Joseph Hooker

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Joseph Hooker
Joseph Hooker - Brady-Handy--restored.jpg
Nickname(s) "Fighting Joe"
Born (1814-11-13)November 13, 1814
Hadley, Massachusetts
Died Script error: The function "death_date_and_age" does not exist.
Garden City, New York
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Army
Californian militia
Years of service 1837–1853, 1861–1868 (U.S.)
1859–1861 (California)
Rank Union army maj gen rank insignia.jpg Major General (U.S.)
Union Army colonel rank insignia.png Colonel (California)
Commands held I Corps
Army of the Potomac
XX Corps, Army of Tennessee
Department of the East
Battles/wars Seminole Wars
Mexican-American War
American Civil War
File:Joe Hooker on horseback.jpg
"Fighting" Joe Hooker in an 1863 engraving

Joseph Hooker (November 13, 1814 – October 31, 1879) was a career United States Army officer, achieving the rank of major general in the Union Army during the American Civil War. Although he served throughout the war, usually with distinction[citation needed], Hooker is best remembered for his stunning defeat by Confederate General Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863.

After graduating from the United States Military Academy in 1837, Hooker served in the Seminole Wars and the Mexican-American War, receiving three brevet promotions. Resigning from the Army in 1853, he pursued farming, land development, and (unsuccessfully) politics in California. After the start of the Civil War he returned to the Army as a brigadier general. He distinguished himself as an aggressive combat commander leading a division in the Battle of Williamsburg, May 5, 1862, resulting in his promotion to major general. As a corps commander, he led the initial Union attacks at the Battle of Antietam, in which he was wounded. At the Battle of Fredericksburg, he commanded a "Grand Division" of two corps, and was ordered to conduct numerous futile frontal assaults that caused his men to suffer serious losses. Throughout this period, he conspired against and openly criticized his army commanders. Following the defeat at Fredericksburg, he was given command of the Army of the Potomac.

Hooker planned an audacious campaign against Robert E. Lee, but he was defeated by the Confederate Army at the Battle of Chancellorsville. Hooker suddenly lacked the nerve to marshal the strength of his larger army against Lee, who boldly divided his army and routed a Union corps with a flank attack by Stonewall Jackson. Hooker began to pursue Lee at the start of the Gettysburg Campaign, but his poor performance at Chancellorsville prompted Abraham Lincoln to relieve him from command just prior to the Battle of Gettysburg. He returned to combat in November, leading two corps from the Army of the Potomac to help relieve the besieged Union Army at Chattanooga, Tennessee, and achieving an important victory at the Battle of Lookout Mountain during the Chattanooga Campaign. He continued in the Western Theater under Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, but left before the end of the Atlanta Campaign when he was bypassed for a promotion to command the Army of the Tennessee.

Hooker became known as "Fighting Joe" following a journalist's clerical error reporting from the Battle of Williamsburg; however, the nickname stuck. His personal reputation was as a hard-drinking ladies' man, and his headquarters was known for parties and gambling, although the historical evidence discounts any heavy drinking by the general himself. His name is often associated with the slang term for prostitute, although the word "hooker" has been documented as appearing with that meaning in print well before he became a public figure.

Early years

Hooker was born in Hadley, Massachusetts, the grandson of a captain in the American Revolutionary War. He was of entirely English ancestry, all of which had been in New England since the early 1600s.[1] His initial schooling was at the local Hopkins Academy. He graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1837, ranked 29th out of a class of 50, and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 1st U.S. Artillery.[2] His initial assignment was in Florida fighting in the second of the Seminole Wars. He served in the Mexican-American War in staff positions in the campaigns of both Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott. 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 him as the "Handsome Captain".[3]

