Olivia Hooker

Wife of Union General Joseph Hooker

Union Civil War general and husband of Olivia HookerOlivia Augusta Groesbeck was born in 1825 in Cincinnati, Ohio. She was a member of the prominent Groesbeck family, the daughter of John and Mary Groesbeck, and the sister of U.S. Congressman William Slocum Groesbeck. Joseph Hooker was born on November 13, 1814, the son of a store owner in Hadley, Massachusetts. He grew up on the banks of the Connecticut River. His initial schooling was at the local Hopkins Academy.

Image: General Joseph Hooker

Hooker's mother and a schoolteacher brought Joe to the attention of George Grennell, then a member of the House of Representatives. Grennell backed the youth in his quest to enter the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he graduated 29th in a class of 50 in 1837. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 1st U.S. Artillery.

Upon graduation Hooker was sent to Florida to participate in the Second Seminole War. He served in the Mexican-American War in staff positions in the campaigns of Generals Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott. His future reputation as a ladies' man began in Mexico, where local girls referred to him as the "Handsome Captain."

His record in the Mexican War was unsurpassed for gallant and meritorious service, and on June 9, 1849, he became assistant adjutant general of the Pacific Division of the United States Army. His military reputation was damaged when he testified against his former commander, General Winfield Scott, in the court-martial of Gideon Pillow.

After fourteen years of service, he resigned his commission, and settled in Sonoma, California, as a farmer and land developer, but he was more devoted to gambling and liquor than to agriculture. When living in Sonoma, he ran for a seat in the California legislature, but was defeated. In 1853 he left the service and bought a large farm near Sonoma, California, which he managed until 1858, when he was made superintendent of military roads in Oregon.

Hooker in the Civil War
At the start of the war, Hooker requested a commission, but his first application was rejected, probably because of the lingering resentment harbored by Winfield Scott, general-in-chief of the United States Army. Hooker borrowed money to make the trip east from California.

After Hooker witnessed the defeat of the Union Army at the First Battle of Bull Run, he wrote a letter to President Abraham Lincoln, complaining of military mismanagement, promoting his own qualifications, and again requesting a commission.

General Winfield Scott turning control of the Union Army to George B. McClellan in 1861 was probably the best thing that could have happened to Hooker. Hooker was appointed in August 1861 as brigadier general of volunteers. He commanded a brigade, and then a division around Washington, DC, as part of the effort to organize and train the new Army of the Potomac.

In the Peninsula Campaign of 1862, Hooker commanded the Second Division of the III Corps, and made a good name for himself as a combat leader. He distinguished himself at the Battle of Williamsburg and throughout the Seven Days Battles. Hooker chafed at McClellan's cautiousness and openly criticized his failure to capture Richmond. On the Peninsula, Hooker earned two reputations: one for his devotion to the welfare and morale of his men, and another for his hard drinking social life. He was promoted to major general to date from May 5, 1862.

As McClellan's army returned to Washington, DC, Hooker was transferred to General John Pope'sArmy of Virginia. His division first served in that army's III Corps under General Samuel Heintzelman. The last Union division to pass through Manassas Station before the rail line was cut, Hooker struck General Stonewall Jackson's men at the unfinished railroad grade during Second Bull Run, a severe Union defeat. Hooker assumed command of the III Corps on September 6, 1862.

As Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia moved north into Maryland, Hooker's corps, renamed the I Corps, was returned to the Army of the Potomac, and he fought with distinction at South Mountain. At Antietam, Hooker launched the first assault of the bloodiest day in American history, driving south into the corps of General Stonewall Jackson, where they fought each other to a standstill.

Hooker, aggressive and inspiring to his men, had to leave the battle when he was wounded in the foot. He asserted that the battle would have been a decisive Union victory if he had managed to stay on the field, but General McClellan's caution once again failed the Northern troops and Lee's much smaller army eluded destruction. With his patience at an end, President Lincoln replaced McClellan with General Ambrose Burnside.

General Joseph Hooker statueImage: General Hooker Monument
1903 equestrian statue by Daniel Chester French and Edward C. Potter
Massachusetts State House, Boston

Upon recovering from his foot wound, General Hooker was made commander of Burnside's Center Grand Division that consisted of the III and the V Corps. He returned to engage the Confederates at the Battle of Fredericksburg, another Union debacle. Hooker derided General Burnside's plan to assault the fortified heights behind the city, deeming it "preposterous." Hooker's Division (particularly the V Corps) suffered serious losses in fourteen futile assaults ordered by Burnside over Hooker's protests.

