Joseph Hooker is...overrated?

ReveaZapcre

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Mar 27, 2020
A big question I always have is why the loser of Chancellorsville is rated as highly as he is (often higher than Meade, which is really sad tbh). People talk about him being an excellent Corp commander, but he only fought at Antietam and Fredericksburg, the latter was a bungle-up that no one can judge his skill on, and he performed capably in the former but in the end not exceptionally; his corp still got shot-up in the cornfields in the end. Then after the bizarre series of bungle-ups that was Chancellorsville, he is sent west where he helps open the cracker line but is caught completely by surprise and gives contradictory orders to his subordinates and then blames them at Wauhatchie (Schurz, Steinwehr and Geary were not incompetents) and nearly loses an incredibly one-sided battle. He ascends Lookout Mountain, which is great, but you still have to account for his subordinates (Osterhaus and Geary, both at their best) who were excellent, and then completely screws up at Ringgold's gap, where he mismanages a flanking maneuver and fails to break through (yes, good defensive works but he had 3 or 4 to 1 numerical advantage). He was competent during the Atlanta campaign, bloodying Hood but then again every single Union commander did that too, and his most notable move was his repulse at New Hope Church. Add his intrigue and his inability to work with others, and I really don't get why people continue to think of him quite highly.
 

Belfoured

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Interesting question. I too have questioned the often expressed opinion that Hooker was a very good corps commander in the West; I think he was adequate, not bad. It seems neither Thomas or Sherman was sad to see the last of him.
Sherman's issues with Hooker were less about competence than they were about other problems, definitely including personality. As for Chancellorsville, there is little doubt that he came up with an excellent plan and got the jump on Lee before surrendering the initiative on April 30. And anybody who credits McClellan with building up and training the A of the P has to give Hooker a salute for rebuilding it after the debacle at Fredericksburg.
 

infomanpa

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Sherman's issues with Hooker were less about competence than they were about other problems, definitely including personality. As for Chancellorsville, there is little doubt that he came up with an excellent plan and got the jump on Lee before surrendering the initiative on April 30. And anybody who credits McClellan with building up and training the A of the P has to give Hooker a salute for rebuilding it after the debacle at Fredericksburg.

I have come to believe that Hooker suffered from a concussion at Chancellorsville and therefore, I cannot pass judgement on his military decisions for the rest of that battle.
 

Peace Society

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Like McClellan, Hooker did very well indeed at organizing and managing a huge force of men. But that obviously isn't always accompanied by the ability to lead them well in a battle situation. That requires a different kind of sternness and fluidity, calmness and inventiveness. People like Lee, Sherman, and Grant had both capabilities. Geo Thomas, too, if you don't mind a certain amount of slow deliberateness.
 
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jackt62

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Hooker's scheming personality has always been a mark against him. But Hooker was probably no better or worse than most corps and army commanders, north and south. His strong points must be his rebuilding of the AOTP after Burnside, and planning the Chancellorsville campaign, which if executed properly, could have been a decisive victory for the north. But he fell short on that end.
 

Carronade

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I have come to believe that Hooker suffered from a concussion at Chancellorsville and therefore, I cannot pass judgement on his military decisions for the rest of that battle.

He likely did, but the decisions that lost the battle were made before that:

Sending his cavalry off on a raid.
Falling back to a defensive stance on May 1.
Leaving his right flank in the air (responsibility shared with Howard).
Assuming that Jackson's movement on May 2 signaled a Confederate retreat.
Pulling back from Hazel Grove on May 3 (some debate about this one).

If Hooker's assumption on May 2 had been correct, that the movement seen meant the entire ANV was retreating, shouldn't he have taken action? Was "Fighting Joe" just going to sit there and watch them march away? Granted there was some value in getting the Fredericksburg position without a fight and reuniting Sedgewick's corps with the main army, but it would hardly justify passing up an opportunity to put the hurt on the ANV.

A pursuit would have been more promising if the AofP had its full complement of cavalry.
 

Belfoured

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He likely did, but the decisions that lost the battle were made before that:

Sending his cavalry off on a raid.
Falling back to a defensive stance on May 1.
Leaving his right flank in the air (responsibility shared with Howard).
Assuming that Jackson's movement on May 2 signaled a Confederate retreat.
Pulling back from Hazel Grove on May 3 (some debate about this one).

If Hooker's assumption on May 2 had been correct, that the movement seen meant the entire ANV was retreating, shouldn't he have taken action? Was "Fighting Joe" just going to sit there and watch them march away? Granted there was some value in getting the Fredericksburg position without a fight and reuniting Sedgewick's corps with the main army, but it would hardly justify passing up an opportunity to put the hurt on the ANV.

A pursuit would have been more promising if the AofP had its full complement of cavalry.
Agree with much of this. He actually gave up the initiative on April 30. If he had kept at it Lee was in a world of trouble.
 

Carronade

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Hooker's scheming personality has always been a mark against him. But Hooker was probably no better or worse than most corps and army commanders, north and south. His strong points must be his rebuilding of the AOTP after Burnside, and planning the Chancellorsville campaign, which if executed properly, could have been a decisive victory for the north. But he fell short on that end.

Ironically "Fighting Joe's" most lasting contributions were on the administrative side, restoring the army as you mention and creating the AofP cavalry corps and the Bureau of Military Information.
 

Rebforever

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I have come to believe that Hooker suffered from a concussion at Chancellorsville and therefore, I cannot pass judgement on his military decisions for the rest of that battle.
He was flattened at Chancellor House and they gave him alcohol.
Put him on his horse and went a little way and fell off. They laid him on
a blanket and gave him more alcohol. They had just picked him up to put him on his horse, a cannon ball hit in the middle of the blanket. When he got to headquarters, the doc gave him alcohol. When others talked to him, he was drunk. He voluntarily transferred power to Couch but then gave orders what he was to do which made the transfer void. Too drunk to realize what he did.

