Union General Joseph Hooker

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Joseph Hooker was a Union general during the American Civil War. He is most well-known for one disastrous defeat, at Chancellorsville, and one spectacular victory, at the "Battle above the Clouds."

Joseph Hooker

He was born on Nov. 13, 1814, in Hadley, Mass. He had military experience in his family tree: His great-grandfather and grandfather, both also named Joseph, fought in the French and Indian War and Revolutionary War, respectively.

Young Joseph attended the Hopkins Academy in his hometown and then earned a place at the U.S. Military Academy, graduating from there in 1837. He saw combat in Florida during the Second Seminole War and then in Mexico during the Mexican-American War. He was chief of staff for five generals, including top commanders Winfield Scott and Zachary Taylor, and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel by war's end.

He resigned his commission in 1853 and tried his hand at farming; he was not successful. He implored Secretary of War John Floyd to accept him back into the Army in 1858, but Floyd refused.

Hooker had a temper and had been reprimanded as early as his days at West Point for aggression against fellow cadets. He had problems with drink and gambling as well. He had angered both Scott and Henry Halleck with his words and his actions and so had no support for another attempt to rejoin the Army.

After the Union's disastrous defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run, in 1861, President Abraham Lincoln himself approved Hooker's commission as a brigadier general, in charge of the defense of Washington, D.C.

Hooker was the commander of a division in the Army of the Potomac during the Peninsula Campaign of Gen. George McClellan and led men into battle several times–at Williamsburg, the Battle of the 7 Days, the Second Battle of Bull Run and Antietam, during which he sustained a foot injury.

Joseph Hooker

Not at all afraid of a fight, he led the frontal assault on Marye's Heights at the Battle of Fredericksburg. Yet, in the middle of that battle, when he saw his men being mown down left, right, and center, he called off his men's attack. He had spoken out against Gen. Ambrose Burnside's plan ahead of time but had followed orders when the latter gave them; after the defeat, he had last laugh when Burnside, who sought Hooker's resignation, instead had to give his own.

Lincoln named Hooker commander of the Army of the Potomac after relieving Burnside of command. Hooker spent the spring of 1863 shoring up his force, giving wounded soldiers time to heal and starving soldiers time to replenish their strength. He made improvements to his troops' food and medical care. President Abraham Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, and the rest of the Union command still wanted the Army of the Potomac to capture Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy. Hooker devised a plan to do this. He also took the first few months of the third year of the Civil War to create and outfit an independent cavalry group, to be led by Maj. Gen. George Stoneman.

Hooker hoped to catch the Confederate forces unaware by having Union troops cross the Rappahannock River (over which Burnside had led his troops in retreat after the Battle of Fredericksburg) further upstream and then fall on the Confederate army from the rear. To that end, Stoneman and 10,000 men went to Sulphur Spring on April 13; they could not cross the river because of heavy rains. Undaunted, Hooker ordered Stoneman to make another attempt and chose another place for another force to cross the river, at Kelly's Ford. A total of 42,000 made that crossing. A further 40,000 troops led by Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick were to cross the river south of Fredericksburg and hit the Confederate right flank. Hooker's attempt at concealment was to have 25,000 men stay right where they were, appearing as though they were still resting up from the cold hard winter. As for the newly created cavalry corps, Stoneman and his men were to tear into the Confederate supply lines, ripping up railroad tracks from Richmond and otherwise preventing reinforcements from reaching Lee and his men.

The troops crossed the river successfully at both points, on April 27 and April 30. As a result, the Union force at Chancellorsville numbered 70,000. Not for the first or last time, Lee divided his outnumbered force and, even though heavily outnumbered, ordered his men to attack. Hooker, with his superior numbers, neither occupied the high ground nor gave orders for an attack; rather, content in his numerical superiority, he told his troops to dig in and let the enemy come to them.

Battle of Chancellorsville

The one part of the Union army as positioned at Chancellorsville that wasn't as strong as the others was the right flank. It was this point that Gen. Stonewall Jackson and his men had reached in the early evening on May 2, by stealing through a woods that concealed their movements. The Confederate attack coincided with mealtime in the Union camp, and the result was a hammer blow for Jackson's troops, including 4,000 captured Union soldiers. The right flank fell back, and confusion reigned in the Union ranks. They did not retreat, however; a brief Union counterattack forced a lull in the fighting.

Hooker sustained an injury due to enemy fire, on May 3. He refused to leave the field of battle, and the two sides continued to press each other. Lee, again the aggressor, sent a force from Fredericksburg that ended up shoving a large part part of the Union force back across the river. On that same day, May 5, Hooker became convinced that he couldn't win and so ordered a full-scale retreat.

Casualties for both sides were about equal. However, Hooker had not defeated the Army of Northern Virginia, despite having twice as many men to put onto the field of battle.

Emboldened by the victory, Lee began a second invasion of the North. Hooker responded by requesting reinforcements. Both Lincoln and Halleck refused that request, and Hooker informed his superiors that he no longer wanted the top job. On June 28, 1863, Gen. George Gordon Meade assumed command of the Army of the Potomac.

Battle of Lookout Mountain

Hooker remained in the Army and went on to success in the West. He led Union troops in an assault on Confederate placements on Lookout Mountain, in the so-called "Battle above the Clouds." Hooker's men success in driving the defenders from the high ground in what seemed an impossible task helped lift the siege of Chattanooga and paved the way for an overall Union drive into the Deep South. He also took part in the drive of Gen. William T. Sherman toward Atlanta.

When he was passed over for a promotion, Hooker again gave up his command. He again remained in the Army, serving as head of the Northern Department. When the war ended, he served as commander of the Department of the East.

He married Olivia Groesbeck on Oct. 3, 1865. Twelve days later, he had a stroke and suffered paralyzation. His wife died in 1868. He died on Oct. 31, 1879.

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