Hooker Makes Some Changes, Wants to Make More

February 4, 1863 (Wednesday)

New Army of the Potomac commander, General Joseph Hooker, had taken over a miserable and defeated lot of men. His predecessor, Ambrose Burnside, had, by his own admission, not been up to the task of leading such a large body of troops. He led them to a\the wretched and bloody defeat at Fredericksburg, as well as a grueling and muddy flank march that amounted to nothing several weeks later.

He’s got that Hooker lean.

After some discussion and rethinking, President Lincoln removed the quickly-sinking Burnside, replacing him with Joe Hooker, a former Grand Division commander under the previous leadership. After settling into his headquarters, he began to make the changes he believed would be needed to win the great and smashing victory against the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.

General Burnside had created a Grand Division system, sectioning the army into four parts. Each of the four Grand Divisions consisted of two corps. There was the Left, Center and Right Grand Divisions, with another one around Bull Run acting as a reserve. Hooker never cared much for this system and was making plans to do away with it. But first, there was some fine tuning to do.

For starters, there was the question of Burnside’s IX Corps. Just as Hooker wanted Burnside gone, he wanted the men raised by the bewhiskered General gone as well. They were being sent to Fortress Monroe and from there, well, they weren’t really his problem anymore, were they? To command them, he wanted General “Baldy” Smith.

Actually, he wanted Baldy Smith to simply leave. Smith, along with General William Franklin, had led the officers’ revolt against Burnside. To make sure that didn’t happen to him, he wanted to get rid of the ring leaders. Franklin was already dealt with by Washington, but Smith was another issue.

General John Sedgwick was now commanding the IX Corps. Hooker, however, wanted to keep him around. If the IX Corps was shipped to Fortress Monroe with Sedgwick still on board, he may never get him back. And so, Hooker requested that Sedgwick be moved to the VI Corps, while Baldy Smith was sent away with the XI.

He had tried to convince Washington that Smith should go with the IX Corps, but on this date, General-in-Chief Henry Halleck broke the news to Hooker that the IX Corps was Burnside’s. When the General returned from a thirty day leave of absence, he would be taking command again. Until then, however, Hooker could do whatever he wanted, though only temporarily. Nothing was mentioned by Halleck about Sedgwick.

Another Grand Division commander, General Edwin Sumner, had left the same time as Burnside. He was fed up with the political drama and simply wanted out. This left all three Grand Divisions without commanders.

Temporarily, Darius Couch commanded the Right, George Meade led the Center, and Baldy Smith held the Left. Franz Sigel retained the Reserve, as before.

With me, the army will always land Butterfield-side up!

But more shuffling was left to be done, and quickly. Desertions were rising. At this point, one of every ten men in the ranks was away without leave. The winter weather was getting worse and there were rumors of Confederates building a bridge over the Rappahannock. While the rumors turned out to be untrue, things were looking pretty grim for the 135,000 men remaining in the army.

One of the most important changes that Hooker made was making the commander of the V Corps, Dan Butterfield, his chief of staff (replacing him with George Sykes). Butterfield was the son of the founder of the Butterfield Overland Mail Company, and had risen through the ranks, joining as a First Sergent right after Sumter was fired upon.

He served as a brigade commander during the Peninsula Campaign and was wounded at Seven Pines. He was most famously known for composing “Taps,” then called “Butterfield’s Lullaby.” This, however, might be a bit of fabrication, as he only slightly revised “Tattoo” (originally written by Winfield Scott in 1835) to create it.

Butterfield was not a professional soldier. He wasn’t trained at West Point and didn’t serve in the Mexican War. He was, however, an amazing organizer. This detail-oriented stickler was exactly what the sloppy and often whiskey-fueled Hooker needed. He would come in very handy when Hooker decided to reorganize the entire Army of the Potomac. Just you wait and see.1



  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 25, Part 2, p12, 15, 25, 44; Chancellorsville by John Bigelow, Jr.; Chancellorsville 1863 by Ernest B. Furgurson. []
Creative Commons License
Hooker Makes Some Changes, Wants to Make More by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

About

View all posts by