses. The lightly manned Fort Henry fell on February 6, 1862. Fort Donelson was a different story. In cooperation with the Navy, his 25,000 man force took this fort ten days later. At Fort Donelson Grant coined what was to be his signature surrender demand:  “No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender.” Lincoln promoted Grant to major general of volunteers.

By April the Federal army, known as the Army of the Tennessee, had increased to nearly 50,000 men. At Shiloh, Tennessee they fought a costly battle with Confederate forces number nearly 45,000. On the first day of the battle the Federal army was pushed back to the landing but on the second day Grant ordered a counterattack that defeated the Confederate force. The Confederate commander, Albert Sidney Johnston, was killed. Some 23,700 were killed or wounded at Shiloh making it the costliest battle of the war to date.

Grant was demoted by Henry Halleck to second-in-command of a combined 120,000 man army. It took the persuasions of his friend William T. Sherman to stop him from resigning his commission. Eventually, this massive force was broken up and Grant returned to his command of the Army of the Tennessee.

By December 1862 Grant was resolved to take the Confederate fortress city of Vicksburg on the Mississippi. At first he attempted an overland campaign that became stalled by Confederate cavalry attacks. After a series of unsuccessful river and bayou battles Grant changed his strategy andThe Mississippi River Squadron running the Confederate Blockade at Vicksburg moved his troops down the west side of the Mississippi. He then crossed over to the east side and attempted to take the city by storm. When that was unsuccessful he settled down for a seven week siege. Confederate commander John C. Pemberton surrendered on July 4, 1863.

With the fall of Vicksburg the Mississippi River was completely controlled by the Federal Army and Navy. The Confederacy was now cut in two. Lincoln gave Grant command of the entire Federal war front in the West with the exception of Louisiana.

Grant then commanded his combined armies in a series of battles in and around Chattanooga, Tennessee. These resulted in the eventual defeat of Confederate forces in this region. The decisive 1863 Chattanooga battle opened Georgia and the heartland of the Confederacy to Union invasion by Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman.

Grant was promoted to Lieutenant-General, only the third man to hold that rank; George Washington and Winfield Scott being the other two. He was given complete command of all Federal armies in the field. Grant traveled to Washington to meet with Lincoln and plan the next moves in the war. After realizing that eventual victory would need to come from the East he decided to make his headquarters with the Army of the Potomac.

In short order the country would come to learn more about the man that Lincoln had given the entire Federal army to. When some complainers spoke to Lincoln about rumors of Grant’s drinking, he exclaimed: “I can’t spare the man, he fights”.  Over the next year Grant’s armies would batter the Confederate forces on all fronts into utter defeat.