Burnside followed up this battle with the humiliating Mud March in January, and Hooker's criticism of his commander bordered on formal insubordination. Burnside planned a wholesale purge of his subordinates, including Hooker, and drafted an order for the president's approval. He stated that Hooker was "unfit to hold an important commission during a crisis like the present." But Lincoln's patience had again run out and he removed Burnside instead.

President Lincoln appointed Major General Joseph Hooker the new commander of the Army of the Potomac as of January 26, 1863. Parts of the army saw this move as inevitable, given Hooker's reputation for aggressive fighting, something sorely lacking in his predecessors.

Lincoln had confidence in Hooker's fighting skills, but qualms about his leadership. Hooker had the habit of writing letters to politicians criticizing his superiors and subordinate officers, and pointing out other people's shortcomings. Critics within the army were quick to refer to the drinking and loose women around his headquarters, reports that circulated freely among the political circles that Hooker had entered via his letters.

President Lincoln wrote a letter to the newly appointed general:

Major-General Hooker,
I have placed you at the head of the Army of the Potomac. Of course I have done this upon what appears to me to be sufficient reasons, and yet I think it best for you to know that there are some things in regard to which I am not quite satisfied with you. I believe you to be a brave and skillful soldier, which, of course, I like. I also believe you do not mix politics with your profession, in which you are right. You have confidence in yourself, which is a valuable, if not indispensable, quality.

You are ambitious, which within reasonable bounds, does good rather than harm; but I think that during General Burnside's command of the army, you have taken counsel of your ambition, and thwarted him as much as you could, in which you did a great wrong to the country and to a most meritorious and honorable brother officer.

I have heard, in such a way as to believe it, of your recently saying that both the Army and the Government needed a dictator. Of course it was not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you the command. Only those generals who gain successes, can set up dictators. What I now ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship... And now, beware of rashness.. but with energy and sleepless vigilance go forward and give us victories.

Abraham Lincoln
During the spring of 1863, Hooker established a reputation as an outstanding administrator and restored the morale of his soldiers. Among his changes were fixes to the daily diet of the troops, camp sanitary changes, improvements and accountability of the quartermaster system, addition of and monitoring of company cooks, several hospital reforms, and an improved furlough system. Hooker also made several high-level command changes, including with his corps commanders. Several generals were either relieved of command or detached to other locations.

Hooker's plan for the spring 1863 campaign was excellent. He would pin down Lee's much smaller army at Fredericksburg, while taking the bulk of the Army of the Potomac on a flanking march to strike Lee in the rear. The cavalry corps under General George Stoneman would send his cavalry corps deep into the enemy's rear, disrupting supply lines and distracting him from the main attack. Defeating Lee, Hooker could then seize Richmond.

The execution of Hooker's plan wasn't nearly so brilliant. He made several errors in judgment: having sent his cavalry away on a futile raid and couldn't scout the Confederate position; he expected General Lee to withdraw once his flank was turned, but Lee was much too aggressive for that.

The flanking march went well enough, but Hooker somehow lost his nerve when the first reports of enemy contact reached him on May 1, 1863. Rather than pushing aggressively into Lee's rear, Hooker pulled his army back around the tiny crossroads town of Chancellorsville and waited for Lee to attack.

At the Battle of Chancellorsville, General Lee audaciously split his smaller army in two to deal with both parts of Hooker's army. Then, he split it again, sending Stonewall Jackson's corps on its own flanking march, striking Hooker's exposed right flank. The XI Corps crumpled in a few minutes, earning themselves the nickname of the Flying Dutchmen - there were many German immigrants in this Corps.

On May 2, Hooker withdrew his forces from a dominating hill, allowing the Confederate batteries to take a position from which they could pound at will. The general was standing on the porch of his headquarters at the Chancellor House, when a cannonball struck the wooden column he was leaning against. The column broke, knocking Hooker senseless and putting him out of action for the rest of the day.

Despite his incapacitation, Hooker refused to turn over temporary command of the army to his second-in-command, General Darius Couch. Several of his subordinate generals openly questioned Hooker's command decisions. Couch was so disgusted that he refused to ever serve under Hooker again.

