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Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Hooker, Joseph

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HOOKER, Joseph, soldier, b. in Hadley, Mass., 13 Nov., 1814; d. in Garden City. N. Y., 31 Oct., 1879. After a good elementary education he was appointed a cadet in the U. S. military academy, where he was graduated in 1837 with Braxton Bragg, Jubal Early, John Sedgwick, and Edward D. Townsend. He was appointed a 2d lieutenant in the 1st artillery, and after serving in the Florida war was sent with his regiment to the Maine frontier, on account of the disputed boundary controversy. On 1 Nov., 1838, he was promoted to a 1st lieutenancy. After continued service with his regiment, he was appointed adjutant of the military academy, 1 July, 1842, but soon afterward, having been offered the adjutancy of his own regiment, accepted it, and retained it until 11 May, 1846. He served with distinction in the Mexican war from 1846 till 1848, and in the former year was appointed a captain in the adjutant-general's department. He was attached successively to the staffs of Gens. Persifer F. Smith. Thomas L. Hamer, William 0. Butler, and Gideon I. Pillow. He was particularly distinguished in the siege and assault of Monterey, under Gen. Zachary Taylor, and received the brevet of captain. He took part in the movements from Vera Cruz to the city of Mexico, and for his gallantry in a spirited affair at the National bridge on 11 Aug., 1847, was brevetted major. He was favorably mentioned in the despatches announcing the series of actions and victories in the valley of Mexico — Contreras, Churubusco, Molino del Rey, Chapultepec, and the capture of the city. For the decisive action of Chapultepec he received the brevet of lieutenant-colonel, being thus among the very few to whom were given three brevets during the war. After a year's sojourn at the east he was sent, on 9 July, 1849, as assistant adjutant-general to the Division of the Pacific, where he served until 24 Nov., 1851. By regular lineal promotion he had become a captain in his regiment on 29 Oct., 1848; but this post he declined and vacated, since he could not hold both, in order to retain his captaincy in the adjutant-general's department. From 1851 till 1853 he was on leave of absence. Being, like many others, smitten with the “California fever,” he resigned from the army on 21 Feb., 1853, and from that time until 1861 lived a precarious and not very successful life. At first he was a farmer in Sonora county, Cal. In 1858 he was appointed superintendent of military roads in Oregon, and had other government surveying. From 1859 till 1861 he was colonel of California militia, expecting the cloud of war soon to burst. Thus by his needs, his training, and his forecast he was ready to avail himself of the opportunity that soon presented itself to his uncommon military talents. Still young, tall, handsome, cool, brave, and dashing, he was at once a soldier and a general, the beau-ideal of a leader of men. The government made haste to accept his services, which he had promptly offered, and he was appointed on 17 May, 1861, a brigadier-general of volunteers. The actual time of issuing his commission was in August, but it was dated back to give him a claim to higher command. He saw the battle of Bull Run, without participating in it. He was employed in the defences of Washington, 12 Aug., 1861, and then on the eastern shore of the lower Potomac, and was appointed in April, 1862, to the command of the 2d division in the 3d corps, Army of the Potomac, under Heintzelman, and fought in that capacity during the peninsular campaign. He was distinguished at the siege of Yorktown, 5 April to 4 May, and was appointed a major-general of volunteers on the day after the evacuation, 5 May. In the battle of Williamsburg his single division held the whole Confederate army in check, and lost 2,228 men, killed or wounded, while 30,000 National troops looked on and gave no assistance until, when all his men had been engaged, and he was obliged to retire, Kearny and Hancock came to his relief. He was also distinguished at the battles of Fair Oaks, Fraziers Farm, Glendale, and Malvern, where so much depended upon defeating the enemy while the change of base was being executed. At the close of the campaign, Hooker was employed, still as a division commander, in the new movement under Gen. John Pope, against Gen. Lee's Army of northern Virginia, and fought with skill and valor at Bristoe Station, 27 Aug., Manassas, 29 and 30 Aug., and Chantilly. where he held the enemy in check with the gallant Kearny, who was killed there. From the soldiers who had admired his cool and dashing courage under fire he received the nickname of “Fighting Joe,” and when he appeared on the field the men were strengthened and inspired. Especially had his rapid defeat of Ewell, 27 Aug., at Manassas compelled Jackson to evacuate Manassas, and relieved the army from a very critical situation.

