Sunday, July 31, 2011

Jockeying For Position

In which new stars appear and Hooker does what Hooker does

Grade insignia (yellow indicates cavalry). Volunteers
and regular army wear the same insignia
Since the secession of South Carolina seven months before military men throughout the North had been attempting to get a high-ranking position in the war. While rank was equally important to Southerners, the North already had an army, making competition for leadership slots tougher than in the South (though no more vicious). Most of these men had been junior officers during the Mexican War, and some had acquired a taste for combat that no civilian pursuit could satisfy, while others saw the leaders of the Mexican War rise to fame and fortune based on their service (two became Presidents of the United States), and still others believed in the Union fervently enough to shed their blood for it. Most were motivated by a combination of some or all of these things.

In the aftermath of the defeat at Bull Run, the opportunities for high command became greater. The influx of three-year regiments and the determination to field a larger army around Washington created a higher demand for general officers, and the passage of a law establishing a corps of U.S. Volunteers (USV) to supplement the U.S. Army (USA) also allowed Lincoln to appoint as many officers as he needed. Starting on Wednesday, July 31, the floodgates of USV promotions opened as the White House finalized its consultations with the War Department and sent a large list of nominations to the Senate.

Every officer in the USV as well as the USA went through a complex process to obtain a commission, a formal certificate that empowered them to issue commands to anyone of a lower grade, and anyone who received a commission dated later than him ("outranked"). It was formally a complex, ten step process, finely tuned to eliminate human prejudice and error, and so, naturally, was plagued by both. The steps were:
  1. Proposal by a civilian or military superior
  2. Examination of the candidate
  3. Decision by the General-in-chief
  4. Appointment by the Secretary of War
  5. Acceptance by the candidate, along with an oath of allegiance
  6. Nomination of the candidate by the President
  7. Approval by the Senate's Military Committee
  8. Confirmation by the full Senate
  9. Formal engrossment by the Adjutant General
  10. Signature of certificate by the Secretary of War and the President
Starting on July 29, but really beginning in earnest on July 31, Lincoln sent the Senate enough nominations to provide for the organization of the three-year army that was building. The Senate acted on nearly all of them that week, by August 3 confirming a massive number of new general officers with only a few hanging at any of the steps and needing a few more days to confirm.

Starting at the top two major generals (USA) (known as two-stars colloquially) that had been acting in that capacity since May were confirmed, George McClellan and John C. Fremont, commanding the major armies in the East and the West, respectively. Nominations to major general (USV) were submitted by the White House on July 29 and among those confirmed on August 3. They were Nathaniel Banks, commanding the Department of the Shenandoah (replacing Robert Patterson); Benjamin Butler, commanding the Department of Virginia based on Fort Monroe in Hampton Roads; and John Dix, commanding the Department of Maryland. All three had been Members of Congress before the war and held important political constituencies.

A fourth would be appointed as a major general (USV) by August 13, David Hunter, though the records of his nomination and confirmation are lost. Hunter had been commander of the Second Division of the Army of Northeastern Virginia at Bull Run and was a close personal friend of the President's. He had struck up a relationship with Lincoln by mail years before, arguing passionately in favor of the abolition of slavery, and been invited to accompany him on his trip to Washington for the inauguration. In Buffalo, Hunter had acted as bodyguard to protect Lincoln from the pressing crowds and had his collar bone dislocated in the process. It's likely that Hunter didn't receive his confirmation until Congress returned to session in December, though with his personal service it could have been earlier.

While the Departments of Shenandoah, Maryland, and Virginia all warranted major generals (USV), the commanders of Washington and Northeastern Virginia rated only brigadier generals (USA). Joseph Mansfield and Irvin McDowell had been acting in that capacity for several months already, but their formal confirmation came on August 3. The Senate also confirmed the army's Quartermaster General, Montgomery Meigs, to a U.S. Army brigadier generalship, but weeks later the War Department would say it was a clerical error and revoke the commission.

The bulk of the nominations (11 total) made on July 31 and confirmed August 3 were to brigadier general (USV), officers who were to be one-stars for the duration of the war (or, as it would turn out, until promoted). Among the glut was one for Senator Edward Baker and one for Charles P. Stone. McDowell's Third Division commander, Sam Heintzelman, whose men had performed the best at Bull Run, was among them, too, along with his subordinate and the erstwhile supervisor of Capitol construction William Franklin. From that day's Second Division, Andrew Porter, who had followed Heintzelman up Henry Hill with his brigade was also on the list, but Ambrose Burnside, who had taken his half of the division out of the fight to rest and replenish, would have to wait until August 6 for his star (Hunter himself would be confirmed brigadier general of volunteers on August 5, further strengthening the case that his major general promotion wouldn't formally happen until December). Almost the only exception to the July 31 nominations was Ulysses S. Grant, who wouldn't join be confirmed with his colleagues on August 3 our of concern he was a drunk, and would instead be confirmed August 5, the same day as his pre-war friend Cump Sherman, who received one of the late nominations on August 2.

Conspicuously absent from the lists are three of McDowell's five division commanders at Bull Run. Colonel Dixon Miles had been accused of being drunk the day of the battle and was being investigated (the accusation would be substantiated and he would be put on a leave of absence). State militia brigadier generals Theodore Runyon and Daniel Tyler would both be mustered out of the volunteers with their regiments when their ninety-days expired, the military's euphemistic way of saying "sacked" (though Tyler would reappear in 1862, to McDowell's annoyance).

Among the July 31 nominations and August 3 confirmations to brigadier general (USV) was Joe Hooker, and his promotion was accompanied by a story only Joe Hooker could tell. He told it frequently during and after the war and was not contradicted, though there are also no collaborating accounts. But it's also not unbelievable that he may have actually done it.

After Winfield Scott blocked a commission for Hooker in revenge for the latter's testimony against him at the end of the Mexican War, Hooker had stomped around Washington bending the ear of every politician who would listen. But he couldn't get a commission before McDowell's army marched off to Manassas. So Hooker joined the merry band of civilians traipsing along behind the army to watch it in battle and take notes on its operations. Or so he says. Neither he nor anyone else recorded his location during the battle, but Lt. Colonel Francis Fiske of the 2nd New Hampshire in Burnside's brigade wrote long after the war that he remembered seeing a nonchalant civilian on the battlefield that he later learned was Hooker.

An unspecified number of days later, Hooker was ushered into the White House for a meeting with the President, who he had met once before. Lincoln was initially dismissive, when Hooker spoke out, according to Hooker, saying:
Mr. President, I was introduced to you as Captain Hooker. I am, or was, Lt. Colonel Hooker of the Regular Army. When this war broke out I was at home in California and hastened to make a tender of my services to the Government; but my relations with General Scott, or some other impediment, stands in the way, and I now see no chance of making my military knowledge and experience useful... I want to say one thing more, and that is, that I was at the battle of Bull Run the other day, and it is neither vanity or boasting in me to declare that I am a damned sight better General than you, Sir, had on that field.
According to Hooker the president grabbed his hand and became immediately engaged in the conversation. "Colonel -- not Lt. Colonel -- Hooker," he said, "I have use for you and a regiment for you to command."

Whether true or not, Hooker became the fifteenth highest-ranked officer in the army (counting both the regular army and volunteers), received the star he had coveted for over 15 years, and launched a story that would become a permanent part of the Joe Hooker lore.

Print Sources:
  • Eicher, 31
  • Hebert, 48-50

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