What if Joe Hooker took command at Antietam

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Harms88

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So, I read many years ago (I think in Bruce Catton's Mr. Lincoln's Army) that during the Battle of Antietam, several Corps commanders approached Hooker and asked if he'd take command of the Army from McClellan, the commanders frustrated at his lack of determination to follow through on any breakthroughs. Hooker declined, but this was because he had just retired from the field with his foot wound. I haven't seen this referenced anywhere else except for a Player Made Battle for Take Command 2 where Hooker accepts the command.

It's a really interesting idea, and one that I'm writing an alternate history about whose working title is "Hooker's War".

Now, my first question is, has anyone else come across this incident in their own research? It's an incident that if true, I have a hard time finding more evidence of it.

My second question is, what is your belief of what would have been the outcome of this what if?

Does any of Lee's Army escape to Virginia? If they do, how do they defend Virginia? How does the Confederacy struggle to repel Hooker's victorious army?

How does the AOTP react to Hooker's taking power from the popular McClellan? How does the politicians, such as Lincoln respond? How does Hooker continue the war against the Confederacy, or even is he allowed to for his coup against McClellan or would he have been relieved of command?

So in essence, how do you think post-Antietam would have been for both sides and does Lee and his army have any role in the proceeding events?
 

jackt62

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I have not come across such a scenario about Hooker taking over from McClellan. In any case, I don't understand how that would ever be possible given that McClellan was never incapacitated during the battle of Antietam, thereby providing no justification for his replacement. In any event, Hooker's actions during Chancellorsville may give some inkling as to what he might have done had he commanded at Antietam. Given his lack of determination to follow through on his original brilliant strategic envelopment of Lee, and his sudden switch to the defensive at Chancellorsville, may indicate that he may not have acted differently at Antietam, despite his forceful command of I Corps in the early assault that morning.
 

Harms88

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I have not come across such a scenario about Hooker taking over from McClellan. In any case, I don't understand how that would ever be possible given that McClellan was never incapacitated during the battle of Antietam, thereby providing no justification for his replacement. In any event, Hooker's actions during Chancellorsville may give some inkling as to what he might have done had he commanded at Antietam. Given his lack of determination to follow through on his original brilliant strategic envelopment of Lee, and his sudden switch to the defensive at Chancellorsville, may indicate that he may not have acted differently at Antietam, despite his forceful command of I Corps in the early assault that morning.
As I was led to understand through reading, the Corps command would have carried out a coup against McClellan, forcible removing him from command so the more aggressive Hooker could take over. I have also heard that this wasn't the first time, and that an attempt was made to convince Couch to take command on the Peninsula after McClellan's retreat in the face of Lee.

There is modern research that suggests that Hooker always wanted to carry out a more defensive battle during the Chancellorsville Campaign, given how roughly Fredericksburg was on the army. But that is of course speculation and we'll never know for certain if that was what he intended, especially after Hooker's concussion on May 3rd messed him up.

So perhaps Hooker, without Fredericksburg as a boogey-man and without his oath of abstinence (as some claimed he took right before the campaign and he was suffering partially from alcoholic withdrawl) he would have been more energetic?
 
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Andy Cardinal

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The story was told by correspondent George Smalley and can be found in Battles & Leaders vol. 5.

According to Smalley's account, James Wilson of McClellan's staff approached Hooker about taking command. Here is some of the text:

