Hooker Reorganizes the Entire Army of the Potomac

February 5, 1863 (Thursday)

This way, boys! This way to change! There’s different stuff over yonder!

General Joe Hooker was on a roll. Since taking over the Army of the Potomac, he was hellbent on reorganizing it to his liking – and why not? His predecessor, the unwilling Ambrose Burnside, had done so. And now so would Hooker.

After a bit of shuffling and swapping on the corps level, Hooker set his sights upon the Grand Divisions. When Burnside took the reigns from the sacked George McClellan, he inherited eight corps of infantry. To make things a bit easier, he created Grand Divisions, each consisting of two corps.

For Burnside, it was easier to issue four orders (actually three, since one of the Grand Divisions was held in reserve) than eight. Hooker disagreed. He had never cared much for the Grand Division idea, even though he was one of the four Grand Division commanders. For his flavor of the Army of the Potomac, these simply had to go.

This did mean a demotion for four officers, dropping them from leading two corps each down to one a piece. This wasn’t that big of a deal since the only Grand Division commander remaining from Burnside’s tenure was Franz Sigel, who led the Reserves and whom nobody really liked anyway.

On this date, Hooker made the changes official, issuing General Order No. 6, calling the Grand Division organization “impeding rather than facilitating the dispatch of its current business.”

The I Corps would retain John F. Reynolds as its commander. He had been suggested as taking over the Army of the Potomac before Hooker got the job. Reynolds was well respected and considered the model soldier.

The II Corps would also keep its commander, Darius Couch, who had commanded the Right Grand Division after General Sumner retired. Couch was not an old man, but was in poor health. Still, like Reynolds, he was respected.

The III Corps would be “temporarily” commanded by Dan Sickles, a politician by nature. He was the first man to be acquitted via the use of the temporary insanity defense when being tried for the murder of Francis Scott Key’s son, who was having an affair with Sickles’ wife. He was not a soldier, but had proven himself to Hooker on the battlefield, which is how he got the command.

The IV Corps was not attached to the Army of the Potomac. It was based out of Fortress Monroe on the Virginia Peninsula.

Fairly approximate positions of each of the army corps.

The V Corps, previously commanded by Dan Butterfield, Hooker’s new chief of staff, was now under George Meade, a division commander under Burnside and a temporary Grand Division commander under Hooker. Older than many of the other officers, Meade understood war, and most importantly, understood General Hooker. This would be good for the army, but not necessarily good for Hooker.

The VI Corps was now led by John Sedgwick, a division commander wounded at Antietam. He had recently returned to the army to command the II Corps and then Burnside’s old IX Corps. When Hooker decided to cast the IX Corps away to the Peninsula, he wanted to retain Sedgwick for his own.

The VII, VIII, IX and X Corps were not attached to the Army of the Potomac. The VII was in southeastern Virginia. The VIII Corps guarded Washington. The IX Corps had been banished to the Virginia Peninsula. The X Corps was part of the Department of the South, based out of South Carolina.

The XI Corps was commanded by Franz Sigel, an emigrant from the German Revolution. He had not distinguished himself in the West, and did little better in the East. He was, however, adored by the mostly-German XI Corps. He had been the commander of the Reserve Grand Division, and was not at all happy about the demotion. Soon, he would resign and Carl Shurz would take over for a spell.

Sigel: Look, I’m just not happy, okay?

The XII Corps, one of the smallest in the army, was commanded by the youngest of the corps commanders, Henry Slocum. He had commanded the corps under Burnside (as part of Sigel’s Reserves).

With the infantry reorganized, Hooker did the same for the artillery and cavalry. Previously, the artillery had functioned under Henry Hunt as a corps in and of itself. Hunt had command over each battery. Hooker saw fit, however, to distribute the batteries to each of the infantry corps. There, the corps commanders would have the final say where to place the guns. Hunt’s roll was reduced to a mere figurehead. On a leave of absence, Hunt wouldn’t find this out until he returned.

Hooker did the exact opposite for the cavalry. Under the new orders, he created the Cavalry Corps, commanded by George Stoneman, recently of the III Corps. He was no stranger to such a task, as he had served in a similar capacity during the Peninsula Campaign. As history would soon tell, this was a brilliant move. Previously, Jeb Stuart’s Confederate Cavalry ran circles around their Federal counterparts. In the coming year, the tide would turn – not necessarily because of Stoneman, however.1



  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 25, Part 2, p51; Fighting Joe Hooker by Walter H. Hebert; The Man Behind The Guns: A Military Biography Of General Henry J. Hunt by Edward Longacre. []
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4 thoughts on “Hooker Reorganizes the Entire Army of the Potomac

  1. Hi, you wrote “Previously, Jeb Stuart’s Confederate Cavalry was no match for their Federal counterparts.” Did you mean to say that they were more than a match for their Federal counterparts or words to that effect?

  2. I must be missing somethng here. I’m not understanding your comment about Sigel. I always thought he was irked by the demotion. Leading only the XI, which was the smallest of the Corps, was a slight to him and his ego.

    1. You’re absolutely right. It’s been about five months since I wrote this, so I don’t really remember what I was trying to say. But I clearly got turned around. I think what I might have been doing was trying to tell a bit of a joke, saying that Sigel liked the demotion so much, he wanted another one (meaning he resigned). Totally didn’t come off that way though.

      Such are the many many problems of live blogging history. I don’t have the time or ability to deeply delve into things. Still, I should have been quite a bit clearer.

      From Fighting Joe Hooker (the book I used for a source):

      “Franz Sigel could not forget that he was the highest ranking general then in the army and petitioned to be relieved. His was the smallest corps in the army and he found this to be “exceedingly unpleasant and dispiriting.” Hooker could not assuage his feelings by breaking up other corps to give him men, nor could Sigel increase his strength with replacements from Washington, since Halleck was notoriously antagonistic to foreigners in the army. Stanton could see no way to give him a better command.”

      Howard would eventually take over the XI Corps, though Carl Shurz would temporarily command it.

      Again, sorry about the mix up and thank you for pointing it out. I was clearly not on my game when I wrote this.

      -Eric

      PS – I edited the post, hopefully making it a bit more truth-oriented.

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