Writing Joe Hooker

In conducting research on another topic today I came across this letter in the Official Records that I thought I’d share with you.

HEADQUARTERS NORTHERN DEPARTMENT,

Cincinnati, Ohio, December 8, 1864.

Honorable HENRY WILSON,

United States Senate:

Since my connection with the rebellion friends high in position have kindly tendered me their officers in securing my preferment or assignment to important command, but, with the single exception of the aid that was rendered me on the occasion of my return to the army, I have uniformly declined them, believing that if health and strength were given me, I could accomplish my advancement with my sword, and that it would come to me when I had earned it. It was with this feeling that I assured you at the asylum that the command of the Army of the Potomac would fall to me soon enough, without the effort of my friends to hasten it. It did come, and I exercised it as long as I could with advantage to the cause and with a becoming regard for my honor and self-respect. I trust that an opportunity will be afford me by the present Congress to lay before the public the facts connected with this part of my military history, which has hitherto been denied me, after having made the most strenuous efforts to have it placed on record and spread before the world. It is sufficient to say that now it is not understood. I am, and have been, censured for that which I consider as the most meritorious of my military services. Time will tell whether I am in error, or those who have succeeded thus far in concealing that part of the history of the rebellion from the public mind. Be that as it may, in the public estimation I was considered with less favor until I was transferred to the West, when my star rose again higher than ever, until now, when I would not exchange the consideration I enjoy in the army for services rendered with any officer who has participated in the war.

It is a fact you may not be aware of, that we have no army in the field that would not welcome my return to it with demonstration bordering on enthusiasm. Officers in command of these armies know this, and the highest civil authorities of the land know it, it they know anything. 

Every letter that I receive, every step that I take among the friends and relatives of the troops, furnish abundant evidence of the truthfulness of what I state. Still I have no active command. Why is it? I am informed that I enjoy the unshaken confidence ot His Excellency the President and of the Secretary of War, and yet I am laid on the shelf, nay, more, I am not only deprived of the command I have earned with my saber, but whenever a vacancy is to be filled in the list of major-generals in the regular army my juniors are placed in nomination for promotion over my head, when I have encountered more fire and gained more successes in the estimation of the soldiers of the army than any ten of them; and this will be the verdict of the people when placed in possession of all the facts.

Of my campaigns in the West last fall and the present year but little is known, except by those actually present, for the reason that a studied effort has been made by Generals Grant ad Sherman to keep me in the background. I understand that I incurred the displeasure of the lieutenant-general in my assault of Lookout Mountain, and although it was made with strict conformity to his orders, that I cannot have his forgiveness. It was too successful; I carried away the honors, when he intended that I should be a spectator to Sherman’s operations. In the campaign of this summer under Sherman it was the fortune of the Twentieth Corps, which I commanded, to do the heavy work, and it was accomplished in a manner that extorted the applause of all the armies. They became so partial to me that Sherman offered me a professional and personal indignity, which he knew would drive me from the army, and it was permitted to be done by the President of the United States. When McPherson fell, Sherman took Howard, my junior, an officer who cannot make himself felt on the field of battle, and assigned him to the command of that army, when the rumor that I was to have it was received with expressions of great joy from one one end of the line to the other. The dissatisfaction of the troops at this continues to this day.

On going to the West with the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps, I had to encounter the prejudice, which expressed itself at all times and on all occasions, of a fancied superiority of Western troops over those from the East, but that disappeared at the first encounter I had with the enemy, and in the following campaign, this summer, my corps became in the minds of all the grandest corps of the war. It fought its way to the very hearts of our companions, notwithstanding an insult was offered, to have countenanced which for one moment would have made me lose caste with all soldiers, and, what is more, I would have lost caste with myself. For the private part of the indignity, it would have given me the greatest satisfaction to have broken my saber over the head of Sherman; for the professional part, I could but make application to be removed from that army. Every one understood the cause, and every one appreciated and approved of my withdrawal. During that entire campaign, Schofield, an officer unknown to the war, was in command of the Army of the Ohio, and McPherson, another of my juniors, exercised the command of the Army of the Tennessee. Such was my feeling of degradation, or humiliation, that I saw no day on that campaign that I would not have withdrawn from the service in disgust, could I have done so with justice to myself and the cause in which I was engaged. I could die, but I could not commit suicide. On coming East a new command was just about to be sent up the Potomac River, and it was given to Sheridan, a new man; but it was thought better to experiment with him, than give it to one who has won and sustained the character of “Fighting Joe” in all the armies. Sheridan was first made a brigadier-general for comparatively nothing, and now for his fight at Cedar Run they are attempting to push him forward in an unprecedented manner, over my head, to a major-generally. Understand me, I do not wish to underestimate his conduct in his last battle; but who will say, as a feat of arms, that it was to be compared with Lookout Mountain, or Peach Tree Creek, the 20th of July last? In this last fight my adversary outnumbered me two on one: in his the disparity of forces was the same, but in his favor.

