John E. Wool

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

John Wool
Daguerreotype of General John E. Wool by Southworth & Hawes
BornFebruary 20,[1] 1784
Newburgh, New York
DiedNovember 10, 1869(1869-11-10) (aged 85)
Troy, New York
Place of burial
Oakwood Cemetery, Troy, New York
AllegianceUnited States of America
Service/branchUnited States Army
Union Army
Years of service1812–1863
Rank Major General
Commands heldDepartment of the East
Department of the Pacific
Department of Virginia
VIII Corps
Battles/warsWar of 1812

Mexican–American War

Rogue River Indian War

American Civil War

John Ellis Wool (February 20,[1] 1784 – November 10, 1869) was an officer in the United States Army during three consecutive U.S. wars: the War of 1812, the Mexican–American War and the American Civil War. He also participated in the Rogue River Indian War and the Trail of Tears ethnic cleansing of Native Americans. By the time of the Mexican-American War, he was widely considered one of the most capable officers in the army and a superb organizer.

He was one of the four general officers of the United States Army in 1861, and was the one who had the most service. When the war began, Wool, age 77 and a brigadier general for 20 years, commanded the Department of the East. He was the oldest general on either side of the war.

Early life and education[edit]

John Ellis Wool was born in Newburgh, New York. When he was orphaned at a young age, he went to live with his grandfather, James Wool, in Troy, New York.[2] He attended a local school and, at the age of twelve, began working at a store in Troy. He later read the law with an established firm in order to learn and be admitted to the bar.

War of 1812[edit]

At the outbreak of the War of 1812, Wool was a practicing attorney in Troy, New York.

Battle of Queenston Heights[edit]

When he volunteered at the age of 28, he was commissioned as a captain in the 13th United States Infantry Regiment on April 14, 1812. He fought at the Battle of Queenston Heights in 1812, where he was shot through his thighs.

During the battle, Wool led a commando-like strike team of 60 men through unguarded terrain hidden in the thicket of maple trees that successfully surprised and captured the enemy cannon, but the cannon was spiked by the British before being captured. On the heights above the British and Canadians, the Americans fanned out. The Americans hid among the trees and foliage, and continued firing their muskets at the British and Canadians as they crested the hill. British commander Isaac Brock charged in the open with his men against the sheltered Americans but was shot and killed by an American marksman hidden behind a tree. Another British commander John Macdonell also died leading a charge against sheltered concealed Americans. Even though the Americans held a superior position, their morale was low, they were intimidated by the Native American Allies of the British whom they greatly feared, and had weak leadership. Eventually the Americans lost the battle.[3][4][5]

Battle of Plattsburgh[edit]

After recovering from his wound, Wool was promoted major of the 29th United States Infantry Regiment on April 13, 1813, which he led with distinction at the Battle of Plattsburgh in 1814. On September 6, 1814, the British arrived with a large army. The British encountered the Americans and both sides exchanged heavy fire. A British Colonel Wellington who was a nephew of Lord Wellington was killed. John E. Wool and his 250 regulars fell back in front of the British column, finding cover behind the fences and trees of the roadway. The Americans lied behind stone fences and secreted themselves in the wood -- until the British would arrive within gunshot -- then the Americans would open fire and retire a half mile at a time; in this manner the Americans fought them for 6 miles when the British main force arrived and the Americans were compelled to give up one half the town.[6]

At Halsey’s corner, near the Platt farm on the Beekmantown road, American Regulars accompanying the artillery masked the 3 cannons in the middle of the roadway behind a stonewall. The American Regulars positioned themselves behind the stone wall with Aiken’s teenage volunteers. The American artillery behind the wall fired three times as those American regulars and teenage volunteers behind the stone wall also fired their rifles, mowing down the British in great numbers. Four British officers were killed and 100 British privates killed or wounded. American casualties did not exceed 25. The American regulars followed the American militia in retreat across the Saranac River. John E. Wool formed his men on the other side and demolished the bridge.[7]

John E. Wool and his fellow American forces held out until the British suffered major setbacks such as losing the naval engagement against the U.S. Navy, getting lost in a maze of camouflaged roadways laid by the Americans, and constantly facing harassing fire from the American militia from behind trees, rocks, and bushes. The British admit defeat and withdrew from the battlefield making the Americans victors.[8]

After the battle, he was a major of the 6th United States Infantry as of May 17, 1815. As this war was coming to an end, John Ellis Wool was promoted to the rank of Brevet Lieutenant Colonel on September 11, 1814.

Staying on with the U.S. Army[edit]

An orphan with little formal education, Wool remained in the military service and was promoted to colonel and Inspector General of the Army on April 29, 1816. He was sent to Europe in 1832[9] to observe foreign military organizations and operations. He also participated in the removal of the Cherokee from Georgia and Tennessee in the 1830s. As part of this effort, he established Fort Butler at present-day Murphy, North Carolina, as the eastern headquarters of the military removal of the Cherokee.[10] In 1841, Wool was promoted to brigadier general in the U.S. Army and years later in 1847 made commander of the Department of the East.[11]

Mexican–American War and Oregon[edit]

He was assigned command of the Center Division and led the Chihuahuan Expedition, which resulted in the capture of Saltillo. After leading his troops 900 miles from San Antonio, Texas, he joined General Zachary Taylor at the Battle of Buena Vista. Wool's leadership was recognized with a Congressional sword, a vote of thanks, and the brevet of major general. After the battle, he commanded the occupation forces of northern Mexico.