After the war, he served as assistant adjutant general of the Pacific Division, but resigned his commission in 1853; his military reputation had been damaged when he testified against his former commander, General Scott, in the court-martial for insubordination of Gideon Pillow. Hooker settled in Sonoma County, California, as a farmer and land developer, but was more devoted to gambling and liquor than to agriculture. His house still exists in the city of Sonoma. When living in Sonoma, he stood unsuccessfully for election to represent the region in the California legislature.[4] He was obviously unhappy and unsuccessful in his civilian pursuits because, in 1858, he wrote to Secretary of War John B. Floyd to request that his name "be presented to the president Buchanan as a candidate for a lieutenant colonelcy", but nothing came of his request. From 1859 to 1861, he held a commission as a colonel in the California militia.[5]

Civil War

At the start of the war, Hooker requested a commission, but his first application was rejected, possibly because of the lingering resentment harbored by Winfield Scott, general-in-chief of the Army. He had to borrow money to make the trip east from California. After he witnessed the Union Army defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run, he wrote a letter to President Abraham Lincoln that complained of military mismanagement, promoted his own qualifications, and again requested a commission. 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.


In the Peninsula Campaign of 1862, Hooker commanded the 2nd Division of the III Corps and 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 chafed at the cautious generalship of McClellan and openly criticized his failure to capture Richmond. Of his commander, Hooker said, "He is not only not a soldier, but he does not know what soldiership is." The Peninsula cemented two further reputations of Hooker's: his devotion to the welfare and morale of his men, and his hard drinking social life, even on the battlefield.

As McClellan's army retreated into inactivity, Hooker was transferred to Maj. Gen. John Pope's Army of Virginia. His division first served in its III Corps under Maj. Gen. Samuel P. Heintzelman, but Hooker assumed corps command (III Corps of the Army of Virginia) on September 6, after the Northern Virginia Campaign and the Second Battle of Bull Run, a severe Union defeat. As Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia moved north into Maryland, Hooker's corps (redesignated the I Corps on September 12) was returned to the Army of the Potomac, and he fought with distinction at South Mountain and Antietam. At Antietam, his corps launched the first assault of the bloodiest day in American history, driving south into the corps of Lt. Gen. Stonewall Jackson, where they fought each other to a standstill. Hooker, aggressive and inspiring to his men, left the battle early in the morning with a foot wound. He asserted that the battle would have been a decisive Union victory if he had managed to stay on the field, but General McClellan's caution once again failed the Northern troops and Lee's much smaller army eluded destruction. With his patience at an end, President Lincoln replaced McClellan with Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside.

The December 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg was another Union debacle. Upon recovering from his foot wound, Hooker was briefly made commander of V Corps, but was then promoted to "Grand Division" command, with a command that consisted of both III and V Corps. Hooker derided Burnside's plan to assault the fortified heights behind the city, deeming them "preposterous". His Grand Division (particularly V Corps) suffered serious losses in fourteen futile assaults ordered by Burnside over Hooker's protests. Burnside followed up this battle with the humiliating Mud March in January and Hooker's criticism of his commander bordered on formal insubordination. He described Burnside as a "wretch ... of blundering sacrifice." Burnside planned a wholesale purge of his subordinates, including Hooker, and drafted an order for the president's approval. He stated that Hooker was "unfit to hold an important commission during a crisis like the present." But Lincoln's patience had again run out and he removed Burnside instead.

Army of the Potomac

File:Hooker joseph.jpg
Major General Joseph Hooker

Lincoln appointed Hooker to command of the Army of the Potomac on January 26, 1863. Some members of the army saw this move as inevitable, given Hooker's reputation for aggressive fighting, something sorely lacking in his predecessors. During the "Mud March" Hooker was quoted by a New York Times army correspondent as saying that "Nothing would go right until we had a dictator, and the sooner the better."[6] Lincoln wrote a letter to the newly appointed general, part of which stated,

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I have heard, in such way as to believe it, of your recently saying that both the Army and the Government needed a Dictator. Of course it was not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you the command. Only those generals who gain success can set up dictators. What I now ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship.[7]