Every word I write you is true. Then let me ask again, why is all this? To avoid the trouble and responsibilities of the war, does the President surrender everything to General Grant? Is he willing, in his desire to have an easy time, that injustice of the most monstrous character should be visited upon subordinates? My blood curdles to think of it. You probably have taken the measure of General Grant before this; if you have not, you will soon have an opportunity.

As for Sherman, no man occupying his position has been more unfortunate. His attack on Vicksburg in 1861 [1862] was a failure; his attack on Mission Ridge was a terrible repulse; his campaign to Meridian early this year was worse than a failure; and in his campaign of Atlanta (considering his men, means, and field of operations, the most presented) he succeeded in pushing back the enemy, inferior to him as one to three, and even that advantage he abandoned in cutting loose from Atlanta to run away from his adversary, instead of toward him. Now Hood is investing Nashville, occupying a position he held two years ago, after two years of campaigning to drive him into the interior. You and I know that the rebellion is dead when its military power is destroyed, and not until then; it is to be killed by blows, not marches; and, after an experience of four years, it does seem as if we ought to know this fact. Had Sherman marched against Hood, there was no earthly reason why he should escape; I hope that he will not now. Sherman is crazy; he has no more judgment than a child; and yet it is with such men that the high places of the army are being filled. Grant is determined to have no officer of ability near him in rank. Unless the Senate should interpose, our armies will be more and more feebly commanded as the war progresses. The absolute want of a just standard by which to award the rewards and punishments of service has tended more than any other one fact to prevent the army from arriving at that excellence in discipline and that success in battle we had the right and reason to expect. With a proper appreciation of merit on the part of the civil and military authorities in rebeldom, they have made an army inferior in number and inferior in character equal to if not superior to our own.

Excuse my long letter, though I have not written you half as much as I desire to. I have only time to touch some of the most prominent points.

With regard to myself, I can only state, that if my services have not been such as to merit reward, they should shield me from punishment. It has been my wish to continue in service until the rebellion is dead and buried, but unless I can be protected from indignity, the sooner I quit the better.

Will write you again shortly.

Very respectfully, &c.,

JOSEPH HOOKER,

Major-General, Commanding.

(OR, series 1, volume 45, part 2, pages 109-111.)

That’s followed by this letter:

HEADQUARTERS NORTHERN DEPARTMENT,

Cincinnati, Ohio, December 8, 1864.

Honorable BENJ. F. WADE,

United States Senate:

Now that the election is over, I trust that no objection will be made to my appearing before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, to render an account of my stewardship while in command of the Army of the Potomac. I feel, and know, that great injustice has been done me by those who have professed to be my friends in not permitting me to make my disclosure at an earlier period, as it is the only way in which I can have is spread before the public, so long as General Halleck exercises the influence he now does over the highest national authorities. The issues involved in my case mainly rest between myself and that officer, so far as I know, and it is for his interest to delay their publicity to the last practicable moment. This is my impression; of its accuracy, you will be able to determine as soon as an opportunity presents itself for you to become acquainted with the facts. I know of no public duties connected with my present command that can be urged as an objection to my absence for a few days early in the coming month, should the Committee deem it expedient to summon me before them. Allow me to request that you will inform me at your earliest convenience if I may look for this privilege to be extended to me. A refused will be deeply injurious to me. I have already suffered severely, as you well know, from the ignorance of the public in regard to the events to which I refer, although my subsequent services have done much to obliterate the recollection and quiet the censures of my enemies. It is only with the authorities that I am prejudiced now. Every step that I take among the people satisfies me that I am right with them, and I know that we have no army in the field that would not welcome my return to it with enthusiasm. Yet I cannot have an active command given me, and an effort is being made to degrade me by promoting juniors over my head.

Generals Sherman and Sheridan, I am informed, have bee nominated to the Senate for commissions of major-general in the regular army, while I am their senior as a brigadier. This is an outrage to me, and would be so pronounced by nine-tenths of the army were they allowed a free expression of their opinion. No matter what the newspapers may say to the contrary, no officer high in command has been more unfortunate than Sherman, and this moment he is engaged in a raid which will tend to prolong the war, when he had it in his power to have utterly destroyed Hood’s army. At the time he cut loose from Atlanta, Hood was on the north side of the Tennessee River, but instead of marching for him, he chose to march from him. Blows, not marches, are to kill the rebellion. It is our duty to look after the rebel armies, and not territory, for that will come when the military power of the rebels is broken. Sherman’s present raid will be likely to resemble in its results that of last winter to Meridian, in which he suffered much more than his adversary. We will, however, hope for the best. Whatever was gained by the campaign of Atlanta, all will admit was abandoned when the quit Atlanta, undoing at the close of the year what he had gained at the beginning. As regards the campaign of Atlanta, considering the relative strength of the forces and the means of each, taken in connection with the field of operations, the rebellion has presented no such opportunity for the display of generalship, and yet how badly improved. We merely crowded back an enemy inferior to us as one to three, instead of annihilating him, as we had many opportunities to do. No campaign of ours is open to more severe criticism, and if it has hitherto escaped, it has been for the reason that the political condition of the country did not justify it; it was barren of fruit, but prolific in deeds of the noblest heroism on the part of the troops. Sherman is active and intelligent, but so devoid of judgment that it is actually unsafe to trust an army to his command. I know of what I am writing. If he is not flighty, I never saw a flighty man.