When Pope had failed and was hurled back under the defences of Washington, the Army of the Potomac was restored to McClellan, and Hooker was promoted to the command of the 1st corps. He took a prominent part in the Maryland campaign, and was engaged in the battle of South Mountain, 14 Sept., 1862, where he carried the mountain-sides on the right of the gap, as Reno carried those on the left, the enemy precipitately retreating. At the battle of Antietam, 17 Sept., he again did more than his share of the fighting. His corps lay on the right, resting on Antietam creek, with Mansfield in rear and Sumner on his left. At dawn he crossed the creek and attacked the Confederate left flank; but that unbalanced field caused him to be confronted with overpowering numbers, and his losses were extremely heavy. He was shot through the foot and carried from the field. Had the movements of the left wing been as vigorous, had others obeyed orders as promptly and fought as bravely as he, the victory would have been much more decisive. For his conduct in this action he was appointed a brigadier-general in the regular army, to date from 20 Sept., 1862. His wound only kept him out of the field until 10 Nov., when he rejoined the army for the campaign on the Rappahannock, with Fredericksburg as the objective point. The slow and cautious movement of McClellan in pursuit of Lee after Antietam had caused him to be relieved of the command, which was conferred upon Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside. In the new organization for the advance on Fredericksburg the army was formed into three grand divisions, the command of the centre, 40,000 men, being given to Hooker. The principal attack was made on 13 Dec. Burnside had expected to surprise Lee, but failed in this, and the assault resulted in the discomfiture of the National army. In the criminations and controversies of generals, Hooker's conduct in the field had impressed Mr. Lincoln with a favorable estimate of his abilities, and when, at his own request, Burnside was relieved of the command, Hooker was appointed, by an order of 25 Jan., to succeed him. The letter that was addressed to Gen. Hooker by President Lincoln, when he appointed him to the command, is so remarkable for its keen insight into character and careful study of the situation that it seems proper to insert it here:

“I have placed you at the head of the Army of the Potomac. Of course I have done this upon what appear to me sufficient reasons, and yet I think it best for you to know that there are some things in regard to which I am not quite satisfied with you. I believe you to be a brave and skilful soldier, which of course I like. I also believe you do not mix politics with your profession, in which you are right. You have confidence in yourself, which is a valuable if not indispensable quality. You are ambitious, which, within reasonable bounds, does good rather than harm; but I think that during Gen. Burnside's command of the army you have taken counsel of your ambition, and thwarted him as much as you could, in which you did a great wrong to the country and to a most meritorious and honorable brother officer. I have heard, in such a 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 successes can set up dictators. What I now ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship. The government will support you to the utmost of its ability, which is neither more nor less than it has done and will do for all commanders. I much fear that the spirit which you have aided to infuse into the army, of criticising their commander and withholding confidence from him, will now turn upon you. I shall assist you as far as I can to put it down. Neither you nor Napoleon, were he alive again, could get any good out of an army while such a spirit prevails in it. And now, beware of rashness! Beware of rashness! But with energy and sleepless vigilance go forward and give us victories.”

