Monday, April 29, 2019

Killing the Kinks: The Unlikely Command Relationship Between George B. McClellan and Joseph Hooker

     George B. McClellan is sometimes portrayed as one who promoted his advocates and damned his opponents within his own army. When it comes to McClellan's generalship in command of the Army of the Potomac, there is one major exception to that oft-held view--his appointment of Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker to take command of the First Corps during the Maryland Campaign.
     Hooker was an outspoken antagonist of McClellan's generalship and felt slighted by McClellan's report of the Battle of Williamsburg that did not give Hooker and his division enough credit. During the Peninsula Campaign, Hooker confided to a friend about McClellan, "He is not only not a soldier, but he does not know what soldiership is."(1) In the aftermath of Second Bull Run, artillerist Charles Wainwright noted in his diary this quote from Hooker: "if they had left McClellan in command this never would have happened." Wainwright, in his own words, followed up Hooker's remarks by saying, "This was a great deal for Hooker to say, as he had no love for McClellan."(2)
Joseph Hooker (left) and George B. McClellan (right) rarely saw eye to eye.

     Despite Hooker's personal and known feelings towards McClellan, the animosity was not reciprocated.(3) Trusted with the reorganization of two battered armies and thousands of fresh recruits followed by the expulsion of the enemy from Maryland, McClellan needed every good leader of men he could find.
     Henry Halleck, General-in-Chief of the United States Army, initially assigned Hooker to command of the Army of the Potomac's Fifth Corps.(4) McClellan fought back against this change in command because he wished to provide Hooker with a more difficult assignment since he regarded Hooker highly.(5) The Army of Virginia's Third Corps suffered approximately 33% casualties during the Battle of Second Bull Run under Irvin McDowell and was in bad shape to begin the Maryland Campaign. McDowell was now out and Jesse Reno came in to whip the corps into fighting trim for the next campaign. But immediately, McClellan intervened with Halleck's actions and went directly to Abraham Lincoln to give Hooker the task of refitting McDowell's corps. "I ask this altho' an intimate friend & an admirer of Genl Reno," wrote McClellan. "Hooker has more experience with troops & is perfectly disposable," the general continued.(6) Ultimately, McClellan won. Reno retained command of the Ninth Corps while Hooker took charge of McDowell's corps, which was soon redesignated as the Army of the Potomac's First Corps.
     Throughout the Maryland Campaign, McClellan continued to place his trust in Joseph Hooker. On September 12, he informed his wife, "I feel sure of one thing now, & that is that my men will fight well." However, he had one doubt: McDowell's old command. McClellan claimed the First Corps was "in bad condition as to discipline & everything else." But, he reassured himself, "Hooker will however soon bring them out of the kinks, & will make them fight if anyone can."(7)
     Hooker certainly did make fighters of his men. At South Mountain, he led his corps into action against Confederates defending Turner's and Frosttown Gaps. Two days later, when McClellan began to implement his Antietam battle plan on September 16, Hooker's troops were the first across Antietam Creek. During the day, Hooker received a guarantee from McClellan that any troops sent to Hooker's assistance "would be placed under my command," according to Hooker.(8) It was a fast rise for Hooker, going from division to corps command in a couple of weeks. Now, he had the potential of commanding more than one corps on the battlefield.
This romanticized drawing of Joseph Hooker at Antietam
was published by Currier & Ives.
     Hooker's performance at South Mountain and Antietam was credible. He continually exposed himself to enemy fire to inspire his soldiers during these actions. It eventually caused him to be removed from the battlefield when a bullet hit him in the foot. Hooker survived and lived to tell the tale--his tale--in Washington, claiming he could have done no worse than McClellan did in 1862, and likely much better. Before McClellan knew of this backtalk, he recommended Hooker for a brigadier generalship in the United States Regular Army. The army commander even wrote Hooker a fawning letter, saying that if Hooker had not been wounded, "I believe the result of the battle would have been the entire destruction of the rebel army, for I know that, with you at its head, your corps would have kept on until it gained the main road."(9)
     Even years after the war, when McClellan had plenty of time to digest Hooker's criticism of him, he could not help but write positively of Hooker, at least in part. McClellan called him "a good soldier and an unreliable man."(10) Despite the two generals' glaring differences, McClellan saw through Hooker's negative comments for the effective field commander that he was. During his brief tenure under McClellan's command, Fighting Joe Hooker did not disappoint his commanding general.

1. Hebert, Fighting Joe Hooker, 90.
2. Wainwright, A Diary of Battle, ed. Nevins, 90.
3. Jack L. Ballard, "General Joseph Hooker: A New Biography," Ph.D. diss., Kent State University, 1994, 569 and John Pope to Henry Halleck, September 30, 1862, OR, vol. 12, pt. 3, 818, substantiate the fact that Hooker's criticism of McClellan was well-known, probably publicly.
4. OR, vol. 19, pt. 2, 188.
5. Ibid., 189-90.
6. Sears, ed., The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan, 436. In his reorganization of the Federal armies around Washington in early September 1862, McClellan sought to keep as much continuity and consistency among his existing commands as possible. In this same letter, he claimed that making Reno commander of the Third Corps "is to break up Burnside's Corps..." Thus, when he calls Hooker disposable, McClellan meant that Hooker's Division would not be accompanying the field army into Maryland and thus that division could afford to lose its commander while it recuperated in the Washington defenses.
7. Ibid., 450.
8. OR, vol. 19, pt. 1, 217.
9. Hebert, Fighting Joe Hooker, 144-47.
10. George B. McClellan Papers, vol. D-9, roll 71, LOC, in John J. Hennessy, "We Shall Make Richmond Howl: The Army of the Potomac on the Eve of Chancellorsville," in Chancellorsville: The Battle and Its Aftermath, ed. Gary W. Gallagher (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1996), 8.

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