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  • Federal defeat at Chancellorsville

    Question from the May 2007 Civil War Times magazine:

    Do you agree with Joseph Hooker that fault for the Federal defeat at Chancellorsville lies elsewhere, or do you feel that the commanding general was justly blamed?
    Diane Tira

  • #2
    Having spent years studying the Chancellorsville Campaign, the bottom line is that it was all Hooker's fault. He, himself, summed it up quite correctly when he said, "I lost faith in Joe Hooker."

    Eric
    "If you want to have some fun, jine the cavalry"

    Maj. Gen. James Ewell Brown Stuart

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    • #3
      Originally posted by EricWittenberg View Post
      Having spent years studying the Chancellorsville Campaign, the bottom line is that it was all Hooker's fault. He, himself, summed it up quite correctly when he said, "I lost faith in Joe Hooker."

      Eric
      Agreed. There were almost 40,000 men NOT engaged on the Federal side. At any time, Hooker could have turned them loose on Lee & it would have probably have settled the battle. Lee was preparing a final "attack" against the Federal positions when he found them abandoned. Even putting those fresh troops in earthworks opposing the Rebs & sticking around to receive the charge would have meant massive casualties for Lee. Someone like Grant would have stayed & fought him to a standstill. Hooker gets credit for warning O.O. Howard to watch his flank before Jackson attacked, but everything else is on his head.
      The muffled drums sad roll has beat the soldier's last tatoo. No more on life's parade shall meet that brave and fallen few.

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      • #4
        I couldn't agree more. I actually laughed out loud a few times when I read Hooker's letter for the first time. I was hoping you all would find it entertaining too. Certainly a general's combat record and leadership skills are the foundation of his legacy, but there is undoubtedly something to be said for character too. Did we ever get any whiny letters from Lee blaming Hill, Ewell or Stuart for Gettysburg, or any public bellyaching from Grant toward Meade and the corps commanders at Cold Harbor? Lee, Grant and other great commanders didn't let their people off the hook when they let them down, but they should be commended for handling it in a professional way-- and ultimately accepting the fact that the buck stops with them.
        Chris W. Lewis
        Editor, Civil War Times Illustrated

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        • #5
          Hooker gets credit for warning O.O. Howard to watch his flank before Jackson attacked, but everything else is on his head.
          Not only that, but Sedwick, who was suppose to assualt Fredricksburg and go to Hooker's rescue (why should he have to save Hooker's butt?) didn't attack until after the battle was well under way, then seemed to lose his ability to cordinate an orginized prusuit until Early was well gone. But, it shouldn't have been up to Sedwick to save 70,000 men.

          But, in Hooker's defense, if he hadn't have gone into the Wilderness, Jackson would not have been killed then. And, he did make good his post: Lee did go and attack him on ground of Hooker's choosing, which did result in certain destruction.

          It was the worst losses the South suffered in battle besides Fort Donelson. Without Jackson, the ANV was unable to be as decisive or as aggressive as before. 11,000+ casualties. This created the oppertunity the South needed to reinvade the North, which resulted in Gettysburg.

          And, Hooker did get away with his army intact, and it was his army that would go on to win. Really, when you think about it, Hooker's loss resulted in the South's destruction and the victory of the North.
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          • #6
            Hooker certainly deserves credit where it is due. He was doing many things right in the spring of 1863--until the shooting started. The AOP was obviously in bad shape, maybe the worst it was ever in, after Fredericksburg and the Mud March, and his ability to whip it back into shape in a relatively short period of time was impressive. His movements prior to the opening shots at Chancellorsville are generally worthy of praise as well. I don't think we can give him credit for Jackson's death or the Confederate loss at Gettysburg without risking the slippery slope of 20/20 hindsight, and he does have to take the fall for the strategic and tactical failures that occur as the fighting escalates--but the belief some still have to this day that he did nothing right in the Chancellorsville Campaign isn't justified, and can probabaly be chalked up to people having issues more with his personality than with his generalship. I agree with Eric that Hooker is ultimately, and entirely, to blame for what goes wrong during the battle. He did some good things after taking over the army and early in the campaign, but ultimately dropped the ball when it mattered most.
            Last edited by Chris Lewis; 11 May 07, 12:47. Reason: wanted to clarify
            Chris W. Lewis
            Editor, Civil War Times Illustrated

