The American Civil War Overview


       Lincoln appointed "Fighting Joe" Hooker to the command of the Army of the Potomac on January 25, 1863. Hooker immediately set out to improve the welfare and morale of the troops. He introduced corps insignia badges to give the men more pride in their units. He also reorganized the Federal cavalry into a single corps of 11,500 troopers under the command of Brigadier General George Stoneman to better counter the Southern cavalry superiority.
       Hooker had more than 130,000 troops and 412 artillery pieces, more than twice the strength of Lee in all three combat arms: infantry, cavalry, and artillery. He intended to use these superior numbers to effect a plan whereby he would employ a pincer movement against Lee. One half of the army would cross the Rappahanock River below Fredericksburg and the other half would cross upstream to move against Lee's rear. Each Federal wing would be almost the size of Lee's entire command. The Federal cavalry meanwhile, would attempt to create confusion by operations behind Lee's lines.
       Bad weather prevented the execution of the plan until late April. Hooker initially misled Lee as to his true intentions by leaving Gibbon's division in camp while moving the rest of the army. Lee quickly discerned Hookers's true intentions however. After watching Sedgwick's men consolidating their bridgehead below Fredericksburg, Lee decided that the main threat was Hooker's flanking column. Lee therefore moved the bulk of his army towards Hooker and left Major General Jubal Early with about 10,000 men to contain Sedgwick.
       For some reason on May 1, Hooker suddenly became cautious, halted his advance while still inside the tangle of the Wilderness and ordered his men into a defensive posture. Had he continued to more open country, his superior numbers would have given him a decided advantage, especially with respect to his artillery.
       With Hooker paused in the Wilderness, Lee and Jackson conceived a bold but risky plan to strike Hooker first. Lee divided his forces once again and sent Jackson's corps on a long march to turn Hooker's unprepared right flank. Late in the afternoon of May 2, Jackson slammed into Hooker's flank, routing the XI Corps and apparently unnerving Hooker even more. Tragically for the Confederacy however, Jackson was accidentally shot by his own men during the confusing aftermath of the initial assault. He would die of pneumonia eight days later.
       On May 3, Sedgwick attacked and broke through Early's defenses in an attempt to come to the aid of Hooker. He was stopped again near Bank's Ford and Salem Church. On May 4, Lee launched an attack against Sedgwick, but could not drive him from his position. Meanwhile, Hooker continued contracting his own lines and constructing defensive fortifications. However, later that night, his nerve apparently failing him again, Hooker ordered a full retreat of the Army of the Potomac.
       Although Lee was very upset that Hooker's army had escaped, had he actually continued to assault the Federal army in its prepared defenses, he could very well have destroyed his own army instead. Hooker was defeated more by his own loss of nerve than by Lee and Jackson. The troops of the Army of the Potomac were still full of fight, but "Fighting Joe" Hooker had had enough. He would be relieved of command of the army in mid-June.

This Page last updated 11/22/03


CHAPTER VIII, The Western Theater: The Vicksburg Campaign