Portrait of Joseph Hooker

On January 26, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln named Joseph Hooker as the new commanding general of the Army of the Potomac. [Wikimedia Commons]

Joseph Hooker

November 13, 1814 - October 31, 1879

Joseph Hooker was a prominent Union officer who commanded the Army of the Potomac from January 26, 1863 to June 28, 1863 during the American Civil War.

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Early Life

Joseph Hooker was born in Hadley, Massachusetts on November 13, 1814. His parents were Joseph Hooker, a local storekeeper, and Mary Seymour. Hooker attended school at the Hopkins Academy in Hadley, Massachusetts before enrolling at the United States Military Academy in 1833. An average student, Hooker graduated from West Point in 1837, twenty-ninth out of his class of fifty cadets.

U.S. Army Officer

Mexican-American War

After graduation, Hooker received a brevet commission as a second lieutenant with the 1st U.S. Artillery in Florida, during the Second Seminole War (1835-1842). Hooker also served in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) in staff positions with Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott. During that conflict, the army brevetted him to captain (1846), major (1847), and lieutenant colonel (1847) for gallantry.

Feud with Winfield Scott

After the Mexican-American War, Hooker’s career floundered when he testified against Scott during court-martial proceedings that Scott had started against fellow-officer Gideon Pillow. Possibly because of Hooker’s falling-out with Scott, the army assigned him to the Pacific Division. 

Resignation and Reinstatement

On February 21, 1853, Hooker resigned his commission to become a farmer in Sonoma, California. After several years of farming, Hooker sought reinstatement in the U.S. Army in 1858. The army denied his request, possibly because of his lingering feud with Scott. Hooker remained in California where he received a commission as a colonel in the state militia in 1859.

Civil War

U.S. Army Officer

When the American Civil War began, Hooker traveled east and sought a commission in the U.S. Army, but again, the army denied his request. After viewing the Union defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run as a civilian, Hooker successfully petitioned President Abraham Lincoln for a commission in the Union army. He received an appointment as a brigadier general in the volunteer army on August 6, 1861 (effective May 17).

Fighting Joe

During the first year of the Civil War, Joseph Hooker helped organize and train the Army of the Potomac in Washington, D.C. When Major General George McClellan launched his Peninsula Campaign in 1862, Hooker commanded the 2nd Division of the 3rd Corps of the Army of the Potomac. During this campaign, Hooker gained the nickname “Fighting Joe” because a typographical error changed a newspaper headline from “Fighting—Joe Hooker” to “Fighting Joe Hooker.” Hooker never liked the nickname because he believed that “People will think I am a highwayman or a bandit.” During the Peninsula Campaign, the War Department promoted Hooker to major general of volunteers on May 5, 1862. After the campaign ended dismally for the Union, Hooker openly criticized McClellan for his over-cautious leadership.

Maryland Campaign

After the failed Peninsula Campaign, Confederate General Robert E. Lee launched his Maryland Campaign, invading the North. On September 6, 1862, Hooker assumed command of the 3rd Corps of Major General John Pope’s Army of Virginia. Six days later, the War Department assigned his corps to the Army of the Potomac and designated as the 1st Corps. During the Maryland Campaign, Hooker fought with distinction at the Battle of South Mountain (September 14, 1862) and at the Battle of Antietam (September 17, 1862), where he received a foot wound. For his gallantry in action, the army promoted Hooker to brigadier general in the regular army on September 20, 1862. When he returned to duty after his injury, the War Department placed Hooker in command of the 5th Corps of the Army of the Potomac from November 10 to November 16, 1862.

On November 7, 1862, Major General Ambrose Burnside replaced Major General George McClellan as commander of the Army of the Potomac. Burnside restructured the army, merging several corps into three “Grand Divisions.” On November 16, 1862, Burnside placed Hooker in command of a Grand Division comprising the 3rd and 5th Corps.

