Hooker, was a West Point graduate and a veteran of both the Seminole and Mexican Wars, and he had even served in the American West in the 1850s. When the Civil War erupted, Hooker was named brigadier general in the Army of the Potomac. He quickly rose to division commander, and had distinguished himself during the Peninsular Campaign of 1862. He also continued to build his reputation as a hard drinker and womanizer. His policy of allowing the ever present ‘camp followers’ access to his soldiers quickly earned them the name of “Hooker’s Girls”, which was later shortened down to hookers, which is where THAT name comes from. Bet you didn’t know that piece of trivia.
Hooker received command of the First Corps in time for the Second Battle of Bull Run, Virginia, in August 1862. His corps played a major role in the Battle of Antietam in Maryland in September, and when Burnside failed as commander, Hooker had his chance. The general first had to deal with the sagging morale of the army. He decided to reorganize his command and he instituted a badge system, where each division had its own unique insignia. This helped to build unit pride and identity, and it is still followed to this day. Hooker led his re-energized army into Virginia in April 1863. Hooker’s appointment was part of President Abraham Lincoln‘s frustrating process of finding a winning general in the East. After going through a series of unproductive generals (Irwin McDowell, George McClellan, John Pope, McClellan once more, and then Burnside), Lincoln hoped Hooker could defeat Confederate General Robert E. Lee. It was a tall order, though, and Hooker was not up to the challenge.
In May 1863, Hooker clashed with Lee at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia, and the Union army suffered a decisive and stunning defeat. The only good result for the Union of this fight was the Confederacy’s loss of an irreplaceable General of their own, the incredibly gifted and ferociously unpredictable Thomas Jefferson “Stonewall” Jackson, shot down by accident by his own men. Lincoln’s search for an effective commander would continue, and in the summer of 1863 Joseph Hooker was replaced with George Gordon Meade.
It would not be until November of 1863 that the Union would finally start making real progress in defeating Robert E. Lee, and it would only come with the appointment by Abraham Lincoln of Ulysses S. Grant as lieutenant general, the
first since George Washington, and the only Union general that Lee considered a real danger to the success of the Confederacy, and Lincoln’s placing Grant as commander of all of the Union Armies that Lee would finally meet his match and the war would be won.
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