The hopes of the country were high that the Army of the Potomac now had a general that would lead it to glorious victory. Hooker reorganized it, abandoned the cumbrous machinery of grand divisions, returned to the corps system, and formed a new plan, of the success of which he was very sanguine. He said he had “the finest army on the planet,” and that no power, earthly or heavenly, could save Lee from destruction. After some unimportant movements he sent Stoneman's cavalry to the enemy's rear, and then, crossing the Rappahannock at several fords, with the ultimate intention of turning Lee's left, while Sedgwick should make a demonstration on Fredericksburg, instead of attacking Lee, he took post at Chancellorsville, where he awaited Lee's attack. This came with unexpected force and unexampled rapidity. Sedgwick's attack upon the Fredericksburg heights had been successful, but Jackson, by a vigorous flanking movement, turned the National right, and threw it back in great confusion upon the centre; there was want of concert of action, and thus the battle, although well planned, was lost. In the very heat of the conflict occurred an accident that entailed serious results. Gen. Hooker was leaning against a pillar on the piazza of the Chancellor house, which was struck by a cannon-ball. He was stunned, and for some time senseless, and could not recover his judgment so as to continue the command or to transfer it to a subordinate. Jackson was mortally wounded, and for two days the Army of the Potomac held its ground. The command devolved upon Gen. Couch, of the 2d corps, who withdrew the forces to the north side of the river. While the Confederate general, elated by this unexpected victory, was moving northward with bold schemes of invasion, the Army of the Potomac took up a line extending from Washington to Baltimore, hoping and expecting that Lee would again give battle in Maryland. In this they were disappointed. It soon became evident that Lee was going to invade Pennsylvania by way of Chambersburg. The Army of the Potomac marched northward, parallel with Lee's route, and looking for the best place to thwart him. Perceiving the inferiority of his army, Hooker demanded that the 11,000 troops under French at Harper's Ferry should be added to his force. This was refused, and for this reason ostensibly Hooker sent in his resignation of the command. In this condition of affairs, without assigning any reason, the president issued an order, under date of 27 June, 1863, relieving Hooker from the command and conferring it upon Gen. George G. Meade, the commander of the 5th corps, who conducted it to Gettysburg, fought Lee there, and drove him back across the Potomac. In his farewell order to the troops, Gen. Hooker acquiesced cheerfully in the action of the government, like a soldier and a patriot, and gave the true significance of the order: “Impressed,” he says, “with the belief that my usefulness as the commander of the Army of the Potomac is impaired, I part from it, yet not without the deepest emotion.” He went to Baltimore, where he remained about two months. But so accomplished a general could not be spared, and on 24 Sept. he was assigned to the command of the llth and 12th army corps, which were consolidated later, and constituted the 20th corps. With these troops he was sent to the south for the relief of Chattanooga, first under Rosecrans and afterward under Grant. From Wauhatchie he marched into Lookout valley on 27 and 28 Oct., and thus aided in opening communications for supplies, so that the army was thoroughly provisioned by two steamers, with only eight miles of wagoning. When Grant's plans were in order for the final movement, so that his line was complete from the northern end of Lookout Mountain to the northern end of Missionary Ridge, Hooker made a bold attack on the former, and carried it on 24 Nov., fighting what has been picturesquely called “the battle above the clouds.” He then marched across to strengthen the National right, and shared in the grand attack on Missionary Ridge, by which Bragg was defeated and driven away in confusion. In pursuit of the enemy, he fought him at Ringgold on the 27th, where he met with stubborn resistance.

When Gen. William T. Sherman organized his army for the invasion of Georgia, Hooker was retained in command of the 20th corps, and gained new laurels at Mill Creek Gap, Resaca, Dallas, and Pine Mountain. He took part in the attack on Atlanta, and in the capitulation in the latter days of August. Gen. James B. McPherson, who commanded the Army of the Tennessee, was killed in one of the movements around Atlanta, 22 July, 1864. Hooker had expected to succeed him, but was disappointed. The president, at the suggestion of Gen. Sherman, appointed Gen. Oliver O. Howard to that post. Sherman regarded Hooker as one that interfered in the actions of others and questioned the orders of his superiors. Hooker considered himself ill-treated, and by his own request was relieved of his command, 30 July, and was placed upon waiting orders until 28 Sept. But his services were not forgotten. For the part he took in the movements under Grant and Sherman he was brevetted a major-general in the regular army, under date of 13 March, 1865. After the close of the war in 1865, Hooker was put in charge of the Department of the East, with his headquarters in New York city. In August, 1866, he was transferred to the Department of the Lakes, with headquarters at Detroit. He was mustered out of the volunteer service, 1 Sept., 1866, and was for some time on a board for the retirement of officers. Having been struck with paralysis and incapacitated for further active duty, he was, at his own request, placed on the retired list, 15 Oct., 1868, with the full rank of a major-general. He lived subsequently in New York and in Garden City, L. I., where he was buried. Hooker was a brave soldier, a skilful military organizer, with an overplus of self-esteem, which led him to follow the dictates of his ambition, sometimes without regard to the just claims of others; but his military achievements and unwavering patriotism so overshadowed his few faults that he is entitled to great praise.