Sheridan has just been made a brigadier, and now I hear he is named for a major-generally for Cedar Run. I have no disposition to disparage his conduct on this field, but how many times would I have been advanced had my conduct been regarded with equal favor? I have no objection to his being rewarded, but not at my expense, when I have had ten fields to his one, and acknowledged by my companions to have been a fighting general on all of them. What does it mean, then, Senator, that these indignities are crowded upon me? I am informed that Grant will never forgive me for taking Lookout Mountain, although assaulted in obedience to his orders; but the trouble was, I was too successful. But can it be possible that the President of the United States will adopt the opinions of the lieutenant-general in regard to me and war as his standard, by which he shall award the rewards and punishments of service? Is it possible that he should not be filled with men of medium ability, uncles the Senate should interpose to prevent it. Every day one is made to blush at the ignorance which prevails in regard to the war, and this will continue to be the case until we can have a national organ, controlled by the highest intelligence of the land, to enunciate the truth in regard to passing events. Our people read newspapers to avoid thinking, and hence it is not surprising that they should often appear to great disadvantage. But I am wandering from my subject.

My object in writing was to be summoned before your Committee; this I especially desire. I need not tell you that I wish to be in a state of readiness to quit the service, in case I should be compelled to from the outrages done me.

Hoping that I may soon hear from you, and wishing you well, I remain.

Your friend and servant,

JOSEPH HOOKER,

Major-General, Commanding.

(OR, series 1, volume 45, part 2, 112-13.)

Enjoy … and feel free to comment. The texts were taken from the online version of the OR at the Ohio State University.

 

 

15 thoughts on “Writing Joe Hooker

  1. John Foskett June 14, 2014 / 1:42 pm

    Nice finds. I wasn’t aware of this campaign for public vindication. I don’t think that anyone ever accused Fighting Joe of a lack of confidence – well, except for his absurdly cautious conduct of that little affair at Chancellorsville, exacerbated by the incident on the porch (had he played in the NHL, he would have been sent to the quiet room). But buried in these self-promoting diatribes there is some truth regarding brother Sherman’s achievements to date (the impact of which is lost by a faulty prediction regarding the outcome of Hood’s advance into Tennessee) and in the implicit assessment of how Sheridan handled Cedar Creek.

    • jfepperson June 15, 2014 / 6:26 am

      Sheridan took a bad situation at Cedar Creek and turned it in to a significant victory. Hooker took a frankly similar situation at Chancellorsville and turned it into a retreat. Both men were full of themselves and careless with the truth, but Sheridan produced victories, Hooker produced excuses.

      • John Foskett June 15, 2014 / 10:33 am

        The “bad situation” at Cedar Creek was self-inflicted. Sheridan’s army was caught by complete surprise on October 19. Had it not been for the infamous halt, Early could have swept it from the field. A dramatic hat-waving ride and ensuing rally didn’t convert the battle into a tactical master stroke. It was a near debacle. Ironically, Hooker had a solid plan to get at Lee and then in a succession of overly cautious decisions failed to exploit it. Eric Wittenberg has produced a good analysis of Sheridan’s generalship.

        • jfepperson June 15, 2014 / 11:24 am

          Whether it was self-inflicted or not is beside the point. Sheridan took a bad situation and produced a victory. Hooker took a bad situation—which could said to be self-inflicted—and produced a retreat.

          • John Foskett June 15, 2014 / 1:20 pm

            Sheridan had a whole lot of help from Early. If it hadn’t been for Old Jube’s failure to accurately comprehend the situation before him after the morning’s events, Cedar Creek would have gone down as a Union defeat at which the guy who was in charge had been MIA and arrived too late.At Chancellorsville Hooker actually took a good situation of his own making and then frittered it away. The point I’m making isn’t whether Sheridan was or was not more “successful” than Hooker at the army level of command. It’s that Hooker’s implicit assessment of Cedar Creek was accurate, entirely apart from Joe’s own numerous faults and performance failures.

          • jfepperson June 15, 2014 / 8:14 pm

            I didn’t really see an assessment—implicit or otherwise—by Hooker of Cedar Creek, just a complaint about Sheridan getting rewarded for it. Maybe I just missed it in the two long letters.

