George Crook was born to Thomas and Elizabeth Crook on September 8, 1828, on a farm near Taylorsville, Ohio. Congressman Robert Schenck nominated Crook to the United States Military Academy, where Crook enrolled in 1848. Not an outstanding student, Crook graduated from West Point in 1852, thirty-eighth in his class of forty-three cadets.
U.S. Army Officer
After graduating from the Academy, the army commissioned Crook as a second lieutenant in the 4th U.S. Infantry and deployed to California and the Pacific Northwest, where he campaigned against American Indians. Crook received promotions to first lieutenant in 1856 and to captain in 1860.
When the American Civil War began, Crook joined the volunteer army as a colonel with the 36th Ohio Volunteer Infantry on September 12, 1861. Army officials deployed him to western Virginia. On September 7, 1862, the War Department promoted Crook to brigadier general of volunteers and assigned him to command a brigade of Ohio regiments in the Kanawha Division (attached to the 9th Corps, Army of the Potomac) in the Maryland Campaign. Ten days later, Crook took part in the Battle of Antietam (September 17, 1862).
In 1863, army officials transferred Crook to the Western Theater, where he commanded a cavalry division in the Army of the Cumberland under Major General George H. Thomas. While in the West, Crook took part in the Battle of Chickamauga (September 19–20, 1863).
Return to Eastern Theater
In February 1864, Crook returned to western Virginia resuming command of the Kanawha Division, officially designated the 2nd Division in the Department of West Virginia. On May 9, 1864, Crook led his division to victory at the Battle of Cloyd’s Mountain in Pulaski County, Virginia. In August of that year, the War Department named Crook as commander of the Army of Western Virginia, officially designated as the 8th Corps of Major General Philip Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah. As commander of the 8th Corps, Crook contributed to Union victories at the battles of Opequon (September 19, 1864), Fisher’s Hill (September 21-22, 1864), and Cedar Creek (October 19, 1864). Two days after the Union victory at Cedar Creek, the War Department promoted Crook to major general of volunteers.
Capture, Imprisonment, and Release
At the conclusion of Sheridan’s Valley Campaign, Crook’s army went into winter quarters near Cumberland, Maryland. There, Rebel partisans captured Crook as he slept on the night of February 21, 1865. The Confederates imprisoned Crook at Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia, for one month until releasing him as part of a prisoner exchange on March 20. After his release, Crook commanded a cavalry division in the Army of the Potomac during the Appomattox Campaign.
Following the Civil War, Crook married Mary Tapscott Daily on August 22, 1865, in Allegheny County, Maryland. When the volunteer army disbanded, Crook received a brevet promotion to major general in the regular army but reverted to his formal rank of lieutenant colonel and he returned to the Pacific Northwest.
Crook served another twenty-five years in the West, where he earned a reputation as a successful Indian fighter. From 1865 to 1868, Crook campaigned against the Snake Indians during the Snake War in the Pacific Northwest. In 1871, President Ulysses S. Grant placed Crook in command of the Arizona Territory. In 1872, he received a promotion to brigadier general.
Crook commanded the Department of the Platte from 1875 to 1882. While in that position, he campaigned against the Sioux Indians during the Great Sioux War of 1876-77. Some critics contend Crook contributed to Lieutenant Colonel George Custer‘s disastrous defeat at the Battle of the Little Bighorn on June 25, 1876, because he unexpectedly returned to his supply base after a standoff with Sioux Indians at the Battle of the Rosebud on June 17, rather than pressing forward to support Custer’s 7th Cavalry.
In 1882, Crook returned to Arizona and campaigned against Geronimo and the Chiricahua Apache. Although Crook captured Geronimo twice, the Apache leader escaped each time. As a result, Brigadier General Nelson Miles replaced Crook as commander of the Arizona Territory in 1886.
Crook returned to command of the Department of the Platte from 1886 to 1888. In 1888, the army promoted him to major general and appointed him to head the Division of the Missouri (formerly the Department of the West) headquartered in Chicago. Crook died suddenly from a heart attack in Chicago on March 20, 1890. Initially, Crook was buried in Oakland, Maryland. On November 11, 1898, his body was re-interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
During his last years, George Crook spoke out against the unjust treatment of his former Indian adversaries. The Indian chief, Red Cloud, said of Crook when he died, “he never lied to us. His words gave us hope.”