Quite a variety of opinions existed of the new Commander of the Army of the Potomac as he took to this task 150 years ago this season. The army was a mess – significantly damaged by desertions and the depression of failed ventures.

Hooker had his proponents, particularly among those who had served with him. Without doubt, he was a unique character. His command post was variously described by many as part bar room, part brothel – though there is no credence to the oft-recited dictum that the slang term “hookers” originated with General Joseph and his camp followers.

ihookej001p1Hooker’s bombastic self-aggrandizement did much to make enemies and skeptics. Earlier in the War, Philip Kearny – not himself a man who feared rendering opinions – said of Hooker, “He is an ass.” The chief of artillery for Hooker during the Peninsula Campaign Charles Wainwright said that Hooker was “… a delightful man to serve with. I do not, however, like the way he has of always decrying the other generals of his own rank, whose every act he seems to find fault with.”

Particularly disliking Hooker were those officers loyal to General McClellan. Among them could be counted John Gibbon who in this following excerpt from his Recollections of the Civil War gives a sort of summary of the skeptics’ view of the new Commander.

Hooker was a strange composition. Almost my first acquaintance with him was on the field of Bull Run to which I have already referred and where his cool gallant bearing was very much marked. After he was placed in command of the 1st Corps, as McDowell’s successor, I was thrown a good deal in contact with him. His apparently frank manner and agreeable address attracted everybody who approached him and his coolness and nerve at Antietam, gained him a great deal of additional renown. In private he was in the habit of talking very freely and did not hesitate to criticize not only his brother-officers, but his commander. He, like Kearny, always thought that full credit was not given him for his fighting qualities. Neither of these two fine soldiers liked McClellan. In fact I don’t think Hooker ever liked any man under whom he was serving. Yet Hooker’s conduct at Antietam was so satisfactory that McClelland asked to have him made Brig. General in the Regular Army and his request was complied with, but it is doubtful if this effort to reward him would have been accomplished without the aid of Hooker, himself, and his political friends, he having remained in or near Washington whilst suffering from his wound. A great deal of his attractive frankness was assumed and he was essentially an intriguer. In his intrigues, he sacrificed his soldierly principles whenever such sacrifice could gain him political influence to further his own ends.

Gibbon goes on to tell an extensive story of seeing his former command go to an unworthy person, and while calling this privately to the attention of Hooker, learned from him that it was all political and that he was not going to do anything about it. This caused a rift between them.

The injury that Gibbon writes about that had Hooker near Washington was the foot injury from a bullet at Antietam – that had caused a great loss of blood and required Hooker to be taken prematurely from the field at the height of the conflict.

The interpersonal fighting and positioning that went on in this Army during the Civil War is just an amazingly recurrent theme. Surely it drove the President crazy, and it is even worse than dealing with church battles and disputes! Yep.

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About Randy Buchman

I live in Western Maryland, and among my too many pursuits and hobbies, I regularly feed multiple hungry blogs. I played college baseball, coached championship cross country teams at Williamsport (MD) High School, and have been a sportswriter for various publications and online venues. My main profession is as the lead pastor of a church in Hagerstown called Tri-State Fellowship. And I'm active in Civil War history and work/serve at Antietam National Battlefield with the Antietam Battlefield Guides organization. Occasionally I sleep.

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