          • John Foskett June 16, 2014 / 9:31 am

            He said the following:

            “and now for his fight at Cedar Run they are attempting to push him forward in an unprecedented manner, over my head, to a major-generally. Understand me, I do not wish to underestimate his conduct in his last battle; but who will say, as a feat of arms, that it was to be compared with Lookout Mountain, or Peach Tree Creek, the 20th of July last? In this last fight my adversary outnumbered me two on one: in his the disparity of forces was the same, but in his favor.”

            I could be wrong, of course, but I see an “implicit” criticism. We may have different interpretations – so be it.

          • jfepperson June 16, 2014 / 10:51 am

            The numerical issues are empirical and not really subject to dispute. Sheridan did outnumber Early. But Hooker outnumbered Lee just as much, and I am not sure about Hooker’s assessment of the numbers at Peachtree Creek Yes, Wikipedia suggests the overall forces were equal. Hooker, of course, had only a portion (I would guess about 40%) of the Union force. So, if he had fought the entire Confederate force alone, Hooker might have been outnumbered 2-1, but that is not my understanding of how the battle went.

            I see both letters as Hooker blustering in excelsis ego—something Sheridan could do almost as well. I’ve stated my assessment of the two, and I stand by it.

          • John Foskett June 16, 2014 / 11:28 am

            You can “stand by it” but I’m not challenging that so …. As I’ve made clear, I’m not making an “assessment of the two”. Nor am I diving into Hooker’s calculations of the numbers involved in various fights. I’m simply stating the point that I see an implicit critique of Cedar Creek and (if I’m correct) the critique may not be off the mark. That’s far from saying that Hooker was “better” than Sheridan, or “worse” for that matter, or that Hooker was outnumbered at Peachtree, or anything else for that matter.

          • jfepperson June 16, 2014 / 6:53 pm

            I see less of a critique of Sheridan at Cedar Creek than a complaint about Hooker being passed over for promotion. He’s simply belly-aching.

  2. Scott Stabler June 14, 2014 / 3:07 pm

    Sherman later wrote Halleck, who despised Hooker, that Howard was “a Christian, elegant gentleman, and conscientious soldier. In him, I made no mistake. Hooker was a fool.”
    WTS to Henry W. Halleck, September 4, 1864, in Simpson, Sherman’s Civil War, 700.

    Sherman wrote his wife, “I preferred Howard, who is a man of mind and intellect. He is very honest, sincere, moral, even to piety but brave having lost an arm already.”
    WTS to Ellen Ewing Sherman, July 29, 1864, in Sherman’s Civil War

    • John Foskett June 15, 2014 / 10:41 am

      Cump’s two evaluations seem to duck the question of Howard’s military competence. That’s understandable given his performance in corps command at Chancellorsville, Gettysburg (yeah, he may have selected the ground to defend later on July 1) and Pickett’s Mill. Sherman’s choice may have been more “anybody but Hooker” rather than a positive assessment of Howard’s skills.

  3. Ned June 16, 2014 / 9:17 pm

    Poor Hooker, he needs someone to call him a wambulance.

    • Ethan June 17, 2014 / 7:01 am

      Excuse men? How often have you (or anyone else here for that matter) done anything in your life as challenging as commanding an army?

      “The civilian is too inclined to think that war is only like the working out of an arithmetical problem with given numbers. It is anything but that. On both sides it is a case of wrestling with powerful, unknown physical and psychological forces. . . . Only the head of the Government, or the statesman who decides on war, shoulders the same or a bigger burden or responsibility than that of the commander-in-chief. In his case it is a question of one great decision only, but the commander of an army is faced with decisions daily and hourly. He is continuously responsible for the welfare of many hundred thousands of persons, even of nations. For a soldier there is nothing greater, but at the same time more awesome and responsible, than to find himself at the head of an army or the entire armed forces of his country. . . .

      All those who criticize the dispositions of a general ought first to study military history, unless they have themselves taken part in a war in a position of command.

      I should like to see such people compelled to conduct a battle themselves. They would be overwhelmed by the greatness of their task, and when they realized the obscurity of the situation, and the exacting nature of the enormous demands made up on them, they would doubtless be more modest.”

      Erich Ludendorff, Ludendorff’s Own Story, August 1914-November 1918: The Great War from the Siege of Liege to the Signing of the Armistice as viewed from the Grand Headquarters of the German Army, 2 vols. (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1920), vol. 1: 63..

      • Ned June 17, 2014 / 10:26 pm

        I have never done anything near as challenging. Nor have I written whiny letters to congressmen complaining about my colleagues. The quote from Ludendorff is excellent, but its not on point. I’m not commenting on his dispositions in battle but rather what he shows of himself in these letters.

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