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Chris Lewis View Post
              Hooker certainly deserves credit where it is due. He was doing many things right in the spring of 1863--until the shooting started. The AOP was obviously in bad shape, maybe the worst it was ever in, after Fredericksburg and the Mud March, and his ability to whip it back into shape in a relatively short period of time was impressive. His movements prior to the opening shots at Chancellorsville are generally worthy of praise as well. I don't think we can give him credit for Jackson's death or the Confederate loss at Gettysburg without risking the slippery slope of 20/20 hindsight, and he does have to take the fall for the strategic and tactical failures that occur as the fighting escalates--but the belief some still have to this day that he did nothing right in the Chancellorsville Campaign isn't justified, and can probabaly be chalked up to people having issues more with his personality than with his generalship. I agree with Eric that Hooker is ultimately, and entirely, to blame for what goes wrong during the battle. He did some good things after taking over the army and early in the campaign, but ultimately dropped the ball when it mattered most.
              Good points. Hooker certainly whipped the army back into shape after the debacle at Fredricksburg & the corps badges he introduced were a marvel for recognition & elan.
              The muffled drums sad roll has beat the soldier's last tatoo. No more on life's parade shall meet that brave and fallen few.

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              • #8
                Well said Hellboy. I've occasionally heard people criticize him for implementing the corps badges, arguing that they made identification of enemy strength easier for the Confederates at a time when intelligence was, at best, spotty. Regardless of whether that is legitimate or not, their effect on morale was significant--at a time when the AOP badly needed a boost--and probabaly far outweighs any advantage the Confederates may have gained. Hooker also doesn't seem to get due credit for some of the other "little" things he did, like organizing and improving both the furlough and mail systems. Those connections to home naturally had a tremendous effect on morale as well.
                Chris W. Lewis
                Editor, Civil War Times Illustrated

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                • #9
                  Like I said, people are too biased of Hooker when it came to his Chancellorsville performance. But really, he was not that bad of a general.
                  Last edited by Iron Brigade; 15 May 07, 12:13. Reason: rewording
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                  • #10
                    Hooker ordered the troops to stop in the Wilderness, despite the urging of Meade and others to clear the Wilderness and then stop.

                    In other words, Hooker stopped his army's foreward progress and in doing so, surrendered the initative to his opponent. Why would any general in their right mind even dream of giving an opponent like Lee the initative?

                    The only reason Hooker had any chance to win after that was because he outnumbered Lee better than 2:1!

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                    • #11
                      I have always found Hooker to be a fascinating character in the war. Despite his personal flaws (which were many) he was a tough, aggressive fighter at a time when that was hard to find in the AOP. When he took over the army the changes that he made were remarkably effective in rebuilding a shattered force on the brink of collapse. His plans for the spring offensive were well made, he was the first commander to have solid intelligence about his foe and he used that knowledge to steal a march on Lee - not many other Union generals could ever say that! And yet, at the crucial moment - he failed miserably! He lost his nerve and let Lee take the initiative and dictate the battle. What was so frustrating was that even after the disastrous first day, Hooker still had the chance to win the battle but he made one poor decision after another. When he finally retreated, most of his army felt that frustration, they hadn't been given the chance to fight, and remarkably, this defeat had little effect on most of the AOP. Credit must be given for Hooker's order of march in late June that kept the AOP in a position to follow Lee and bring him to battle, and there is little doubt that it was Hooker's transformation of the AOP in early 1863 that forged them into the weapon that defeated Lee at Gettysburg - and yet, one must be very glad that it was not Hooker who was in command at that crucial moment!

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                      • #12
                        Hooker's performance as commander of the AoP shows the Peter Principle in action. He was a first class division/corps commander in the east and the west, but couldn't handle the full responsibility of army command.

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                        • #13
                          I was currently reading the May 1998 Issue of ACW, and according to the article, "Fighting under the Influnce", Joe Hooker had just decided to quiet drinking right before Chancellorsville. He decided to return to drinking afterwords. This would make perfect sense. While he drank, he won brilliant victories, but when he stopped, he lost his aggression, which was a natural side effect of drinking. When he returned to it, he won even more victories. Darius Couch himself states that Hooker had tried to take a temporance pledge.
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