Historical Marker Text
Just northeast, Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, commander of the Union Army of the Potomac, kept his headquarters, Jan.-June 1863, amid a vast city of tents and camps. It was here he rehabilitated the Union army after its catastrophic defeat in the First Battle of Fredericksburg in Dec. 1862 and its subsequent “Winter of Discontent.” From here he designed a campaign to defeat Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at Chancellorsville–a brilliant plan that failed in May 1863 because of his hesitancy and Lee’s aggressiveness. President Abraham Lincoln twice visited Hooker, here in April 1863 and again in May, after the defeat.
General Hooker succeeded General Burnside as Commander of the Army of the Potomac. Songs were chanted along the lines, pressing troops to stand behind “Fighting Joe.” During the lull between the Battle of Fredericksburg and the Battle of Chancellorsville, Hooker was not just preparing for this next fight; he was also rebuilding and modernizing the Union ways.
After his appointment of Commander as the Army of the Potomac, General Hooker made some key leadership changes. He issued General Order No. 2 on January 29th, appointing new staff members. Major General Daniel Butterfield became Hooker’s Chief of Staff. Butterfield’s appointment might not have been the wisest, since his understanding of “military science” was not as in depth as a Chief of Staff’s should be (Herbert 172). Other appointments included Major General John F. Reynolds with the First Corps, Major General Darius N. Couch with the Second Corps, Brigadier General Daniel E. Sickles with the Third Corps, Major General George G. Meade with the Fifth Corps, Major General John Sedgwick with the Sixth Corps, Major General Franz Sigel with the Eleventh Corps, Major General Henry W. Slocum with the Twelfth Corps, Brigadier General Stoneman with the cavalry, and the controversial Major General William F. Smith, who took charge of the Ninth Corps for Burnside (Herbert 176).
Hooker made some tactical changes as well. He consolidated the cavalry, which would help the Federals compete with Jeb Stuart’s Confederate cavalry, which had been extremely effective thus far (Taaffe 85). He also took steps to reduce desertions, which was and had been a growing problem. An estimated 200 men per day deserted their company. Civilian clothes were now being sent in care packages from home to help ease the process of running away from the army. Hooker reported that a total of 85,000 men and officers were not present when he obtained his command. He eventually had to have President Abraham Lincoln “issue a general proclamation of amnesty to all deserters who should rejoin their commands by April first” (Herbert 179).
In hopes of picking up morale, Hooker took some positive steps within camp. Hooker made visits to the various corps and was cordial with the soldiers. He kept them busy with drills and exercises so they had less time to just sit. He built new hospitals and renovated old ones (Herbert 179). He enforced improved sanitary conditions in camps, including the preparation of food. Hooker also made a big deal out of increasing the rations given to each soldier. These rations also included fresh fruits and vegetables. This increased his popularity very quickly. He also attempted to boost pride in one’s corps by creating separate badges for each corps. Hooker also ensured that soldiers’ salaries were given to them in reasonable time, which was considered a key reason for desertion (Taaffe 85).
General Hooker served as a pivotal force for rebuilding after Burnside’s egregious failure at the Battle of Fredericksburg. He boosted morale and reorganized the Army of the Potomac, enabling them to go confidently into the next battle. Hooker’s plan was flawless, but his overconfidence, carelessness, and lack of decisiveness cost him the battle (Taaffe 83). Chancellorsville was a humiliating defeat for the larger and superior Union Army, but there were some positive actions taken by Hooker while at camp between battles that should not be overlooked.
Wild West Web, “Fighting Joe,” http://www.wildwestweb.net/cwleaders/Joseph%20Hooker.jpg (accessed April 10, 2008).
For Further Reference
Bates, Samuel P. The Battle of Chancellorsville. Meadville, PA: Edward T. Bates, 1882.
Herbert, Walter H. Fighting Joe Hooker. New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1944.
Longacre, Edward G. The Commanders of Chancellorsville. Nashville, TN: Rutledge Hill Press, 2005.
McIntosh, David Gregg. The Campaign of Chancellorsville. Richmond, VA: Wm. Ellis Jones’ Sons, Inc., 1915.
Sears, Stephen W. Chancellorsville. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1996.
Taaffe, Stephen R. Commanding the Army of the Potomac. Lawrence, KS: The University Press of Kansas, 2006.