During the spring of 1863, Hooker established a reputation as an outstanding administrator and restored the morale of his soldiers, which had plummeted to a new low under Burnside. Among his changes were fixes to the daily diet of the troops, camp sanitary changes, improvements and accountability of the quartermaster system, addition of and monitoring of company cooks, several hospital reforms, and an improved furlough system (one man per company by turn, 10 days each). He also implemented corps badges as a means of identifying units during battle or when marching and to instill unit pride in the men. Other orders addressed the need to stem rising desertion (one from Lincoln combined with incoming mail review, the ability to shoot deserters, and better camp picket lines), more and better drills, stronger officer training, and for the first time, combining the federal cavalry into a single corps.[8] Hooker said of his revived army:

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I have the finest army on the planet. I have the finest army the sun ever shone on. ... If the enemy does not run, God help them. May God have mercy on General Lee, for I will have none.

Also during this winter Hooker made several high-level command changes, including with his corps commanders. Both "Left Grand Division" commander Maj. Gen. William B. Franklin, who vowed that he would not serve under Hooker, and II Corps commander Maj. Gen. Edwin Vose Sumner were relieved of command, on Burnside's recommendation, in the same order appointing Hooker to command. The IX Corps was a potential source of embarrassment or friction within the army because it was Burnside's old corps, so it was detached as a separate organization and sent to the Virginia Peninsula under the command of Brig. Gen. William F. "Baldy" Smith, former commander of VI Corps. (Both Franklin and Smith were considered suspect by Hooker because of their previous political maneuvering against Burnside and on behalf of McClellan.)[9]

For the important position of chief of staff, Hooker asked the War Department to send him Brig. Gen. Charles Stone, however this was denied. Stone had been relieved, arrested, and imprisoned for his role in the Battle of Ball's Bluff in the fall of 1861, despite the lack of any trial. Upon his release Stone would not receive a command, mostly due to political pressures, which left him militarily exiled and disgraced. Army of the Potomac historian and author Bruce Catton termed this request by Hooker "a strange and seemingly uncharacteristic thing" and "one of the most interesting things he ever did."[10] Hooker never explained why he asked for Stone, but Catton believed:

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[Hooker] laid schemes and calculations aside and for one brief moment stood up as a straightforward soldier who would defy politics and politicians. ... It is a point to remember, because to speak up for General Stone took moral courage, a quality which Joe Hooker is rarely accused of possessing.[11]

Despite this, Fighting Joe would set a very bad example for the conduct of generals and their staffs and subordinates. His headquarters in Falmouth, Virginia, was described by cavalry officer Charles F. Adams, Jr., as being a combination of a "bar-room and a brothel".[12] He built a network of loyal political cronies that included Maj. Gen. Dan Butterfield for chief of staff, and the notorious political general, Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Sickles, for command of the III Corps.


General "Fightin' Joe" Hooker
Union General Joseph Hooker (seated 2nd to right) and his staff, 1863.

Hooker's plan for the spring and summer campaign was both elegant and promising. He first planned to send his cavalry corps deep into the enemy's rear, disrupting supply lines and distracting him from the main attack. He would pin down Robert E. Lee's much smaller army at Fredericksburg, while taking the large bulk of the Army of the Potomac on a flanking march to strike Lee in his rear. Defeating Lee, he could move on to seize Richmond. Unfortunately for Hooker and the Union, the execution of his plan did not match the elegance of the plan itself. The cavalry raid was conducted cautiously by its commander, Brig. Gen. George Stoneman, and met none of its objectives. The flanking march went well enough, achieving strategic surprise, but when he attempted to advance with three columns, Stonewall Jackson's surprise attack on May 1 pushed Hooker back and caused him to withdraw his troops. From there, Hooker pulled his army back to Chancellorsville and waited for Lee to attack. Lee audaciously split his smaller army in two to deal with both parts of Hooker's army. Then, he split again, sending Stonewall Jackson's corps on its own flanking march, striking Hooker's exposed right flank and routing the Union XI Corps. The Army of the Potomac dropped into a purely defensive mode and eventually was forced to retreat.