"I rode back across the creek in the direction of General McClellan's headquarters. It was expected he would order forward his reserves under Fitz John Porter, but he did not. Precious minutes and priceless hours ebbed away and nothing was done. I was looking about for a remount, as my horse had a couple of bullets in him and could not be depended on, when an officer on General McClellan's staff whom I knew detached himself from the group at a little distance and came over to me. He said: “I hear you were with Hooker when he was wounded?” “Yes.” “Do you know whether he is disabled?” I said that he had been hit hard, could not sit his horse, and had been carried off on an ambulance; since then I had not seen him. “Do you know where he is?” “Yes; at a red house-farm in an open field on the right, this side of the creek.” “Will you take a message to him?” By this time I began to think the interrogatory both curious and serious, and I answered, “That depends on what the message is.” My friend and I were by ourselves, well out of earshot of the staff, but within view, and I saw that the staff or some of them were watching what went on. He came a little closer, lowered his voice, and said: “Most of us think that this battle is only half fought and half won. There is still time to finish it. But McClellan will do no more. What I want you to do is to see Hooker, find out whether he can mount his horse, and if he can, ask him whether he will take command of this army and drive Lee into the Potomac or force him to surrender.” It was perhaps the most astounding request ever made by a soldier to a civilian. What he suggested was nothing less than an act of mutiny in the face of the enemy, and I told him so. “I know that as well as you do,” was the answer. “We all know it, but we know also that it is the only way to crush Lee and the rebellion and save the country.” ... “It need not be a proposal,” he replied. “All we want you to do is to sound Hooker and let us know what his views are. The rest we will do ourselves.” I asked him if he meant to give me a written message. “Certainly not. Such things are not put into writing.” “But why should Hooker believe me, or compromise himself in a conversation with a man he never saw till this morning?” He said it was known I had acted as Hooker's aide, and urged sundry other reasons. I still declined, but he still pressed it. Hooker, he declared, had won the confidence of the army, and McClellan had lost it. It was no time to stand on trifles. He regarded what he proposed to me as a patriotic duty, and so on. Finally, as I persisted in refusing to be the bearer of any such message, he asked if I would see Hooker, and bring them word whether he could, in any circumstances, take the field again that day. To this I saw no objection, and rode off. I found General Hooker in bed, and in great pain. He asked eagerly for news of the battle. When I told him that the attack on both wings had failed, that no movement had been made for the last two hours, and that General McClellan seemed to have no intention of making any, he became angry and excited, and used language of extreme plainness.... I asked him whether his wound would permit him to mount his horse again that day. He pointed to his swollen and bandaged foot. “No; it is impossible.” “Or to take command of your corps again in any way—in a carriage, if one could be found?” “No, no; I cannot move. I am perfectly helpless.” All at once whether from the way in which I had put my question, or from my manner, it seemed to flash upon him that there was something behind it. He broke out: “Why do you ask? What do you mean? Who sent you here?” He was in such torment from his wound and the fever it had brought on that I thought it best not to fence with his questions and his suspicions. I told him it was true that some friends of his who knew how well he had done his work in the morning were anxious to learn whether, in an emergency, he could resume his duties; that the position was critical; that his troops would fight under him as they would under nobody else; in short, I admitted that I came to find out what his real condition was, and that I thought a good deal depended on his answer. He groaned and swore and half raised himself on his bed. The effort was too much; the agony brought a cry to his lips: “You see what a wreck I am; it is impossible, impossible.”
 

Harms88

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The story was told by correspondent George Smalley and can be found in Battles & Leaders vol. 5.

According to Smalley's account, James Wilson of McClellan's staff approached Hooker about taking command. Here is some of the text:

"I rode back across the creek in the direction of General McClellan's headquarters. It was expected he would order forward his reserves under Fitz John Porter, but he did not. Precious minutes and priceless hours ebbed away and nothing was done. I was looking about for a remount, as my horse had a couple of bullets in him and could not be depended on, when an officer on General McClellan's staff whom I knew detached himself from the group at a little distance and came over to me. He said: “I hear you were with Hooker when he was wounded?” “Yes.” “Do you know whether he is disabled?” I said that he had been hit hard, could not sit his horse, and had been carried off on an ambulance; since then I had not seen him. “Do you know where he is?” “Yes; at a red house-farm in an open field on the right, this side of the creek.” “Will you take a message to him?” By this time I began to think the interrogatory both curious and serious, and I answered, “That depends on what the message is.” My friend and I were by ourselves, well out of earshot of the staff, but within view, and I saw that the staff or some of them were watching what went on. He came a little closer, lowered his voice, and said: “Most of us think that this battle is only half fought and half won. There is still time to finish it. But McClellan will do no more. What I want you to do is to see Hooker, find out whether he can mount his horse, and if he can, ask him whether he will take command of this army and drive Lee into the Potomac or force him to surrender.” It was perhaps the most astounding request ever made by a soldier to a civilian. What he suggested was nothing less than an act of mutiny in the face of the enemy, and I told him so. “I know that as well as you do,” was the answer. “We all know it, but we know also that it is the only way to crush Lee and the rebellion and save the country.” ... “It need not be a proposal,” he replied. “All we want you to do is to sound Hooker and let us know what his views are. The rest we will do ourselves.” I asked him if he meant to give me a written message. “Certainly not. Such things are not put into writing.” “But why should Hooker believe me, or compromise himself in a conversation with a man he never saw till this morning?” He said it was known I had acted as Hooker's aide, and urged sundry other reasons. I still declined, but he still pressed it. Hooker, he declared, had won the confidence of the army, and McClellan had lost it. It was no time to stand on trifles. He regarded what he proposed to me as a patriotic duty, and so on. Finally, as I persisted in refusing to be the bearer of any such message, he asked if I would see Hooker, and bring them word whether he could, in any circumstances, take the field again that day. To this I saw no objection, and rode off. I found General Hooker in bed, and in great pain. He asked eagerly for news of the battle. When I told him that the attack on both wings had failed, that no movement had been made for the last two hours, and that General McClellan seemed to have no intention of making any, he became angry and excited, and used language of extreme plainness.... I asked him whether his wound would permit him to mount his horse again that day. He pointed to his swollen and bandaged foot. “No; it is impossible.” “Or to take command of your corps again in any way—in a carriage, if one could be found?” “No, no; I cannot move. I am perfectly helpless.” All at once whether from the way in which I had put my question, or from my manner, it seemed to flash upon him that there was something behind it. He broke out: “Why do you ask? What do you mean? Who sent you here?” He was in such torment from his wound and the fever it had brought on that I thought it best not to fence with his questions and his suspicions. I told him it was true that some friends of his who knew how well he had done his work in the morning were anxious to learn whether, in an emergency, he could resume his duties; that the position was critical; that his troops would fight under him as they would under nobody else; in short, I admitted that I came to find out what his real condition was, and that I thought a good deal depended on his answer. He groaned and swore and half raised himself on his bed. The effort was too much; the agony brought a cry to his lips: “You see what a wreck I am; it is impossible, impossible.”
Thanks! So it wasn't the Corps Commanders that requested it, but members of McClellan's staff? So, even if Hooker may have been willing to take command, we may have had a situation such as at Fredericksburg where despite requests to move forward, General Birney refused to accept Meade's request because he didn't accept Meade's need and Reynolds had not ordered it.
 
