Joseph Hooker

Joseph Hooker

Joseph Hooker was a senior officer in the Union army during the American Civil War. Hooker had an aggressive approach to campaigning and during the American Civil War his men in recognition of this gave him the nickname ‘Fighting Joe’; though it was a nickname he did not like as he felt that it made him out to be a highwayman.


Hooker was born on November 13th 1814 in Hadley, Massachusetts. He attended the US Military Academy at West Point and graduated in 1837. Hooker fought in the Seminole War and the Mexican War. By the end of this war, Hooker held the rank of lieutenant colonel. Hooker resigned his commission in 1853 after his involvement in a court martial where he testified against his commanding officer – it was not thought as the right thing to do. Hooker became a farmer in California but maintained his link with the military by serving as a colonel in California’s militia.


The American Civil War broke out in April 1861. Hooker applied to join the Union army but his request was rejected. No one is quite sure why this was so but there is speculation that many senior officers in the US Army still had not forgiven or forgotten the part he played in the court martial of General Scott. Hooker wrote directly to President Lincoln. This approach succeeded and Hooker rejoined the US Army in August 1861 with the rank of brigadier general of volunteers.


His first task was to defend Washington against a possible attack. He commanded a division that was eventually to become part of the Army of the Potomac.


Hooker fought at the Battle of Williamsburg and the Seven Days Battle with distinction and in recognition of this he was promoted to major general. Hooker found it very difficult to adapt to General McClellan’s cautious tactics and strategy and he openly voiced his opposition to such an approach.


Hooker’s I Corps in the Army of Virginia fought at Antietam (September 1862). Once again, Hooker adopted an aggressive approach in what was to prove a very bloody battle. He had to leave the battlefield with an injured foot. When he returned he found that McClellan’s caution had meant that Robert E Lee’s men had been able to withdraw from the battlefield. Hooker believed that if McClellan had followed his aggressive approach, Lee’s army would have been destroyed at Antietam.


Hooker commanded the III and V Corps at the Battle of Fredericksburg (November 1862). He was highly critical of General Burnside’s plan to attack Fredericksburg – plans he called “preposterous”. Much against his wishes, the ‘Grand Division’, the name given to the III and V Corps, made fourteen attacks against Fredericksburg and took serious casualties. Whatever complaints would be made against Hooker in the future, no one doubted that he cared for the men under his command and they respected his concern. Hooker could barely forgive Burnside for ordering what he viewed as the senseless slaughter of his men and he called him a “wretch”. Hooker was very open about his views on Burnside and did nothing to disguise or moderate them. Burnside wrote to Lincoln to get the President’s approval to remove him from corps command claiming that Hooker could not cope in a crisis. Lincoln got rid of Burnside instead and in January 1863 Hooker replaced him as head of the Army of the Potomac.


His approach to the care of his soldiers in the ‘Grand Division’ was extended to the Army of the Potomac. He ensured that they had a proper diet and that all camps were provided with proper sanitary systems. Probably most important for his men, Hooker did what he could to ensure that they were paid on time and that they got the necessary amount of leave that they were entitled to. There was obviously a clear bond between Hooker and his men; he called them “the finest army on the planet”.


Hooker’s reputation was severely damaged by the battle with Lee fought around Chancellorsville. Hooker had planned to outflank Lee after cutting off his supply line using a large cavalry force. Once Lee was defeated, Hooker planned to take Richmond and end the war. It was a grand plan, which failed to work. When Hooker’s cavalry failed to disrupt Lee’s supply lines, it was the start of a disaster. Robert E Lee commanded a much smaller army but to attack the Army of the Potomac, he split his men into two forces. For once, Hooker seemed to have been unsure what to do and his aggressive instincts temporarily left him. It may well be that he was mentally prepared for an attack by one army and totally unprepared for an attack by two small armies. The Battle of Chancellorsville ended in Hooker retreating. It was a great victory for Lee but a chronic embarrassment for Hooker. Subordinate officers refused to serve under him ever again.


Lincoln ordered that Hooker’s Army of the Potomac had as its first duty the protection of Washington from the advancing Lee. But Lincoln ordered that it also had to find Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and engage it in battle again. This flew in the face of what Hooker wanted to do. As Lee advanced on Washington, Hooker believed that Richmond was undefended. He wanted to advance on the Confederate capital and occupy it thus ending the war. Lincoln did not agree and ordered that Hooker had to follow his orders. To Hooker this was a sign that the President did not have confidence in him. After a seemingly minor dispute with army headquarters, Hooker handed in his resignation as head of the Army of the Potomac on June 28th 1863 and Lincoln accepted it.


Hooker’s military career took another direction when he was sent to assist the Army of the Cumberland in Tennessee. Hooker did much for his reputation at the Battle of Chattanooga. While Ullyses Grant got the credit for the victory, Hooker did as much as he could to support him, especially at Lookout Mountain. Hooker was rewarded for what he did at the Battle of Chattanooga by being given a rank of major general in the regular army and he was given command of the XX Corps. XX Corps did what was needed of it during the campaign in Georgia and Sherman’s success in this campaign had a rub-off effect on Hooker. After the North’s success in Georgia, Hooker was appointed commander of the Northern Department – a position he held for the rest of the American Civil War.


Hooker suffered a stroke after the war and retired from the US Army on October 15th 1868 with the rank of major general.


Joseph Hooker died on October 31st 1879.

MLA Citation/Reference

"Joseph Hooker". 2014. Web.

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