The Battle of Chancellorsville has been called "Lee's perfect battle" because of his ability to vanquish a much larger foe through audacious tactics. Part of Hooker's failure can be attributed to a deadly encounter with a cannonball. While standing on the porch of his headquarters, the missile struck a wooden column the general was leaning against, knocking him senseless and putting him out of action for the rest of the day. Despite his incapacitation, he refused entreaties to turn over temporary command of the army to his second-in-command, Maj. Gen. Darius N. Couch. Several of his subordinate generals, including Couch and Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum, openly questioned Hooker's command decisions. Couch was so disgusted that he refused to ever serve under Hooker again. Political winds blew strongly in the following weeks as generals maneuvered to overthrow Hooker or to position themselves if Lincoln decided on his own to do so.

Robert E. Lee once again began an invasion of the North, in June 1863, and Lincoln urged Hooker to pursue and defeat him. Hooker's initial plan was to seize Richmond instead, but Lincoln immediately vetoed that idea, so the Army of the Potomac began to march north, attempting to locate Lee's Army of Northern Virginia as it slipped down the Shenandoah Valley into Pennsylvania. Hooker's mission was first to protect Washington, D.C., and Baltimore and second to intercept and defeat Lee. Unfortunately, Lincoln was losing any remaining confidence he had in Hooker. When the general got into a dispute with Army headquarters over the status of defensive forces in Harpers Ferry, he impulsively offered his resignation in protest, which was quickly accepted by Lincoln and General-in-chief Henry W. Halleck. On June 28, three days before the climactic Battle of Gettysburg, Hooker was replaced by Maj. Gen. George Meade. Hooker received the Thanks of Congress for his role at the start of the Gettysburg Campaign,[13] but the glory would go to Meade.

Western Theater

Hooker's military career was not ended by his poor performance in the summer of 1863. He went on to regain a reputation as a solid corps commander when he was transferred with the XI and XII Corps of the Army of the Potomac westward to reinforce the Army of the Cumberland around Chattanooga, Tennessee. Hooker was in command at the Battle of Lookout Mountain, playing an important role in Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's decisive victory at the Battle of Chattanooga. He was brevetted to major general in the regular army for his success at Chattanooga, but he was disappointed to find that Grant's official report of the battle credited his friend William Tecumseh Sherman's contribution over Hooker's.

Hooker led his corps (now designated the XX Corps) competently in the 1864 Atlanta Campaign under Sherman, but asked to be relieved before the capture of the city because of his dissatisfaction with the promotion of Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard to command of the Army of the Tennessee, upon the death of Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson. Not only did Hooker have seniority over Howard, but he also blamed Howard in large part for his defeat at Chancellorsville (Howard had commanded the XI Corps, which had borne the brunt of Jackson's flank attack). Hooker's biographer reports that there were numerous stories indicating that Abraham Lincoln attempted to intercede with Sherman, urging that Hooker be appointed to command the Army of the Tennessee, but Sherman threatened to resign if the president insisted. However, due to "obvious gaps" in the Official Records, the story cannot be verified.[14]

After leaving Georgia, Hooker commanded 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.[5] While in Cincinnati he married Olivia Groesbeck, sister of Congressman William S. Groesbeck.

Final years and legacy

Hooker's equestrian statue at Massachusetts State House.
File:2491869315 Hooker.jpg
General Hooker's Quickstep, sheet music, 19th century

After the war, Hooker led President Abraham Lincoln's Springfield funeral procession on May 4, 1865. He served in command of the Department of the East and Department of the Lakes following the war. His postbellum life was marred by poor health and he was partially paralyzed by a stroke. He was mustered out of the volunteer service on September 1, 1866, and retired from the U.S. Army on October 15, 1868, with the regular army rank of major general. He died on a visit to Garden City, New York, and is buried in Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati, Ohio,[5] his wife's home town.

Hooker was popularly known as "Fighting Joe" Hooker, a nickname he regretted deeply; he said, "People will think I am a highwayman or a bandit."[15] When a newspaper dispatch arrived in New York during the Peninsula Campaign, a typographical error changed an entry "Fighting — Joe Hooker Attacks Rebels" to remove the dash and the name stuck.[16] Robert E. Lee occasionally referred to him as "Mr. F. J. Hooker" in a mildly sarcastic jab at his opponent.

