Ken Burns Classroom

Joseph Hooker

Ken Burns Film: The Civil War

Collections: Civil War and Reconstruction (1861-1877)

Subject: US History

Grade Level: 6-12

"Fighting Joe Hooker.”
1861-1865. “Fighting Joe Hooker.” Hartford, Conn. : Taylor & Huntington, No. 2 State St. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.

1814–1879

Nicknamed “Fighting Joe” for his reputed exploits in the Battle of Williamsburg, Joseph Hooker was a career United States Army officer, rising to the rank of major general during the Civil War. Though he served with distinction in many campaigns, Hooker is most often remembered for his defeat by Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Chancellorsville. Born in Hadley, Massachusetts, Hooker graduated from West Point in 1837 and later distinguished himself in the Mexican-American War, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel. After a falling out with his superiors, Hooker left the army in 1853, settling into a life of farming and land development in Sonoma, California. Unhappy, he turned to drinking and gambling.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Hooker traveled east to rejoin the Union army. Refused at first, Hooker wrote an impassioned letter to Abraham Lincoln, complaining of mismanagement in the army and requesting his own reinstatement. He was appointed as brigadier general and given command of a brigade, and then a division, under General George B. McClellan. Hooker soon distinguished himself as an aggressive and fearless commander, at Williamsburg and throughout the Seven Days Battles. He opened the fighting at the Battle of Antietam, where he was wounded and had to withdraw from the field.

Throughout this time, Hooker criticized and conspired openly against his superiors, especially Ambrose Burnside. After the disastrous Union campaign at Fredericksburg, Hooker was given command of the Union Army, replacing Burnside. He planned an aggressive and promising campaign against the confederate forces—“May God have mercy on General Lee,” he wrote, “for I will have none”—but was vanquished handily at the Battle of Chancellorsville, despite a significantly larger Union force. Hooker had fallen out of favor with his superiors by 1864. Denied promotion from major general to lieutenant general, he chose to end his participation in the war. Hooker would remain in the Army, however, until an 1868 stroke forced him to retire.

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