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Sheer Funk

“Fighting Joe” Hooker

“Fighting Joe” Hooker

It is no secret that, until he decided on Ulysses S. Grant, President Lincoln had nothing but trouble with his generals in charge of the Army of the Potomac. They were specialists in losing battles, such as Ambrose Burnside at Fredericksburg, who would have attacked again into the teeth of Robert E. Lee’s guns had Lincoln not removed him. When he did, he replaced him with “Fighting Joe” Hooker, one of the more promising of his subordinates.

At the outset, Hooker looked good. Not only was he dashing and debonair, but he seemed to have put together a good plan for attacking—and encircling—Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

But then, something happened. Lee and Stonewall Jackson worked out a highly successful attack on Hooker’s right flank at Chancellorsville. That flank folded, spectacularly. And then, surprisingly, Hooker folded. It was a case of sheer funk. He started issuing contradictory orders while Lee picked him apart. Even when one of Hooker’s generals (Sedgewick)  re-took Fredericksburg, it still made Chancellorsville one of the North’s most spectacular losses.

It reminds me of the time I was backing up my car in a parking lot, not thinking someone was right behind me. It was a woman driver who just panicked as she saw my car coming at her at the frightening speed of 5 mph.

There had been no sign in previous battles that Hooker would lose his marbles once he was put in charge. But he did nonetheless.

Incidentally, the term hooker to refer to a prostitute comes from Joe Hooker’s surname. Before he took charge, he was quite a drinker and parter. Perhaps he should have had a few drinks at Chancellorsville, together with some loose women. The result couldn’t have been worse.

Unfortunately for Lee, he lost his favorite subordinate, Stonewall Jackson, to a case of friendly fire. What was at first a wounded arm wound up being an amputated arm followed by a fatal case of pneumonia.