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Andy Cardinal

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Thanks! So it wasn't the Corps Commanders that requested it, but members of McClellan's staff? So, even if Hooker may have been willing to take command, we may have had a situation such as at Fredericksburg where despite requests to move forward, General Birney refused to accept Meade's request because he didn't accept Meade's need and Reynolds had not ordered it.
I'm not sure how much of Smalley's story I believe. I can't see any of the corps commanders participating in a mutiny. Most of them didn't have a particularly high opinion of Hooker.

I believe they approached Hooker about taking the field, but I doubt they seriously intended them to take over for McClellan.
 

Ara Oko

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I agree with much of the above because it is my understanding that MacLennan didn't want the job. He took the job primerily to spite Hooker.
The question was, "What if Hooker had been in charge at Antidem?"
I would say only this, If he had been in charge, And if he had performed, Antidem would have become an inexorable slaughter on an even bigger scale. It was never going to be anything else imo.
 
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Ara Oko

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I agree with much of the above because it is my understanding that MacLennan didn't want the job. He took the job primerily to spite Hooker.
The question was, "What if Hooker had been in charge at Antidem?"
I would say only this, If he had been in charge, And if he had performed, Antidem would have become an inexorable slaughter on an even bigger scale. It was never going to be anything else imo.
Burneside, sorry. 02;30 tired.
 

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Mutiny during a battle hardly seems likely to lead to success.

Hooker may not have been familiar with the overall situation and might have depended on advice from the very staff officers who sought to depose McClellan. It almost seems as though they wished to take control of the army, but needed to do it through a general.

Was Hooker the next senior after McClellan? I wonder what the reaction of other generals would be to suddenly receiving orders in his name? Especially if it was unclear how McClellan had been removed from command. Were other generals "champing at the bit", feeling that it was just McClellan holding them back from victory?
 
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Joshism

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I can't imagine a mutiny/coup actually taking place, especially to simply replace one army commander with another then continuing to fight on like nothing had happened. Lincoln wouldn't have tolerated such a thing, no matter how frustrating he thought McClellan to be.
 
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Seniority ran, excluding the wounded generals, down to Hancock:

MG(R) McClellan (Major-General in the regular army)
MG(V) Burnside (Major-General of volunteers)
MG(V) and Bvt MG(R) Sumner (Breveted MG in the regular army and MG in the volunteer force.)
MG(V) FJ Porter
MG(V) Franklin
[MG(V) Hooker]
MG(V) Couch - division
MG(V) Slocum - division
MG(V) Morell - division
MG(V) Wm. F. Smith - division
BG(V) Cox - division and acting corps commander
BG(V) A.S. Williams - division and acting corps commander
BG(V) Ricketts - division
BG(V) Meade - division and acting corps commander (McClellan selected Meade over Ricketts for 1st Corps)
BG(V) OO Howard - brigade and acting division commander (vice Sedgwick)
BG(V) Newton - brigade commander
BG(V) Hancock - brigade and acting division commander (vice Richardson)

Hooker is ranked by 4 other corps commanders, all of whom were gone from the AoP when he assumed command. Neither Burnside nor Hooker had any regular rank at this time. After Antietam, McClellan recommended Hooker for the Brigadier-Generalcy vacated by Mansfield's death, and Lincoln accepted the recommendation.
 