Battle of Fredericksburg

At the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 11-15, 1862), Hooker’s Grand Division suffered major losses during fourteen futile assaults on Marye’s Heights, which Burnside ordered over Hooker’s protests. After the battle, Hooker publicly criticized Burnside’s leadership. Afterward, Burnside started actions to rid himself of Hooker and several other subordinate officers, but before he could do so, President Lincoln relieved Burnside of his command.

Army of the Potomac Commander

On January 26, 1863, the US War Department issued General Orders, No. 20 announcing that “Major General A. E. Burnside, at his own request, be relieved from the command of the Army of the Potomac.” The order also stated that “Major General J. Hooker be assigned to command the Army of the Potomac.” On the same date, Lincoln addressed a letter to Hooker, encouraging him to “Beware of rashness, but with energy, and sleepless vigilance, go forward, and give us victories.”

Battle of Chancellorsville

When Hooker assumed command of the Army of the Potomac, morale was sinking, and desertions were rising. Hooker spent his first few months implementing reforms that raised the spirits of his soldiers. By spring, the army was ready for another offensive. Hooker’s first test as its commander came at the Battle of Chancellorsville (April 30-May 6, 1863), where he proved no match for Robert E. Lee. Despite being outnumbered nearly two to one, Lee outmaneuvered and defeated Hooker. During the battle, Hooker suffered a concussion when a cannon shell exploded at his headquarters.

Resignation

Lee’s victory at Chancellorsville prompted the Confederate general to launch a second invasion of the North in June. As Lee moved north, President Lincoln ordered Hooker to move in a parallel direction, keeping the Army of the Potomac between Lee and the nation’s capital. On June 27, 1863, Hooker attended a strategy meeting with the President and General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck. When a dispute arose regarding the disposition of troops at Harpers Ferry, Hooker impulsively offered to resign his command. Lincoln quickly accepted the resignation and directed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton to issue General Orders, No. 194 (U.S. War Department) placing George Meade in command of the Army of the Potomac just four days before the pivotal Battle of Gettysburg.

Western Theater

After Hooker’s resignation, the War Department deployed him to Tennessee in charge of two corps from the Army of the Potomac.  There, Hooker and his troops performed well at the Battle of Lookout Mountain (November 24, 1863) and the Battle of Chattanooga (November 23–25, 1863) as they helped lift Braxton Bragg’s Siege of Chattanooga.

Atlanta Campaign – Transfer to Ohio

As Confederate Bragg’s Army of Tennessee retreated from Chattanooga into Georgia, Hooker commanded the 20th Corps of the Union Army of the Tennessee, which followed in pursuit. On July 22, 1864, Confederate troops killed Major General James B. McPherson, commander of the Army of the Tennessee, during the Battle of Atlanta. Being the senior general in line of succession, Hooker expected Major General William T. Sherman to assign him to command the army after McPherson’s death. When Sherman instead chose Major General Oliver Howard, Hooker asked the War Department to relieve him of his command. On September 28, 1864, the War Department issued General Orders, No. 263 announcing that:

By direction of the President of the United States, Major General Joseph Hooker is assigned to the command of the Northern Department. He will immediately proceed to Columbus, Ohio, and relieve Major-General Heintzelman.

Hooker took command of the department on October 1, 1864, and soon moved his headquarters to Cincinnati. He spent the rest of the war dealing with administrative matters in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio.

Post-war Service

On March 13, 1865, the War Department brevetted Hooker to major general in the regular army. Later that year, married Olivia Groesbeck, sister of a former Ohio Congressman, William S. Groesbeck, on October 3, 1865, in Cincinnati. Hooker mustered out of the volunteer service on September 1, 1866, but he remained in the regular army. After being partially paralyzed by a stroke, Hooker retired from the regular army on October 15, 1868, with the rank of major general. He spent the remaining years of his life living near New York City.

Death

Joseph Hooker died while visiting Garden City, New York on October 31, 1879. He was buried in Spring Grove Cemetery Cincinnati, Ohio.

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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Joseph Hooker
  • Coverage November 13, 1814 - October 31, 1879
  • Author
  • Keywords joseph hooker, union military commander, american civil war
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date November 29, 2021
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update April 29, 2021
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