Success had eluded Joseph Hooker. In the only major battle of his command, the Army of the Potomac lost the Battle of Chancellorsville, which has been called Lee's Perfect Battle, because of his ability to vanquish a much larger foe through audacious tactics.

General Robert E. Lee began another invasion of the North in June 1863, and Lincoln urged Hooker to pursue and defeat him. Hooker's initial plan was to seize Richmond instead, but Lincoln immediately vetoed that idea. The Army of the Potomac began to march north, attempting to locate Lee's army as it slipped down the Shenandoah Valley into Pennsylvania.

When he got into a dispute with Army headquarters over the status of defensive forces in Harper's Ferry, Hooker impulsively offered his resignation in protest, and Lincoln quickly accepted it.

On June 28, three days before the climactic Battle of Gettysburg, President Lincoln replaced Hooker with General George Meade, one of Hooker's former brigade commanders. Hooker received the Thanks of Congress for his role at the start of the Gettysburg Campaign, but the glory would go to Meade.

In the Western Theater, General William Rosecrans and the Army of the Cumberland had made good progress against CSA General Braxton Bragg in Tennessee, and began moving into Georgia through the passes in Lookout Mountain. Since the start of his move, Bragg had put up little resistance, but as the Union troops came out of the passes, the Confederates decided to attack. The ensuing Battle of Chickamauga was the worst defeat in the history of the U. S. Army.

From nearby Chattanooga, General Rosecrans wired President Lincoln of the disaster that had befallen his army and that his position in Chattanooga was in danger. In a council of war, Lincoln put Hooker in command of the XI and XII Corps, and sent them by rail to Stevenson, Alabama, the closest Union controlled railhead to the action.

But nothing happened until General Ulysses S. Grant arrived on October 18, 1863. Grant backed a bold plan by General George Thomas to establish a new supply line. Hooker took Lookout Valley as the Army of the Cumberland prepared to break out of Chattanooga.

Civil War battle in TennesseeImage: Battle Above the Clouds
James Walker, Artist
The Battle of Lookout Mountain
A fog began to cover much of the top half of the mountain at 10:00 am that morning, obscuring the view of the participants of the battle and the men in the Chattanooga Valley. It was this meteorological phenomena that gave the fighting on Lookout Mountain its nickname, The Battle Above the Clouds.

Hooker was in command at the Battle of Lookout Mountain, playing an important role in Grant's decisive victory at the Battle of Chattanooga. Hooker was brevetted to major general in the regular army for his success at Chattanooga, but he was disappointed to find that Grant's official report of the battle credited General William Tecumseh Sherman more than Hooker.

Hooker led his corps (now designated the XX Corps) competently in the 1864 Atlanta Campaign under Sherman, but he asked to be relieved when General Oliver O. Howard was appointed to command the Army of the Tennessee after General James B. McPherson's death. Not only did Hooker have seniority over Howard, he blamed Howard in large part for his defeat at Chancellorsville - Howard had commanded the XI Corps, which was routed after Jackson's flank attack.

Hooker thereafter ceased to play any active part in the war. After leaving Georgia, he commanded the Northern Department, overseeing various issues in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan. He served there from October 1, 1864, until the end of the war, with headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio.

General Joseph Hooker married Olivia Augusta Groesbeck on October 3, 1865.

After the war, Hooker suffered from poor health. He was mustered out of the volunteer service on September 1, 1866, and retired from the U.S. Army in October 1868 with the regular army rank of major general.

Olivia Hooker died on July 15, 1868, of consumption at their residence in Watertown, New York, at the age of forty-three.

On October 15, 1868, Hooker was partially paralyzed by a stroke, which finally forced his retirement from the army.

General Joseph Hooker died on October 31, 1879, at the age of sixty-four, while visiting in Garden City, New York.

In 1880, General Hooker's remains were moved from his grave in New York when a large red granite memorial was erected for him at Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati. Olivia's grave was also moved, and she was buried next to her husband.

SOURCES
Joseph Hooker
Wikipedia: Joseph Hooker
Joseph Hooker (1814–1879)
Joseph 'Fighting Joe' Hooker
Joseph Hooker (Fighting Joe)
Olivia Augusta Groesbeck Hooker

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