Arioch

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Mutinys / coups, etc...during an engagement...a major one at that...rarely go well....(**** fascinating topic and anecdote, though...thanks for tossing it in the ring!).

I strongly feel it would have split the army, political theater, and by extension ...the country (Federal side that is)...So, now you would have a 3 way Civil War. Can you say 'Confederate States of America Recognition'?

Heres a 'thunk':...Career military personnel have a tendency to be fiercely devoted to proper chain of command, no matter what someone's own personal thoughts and feelings are on any given topic...duty comes first and foremost...Somewhere along the line...a commander of such stripe, one who was not in cahoots with the mutinous cabal, would have stubbornly resisted and fought the 'traitors'...irrespective if they agreed with the move or not....again, loyalty and duty first...

Washington (political) would have exploded....possibly even igniting a political coup....Lincoln needed a victory to hold off British (and others) recognition of the CSA (forget emancipation...irrelevant at that point....what recognizable authority would Washington have at that point and time if this had come about?)

In short...it would have been the very death of the United States of America as we know it.
 

Carronade

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Seniority ran, excluding the wounded generals, down to Hancock:

MG(R) McClellan (Major-General in the regular army)
MG(V) Burnside (Major-General of volunteers)
MG(V) and Bvt MG(R) Sumner (Breveted MG in the regular army and MG in the volunteer force.)
MG(V) FJ Porter
MG(V) Franklin
[MG(V) Hooker]
MG(V) Couch - division
MG(V) Slocum - division
MG(V) Morell - division
MG(V) Wm. F. Smith - division
BG(V) Cox - division and acting corps commander
BG(V) A.S. Williams - division and acting corps commander
BG(V) Ricketts - division
BG(V) Meade - division and acting corps commander (McClellan selected Meade over Ricketts for 1st Corps)
BG(V) OO Howard - brigade and acting division commander (vice Sedgwick)
BG(V) Newton - brigade commander
BG(V) Hancock - brigade and acting division commander (vice Richardson)

Hooker is ranked by 4 other corps commanders, all of whom were gone from the AoP when he assumed command. Neither Burnside nor Hooker had any regular rank at this time. After Antietam, McClellan recommended Hooker for the Brigadier-Generalcy vacated by Mansfield's death, and Lincoln accepted the recommendation.
Thanks....so this cabal of staff officers were proposing to displace not just McClellan but the next four senior generals, because they felt Hooker was the man for the job. Hard to see that going over well.
 
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Andy Cardinal

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Thanks....so this cabal of staff officers were proposing to displace not just McClellan but the next four senior generals, because they felt Hooker was the man for the job. Hard to see that going over well.
It would be interesting to know which staff officers would have been involved -- if the story is true. Wilson is identified. But most of McClellan's staff were loyal to him as far as i know. His own father in law was chief of staff. I wonder if Custer would have veen involved? We know he was an aggressive type of guy and might have wanted to see a more aggressive approach.
 

Harms88

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It would be interesting to know which staff officers would have been involved -- if the story is true. Wilson is identified. But most of McClellan's staff were loyal to him as far as i know. His own father in law was chief of staff. I wonder if Custer would have veen involved? We know he was an aggressive type of guy and might have wanted to see a more aggressive approach.
Not Custer. I recently finished the book Custer: The Making of a Young General and he was absolutely devoted to McClellan, even trying to keep in his good graces after his firing in Oct '62. We know that he defended McClellan in letters to everyone, including his own father when he disparaged the General.

Now, he and Hooker seemed to have an ok relationship. and would serve for a while on Hooker's staff, but he was no-where as devoted to him as McClellan.
 
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Joshism

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This is the same James H. Wilson who later became a cavalry general and a bitter opponent of Grant, yes?

Curious career, curious fellow.
 

Saphroneth

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We know he was an aggressive type of guy and might have wanted to see a more aggressive approach.
Heh, I always feel slightly amused when I see Antietam described as not aggressive. It's 75% of the Army of the Potomac launching an assault on the same day, the bloodiest day in American history and at the end of the day the troops who haven't been launched in an assault amount to basically one corps' worth of troops scattered between the centre and the right wing.
 
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