In the series of posts that I have been doing on the 150th anniversary dates of major events in the Civil War, it has been difficult of late to find as many significant occurrences to look back upon. Every date (150 years ago) there are skirmishes and demonstrations throughout the varied theatres of the war, but in late winter/early spring – not so much of major consequence. Of course, that is going to change.
For the Army of the Potomac, it has been a season of regrouping under the command of Fighting Joe Hooker – now in his 7th week at the helm. This was much needed in every way, and Hooker is at his finest in the changes instituted. He improves the diet of the troops, sanitary conditions, the function of the quartermaster department, medical organization, the system of drilling and officer training … to name a few. Hooker also improved morale and cut desertions with an instituted furlough system; and he combined the Union cavalry operation into a single corps. Various command and structure changes also eliminated and transferred generals with loyalties to Burnside or problems with Hooker.
Though there is no substance to the oft-told story that prostitutes got their nickname as “hookers” because of the camp followers of our person of interest today, it is made believable by reports such as one by cavalry officer Charles Adams who described Hooker’s Falmouth, VA headquarters as “a combination of a bar-room and a brothel.”
Fighting Joe was proud of his troops. He said, “I have the finest army on the planet. I have the finest army the sun ever shone on. … If the enemy does not run, God help them. May God have mercy on General Lee, for I will have none.”
Hooker also instituted a rather ingenious system of corps badges. I find this particularly interesting and will write a separate post on this topic before long.
But on today’s subject of Hooker’s improvements, I’ll finish with this excerpt from the writings of news correspondent William Swinton …
These things <the changes such as written above> proved General Hooker to be an able administrative officer, but they did not prove him to be a competent commander for a great army; and whatever anticipation might be formed touching this had to be drawn from his previous career as a corps-commander, in which he had won the reputation of being what is called a ‘dashing’ officer, and earned the sobriquet of ‘Fighting Joe.’ He had gained a great popularity both in the army and throughout the country—a result to which his fine soldierly appearance and frank manners had much contributed; nor was this diminished by a habit he had of self-assertion, which, however, proved little, since it may be either the manifestation of impotent conceit, or the proud utterance of conscious power. Hooker had shown himself a pitiless critic of his predecessors in command: he was now to be tried in an ordeal whence no man had yet escaped unscathed.
The new commander judiciously resolved to defer all grand military operations during the wet season, and the first three months after he assumed command were well spent in rehabilitating the army.