His plan for battle was superb and if continued as plan would have Lee wiped out. One never knows.

Chancellorsville, by Furgurson.
 

Belfoured

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He was flattened at Chancellor House and they gave him alcohol.
Put him on his horse and went a little way and fell off. They laid him on
a blanket and gave him more alcohol. They had just picked him up to put him on his horse, a cannon ball hit in the middle of the blanket. When he got to headquarters, the doc gave him alcohol. When others talked to him, he was drunk. He voluntarily transferred power to Couch but then gave orders what he was to do which made the transfer void. Too drunk to realize what he did.

His plan for battle was superb and if continued as plan would have Lee wiped out. One never knows.

Chancellorsville, by Furgurson.
I'll go with Sears over Furgurson on the "drunk" issue - better research and more knowledge of how to do it correctly.
 

Harms88

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Hooker was considered the best Corps commander the AOTP had in 1862, I have read that even McClellan considered him as such (take that as one will). At Chancellorsville, he actually green-light a counterattack during the night of May 2nd with the III Corps. Problem was, as soon as Sickles tried moving his men out, he got blasted by friendly fire and had to return.

His reasoning for abandoning Hazel Grove could be argued that the Salient could have been crushed or pinched off. So it was technically a sound strategy to abandon it, but tactically it ended up being FUBAR. Also, his administrative skills were on par with what McClellan did. According to Bruce Catton, when he took command, somewhere in the vicinity of 80,000 men were officially listed as either deserted or simply AWOL. His handling of the situation managed to bring many of them back.

Also, his performance in the West is pretty good.

It's stuff like that which has led to Hooker being rated as high as he is. I'm a Hooker man myself (that's a phrase you can't say outside of the Civil War buff arena without raised eyebrows). If I had to rank the four full-time commanders of the AOTP and five major commanders of the East (minus Grant for obvious reasons), I'd say he would either be second or third best commander of the Eastern Theater. Better than Pope and Burnside. On par with McClellan if not better. Yet I wouldn't say he was better than Meade as an army commander.

Problem with Hooker comes down to his personality. He was a braggart who Grant said that "one minute he'd be boasting and the next he'd be whining." The alcohol issue and the "loss of confidence" has been effectively dismissed by Sears at Chancellorsville. But was can't dismiss the fact that he was a bit of a control freak to the point he wouldn't let Couch have the authority he needed when things were going poorly. Also, what idiot allows the Secretary of War to have personal interviews with his commanders when he knew they were antagonistic to him?

Nor was he the best at explaining his actions or reasoning. He seems to be a person that doesn't believe he needs to do such things and you should just accept it without question.

I like Hooker, but he's an idiot at times.
 

Moe Daoust

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Jun 11, 2018
A big question I always have is why the loser of Chancellorsville is rated as highly as he is (often higher than Meade, which is really sad tbh). People talk about him being an excellent Corp commander, but he only fought at Antietam and Fredericksburg, the latter was a bungle-up that no one can judge his skill on, and he performed capably in the former but in the end not exceptionally; his corp still got shot-up in the cornfields in the end. Then after the bizarre series of bungle-ups that was Chancellorsville, he is sent west where he helps open the cracker line but is caught completely by surprise and gives contradictory orders to his subordinates and then blames them at Wauhatchie (Schurz, Steinwehr and Geary were not incompetents) and nearly loses an incredibly one-sided battle. He ascends Lookout Mountain, which is great, but you still have to account for his subordinates (Osterhaus and Geary, both at their best) who were excellent, and then completely screws up at Ringgold's gap, where he mismanages a flanking maneuver and fails to break through (yes, good defensive works but he had 3 or 4 to 1 numerical advantage). He was competent during the Atlanta campaign, bloodying Hood but then again every single Union commander did that too, and his most notable move was his repulse at New Hope Church. Add his intrigue and his inability to work with others, and I really don't get why people continue to think of him quite highly.
Give my article a read if you want to get a complete idea of how he botched things up at Antietam.
https://www.blogger.com/blog/post/edit/5845132030662925723/3263943996287303735
 

Rebforever

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Moe Daoust

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I don't read blogs. Not saying this as a personal thing. If your blog is good, which it probably is, then you would have footnotes and references to read. Post your opinion and back it up with sources works good.
My blog is comprised of a series of articles that I've written. Most, like The Battle of Antietam: A Perspective, are fully annotated. Please give it a read if you haven't already done so.
 

Moe Daoust

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Jun 11, 2018
He was flattened at Chancellor House and they gave him alcohol.
Put him on his horse and went a little way and fell off. They laid him on
a blanket and gave him more alcohol. They had just picked him up to put him on his horse, a cannon ball hit in the middle of the blanket. When he got to headquarters, the doc gave him alcohol. When others talked to him, he was drunk. He voluntarily transferred power to Couch but then gave orders what he was to do which made the transfer void. Too drunk to realize what he did.

His plan for battle was superb and if continued as plan would have Lee wiped out. One never knows.

Chancellorsville, by Furgurson.
I don't know about the drunk aspect but I agree with you that Hooker had an excellent plan and that Lee would/should have been annihilated at Chancellorsville. If Hooker can be faulted for anything at Chancellorsville, it is for leaving his right flank wide open. As for Lee, his army should have also been destroyed at Antietam and would have had it not been for Hooker, Sumner and Burnside fouling things up. I know that this is going to get a rise, but I frankly agree with some historians, such as Nolan, that Lee has been overrated. I'm not saying he was not a good general, just that he is overrated.
 
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