Hooker's reputation as a hard-drinking ladies' man was established through rumors in the pre-Civil War Army and has been cited by a number of popular histories.[17] Biographer Walter H. Hebert describe the general's personal habits as the "subject of much debate"[18] although there was little debate in the popular opinion of the time. His men parodied Hooker in the popular war song Marching Along. The lines

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McClellan's our leader,
He's gallant and strong

were replaced by

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Joe Hooker's our leader,
He takes his whiskey strong.[18]

Historian Stephen W. Sears, however, states that there is no basis to the claims that Hooker was either a heavy drinker, or that he was ever intoxicated on the battlefield.[19]

There is a popular legend that "hooker" as a slang term for a prostitute is derived from his last name[20] because of parties and a lack of military discipline at his headquarters near the Murder Bay district of Washington, DC. Some versions of the legend claim that the band of prostitutes that followed his division were derisively referred to as "General Hooker's Army" or "Hooker's Brigade."[21] However, the term "hooker" was used in print as early as 1845, years before Hooker was a public figure,[22] and is likely derived from the concentration of prostitutes around the shipyards and ferry terminal of the Corlear's Hook area of Manhattan in the early to middle 19th century, who came to be referred to as "hookers".[23] The prevalence of the Hooker legend may have been at least partly responsible for the popularity of the term.[24] There is some evidence that an area in Washington, DC, known for prostitution during the Civil War, was referred to as "Hooker's Division". The name was shortened to "The Division" when he spent time there after First Bull Run guarding D.C. from incursion.[25]

There is an equestrian statue of General Hooker outside the Massachusetts State House in Boston, and Hooker County in Nebraska is named for him.

See also


  1. Homes of the Massachusetts ancestors of Major General Joseph Hooker By Isaac Paul Gragg
  2. Eicher, p. 303.
  3. Smith, np.
  4. Timeline of Hooker's life, Sonoma League
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Eicher, p. 304.
  6. Sears, Chancellorsville, p. 21.
  7. Sears, Chancellorsville, pp. 57-58.
  8. Catton, pp. 141-47. The corps badge idea was suggested by Hooker's chief of staff, Daniel Butterfield (Sears, Chancellorsville, p. 72).
  9. Catton, p. 147; Sears, Chancellorsville, p 61.
  10. Catton, pp. 147-49.
  11. Catton, p. 149.
  12. Foote, pp. 233-34/
  13. Eicher, p. 304; Thanks of Congress partial text: " Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker... for the skill, energy, and endurance which first covered Washington and Baltimore from the meditated blow of the advancing and powerful army of rebels led by General Robert E. Lee...."
  14. Hebert, p. 285.
  15. "Hooker's Comments on Chancellorsville", Battles and Leaders, Vol. III, p. 217.
  16. Foote, p. 234.
  17. See, for example, Catton, p. 134, "a profane, hard-drinking soldier", and Foote, p. 233.
  18. 18.0 18.1 Hebert, p. 65.
  19. Sears, Chancellorsville, pp. 54-55, 60, 505-506.
  20. Hebert, p. vii.
  21. See, for example, Loudoun County, Virginia, history website.
  22. World Wide Words website
  23. Burrows, Edwin G. & Mike Wallace. Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. p.484
  24. The Word Detective website, May 20, 2003, issue.
  25. Ghosts of D.C. website, accessed September 10, 2013.

External links

Military offices
Preceded by Commander of the First Army Corps
September 6, 1862 – September 17, 1862
Succeeded by
George G. Meade
Preceded by Commander of the Fifth Army Corps
November 10, 1862 – November 16, 1862
Succeeded by
Daniel Butterfield
Preceded by Commander of the Army of the Potomac
January 26, 1863 – June 28, 1863
Succeeded by
George G. Meade
Preceded by Commander of the XX Corps
April 14, 1864 – July 28, 1864
Succeeded by
Alpheus S. Williams