He commanded both the Department of the East and the Department of the Pacific after of the war. The first he would command in 1847–1854 and again in 1857–1860; the second he would command in 1854–1857. While in the East, on August 15, 1848, General Wool laid the cornerstone for the city hospital at Troy, (which later became known as St. Mary's Hospital).[12]

Col. John E. Wool, c. 1825

While in charge of the U.S. Army Department of the Pacific, General Wool contributed extensively to the settling of the Indian Wars in Oregon, especially the Rogue River Indian War. He came into the conflict late, after the Oregon territorial government was formed and the Volunteer Militias had committed many acts of genocide against the tribes in southwestern Oregon Territory (including present-day Washington). Based in California, General Wool wrote to local papers with his opinions of the Oregon situation. Generally he defended the Indian tribes and condemned the acts of the militias. The federal government decided to undertake Indian removal to reservations in order to allow their lands to be taken by the settlers, and Wool was to carry it out. Wool wrote to the Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens about the conflicts:

(From General John E. Wool (Department of the Pacific) to Governor Stevens (Washington Territory), February 12, 1856.)

... the war against the Indians will be prosecuted with all vigor, promptness and efficiency, I am master of, at the same time without wasting, unnecessarily, the means and resources at my disposal, by untimely and unproductive expeditions.

With the additional force which recently arrived at Vancouver and the Dalles, I think I shall be able to bring the war to a close in a few months, provided the extermination of the Indians, which I do not approve of, is not determined on, and private war prevented, and volunteers withdrawn from the Walla Walla country.

Whilst I was in Oregon, it was reported to me, that many citizens, with due proportion of volunteers, and two newspapers, advocated the extermination of the Indians- This principle has been acted on in several instances without discriminating between enemies and friends, which has been the cause, in Southern Oregon, of sacrificing many innocent and worthy citizens, as in the case of Maj. Lupton and his party (volunteers) who killed 25 Indians, eighteen of whom were women and children. These were friendly Indians on their way to their reservation, where they expected protection from the whites. This barbarous act is the cause of the present war in the Rogue River country, and as Capt. Judah, U.S.A. reports, is retaliatory of the conduct of Maj. Lupton.

By the same mail which brought me your communication, I received one, now before me, from a person whom I think incapable of misrepresentation, which informs me that the friendly Cayuses are every day menaced with death by Gov. Curry's volunteers. The writer says that they have despoiled these Indians—who have so nobly followed the advice of Mr. Palmer, to remain faithful friends to the Americans—of their provisions. Today, he says, these same volunteers, without discipline and without orders, are not satisfied with rapine and injustice, and wish to take away the small remnant of animals and provisions left. Every day they run off the horses and cattle of the friendly Indians. They have become indignant, and will not be much longer restrained from resisting conduct unworthy of the whites, who have made them so many promises to respect and protect them if they remain faithful friends. The writer further says, if the volunteers are not arrested in their brigand activities, the Indians will save themselves by flying to the homes of their relatives, the Nez Perces, who have promised them help, and then all Indians of Oregon and Washington will join in the common defense, This information is, in great measure, confirmed by a person who, I am assured enjoys your respect and confidence.

I need not say, although I had previously instructed Col. Wright to take the Walla Walla country at the earliest moment practicable, that I directed him to give protection to the Cayuses from the depredations of the volunteers. It is such conduct as here complained of, that irritated and greatly increases the ranks of the hostile tribes, and if the Nez Perces join in war against us, which I hope to prevent, we shall require a much larger force than we now have in Washington and Oregon Territories to resist savage barbarities and to protect the whites.

Sword presented to Wool in honor of his victory at the Battle of Buena Vista

Civil War[edit]

Gen. Wool in The champions of the Union, lithograph by Currier & Ives, 1861

When the Civil War began in April 1861, Wool had just turned 77 years old, two years older than commander-in-chief of the US Army Winfield Scott. Unlike Scott, who suffered from obesity, gout, and other ailments, Wool was still reasonably fit and could mount a horse.

Thus in August 1861, John Ellis Wool was named commander of the U.S. Army Department of Virginia, an office that he would hold until June 1862. He moved to equip some of the first regiments sent from New York to the nation's capital and his quick and decisive moves secured Fort Monroe, Virginia, for the Union when other military installations in the South were falling to Confederate forces. The fort guarded the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay and the James River, overlooking Hampton Roads and the Gosport Navy Yard, which the Confederates had seized. It was to serve as the principal supply depot of Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan's Peninsula Campaign. The septuagenarian Wool thought McClellan was not aggressive enough in his push towards Richmond and in May 1862, he sent troops to occupy the Navy yard, Norfolk, and the surrounding towns after the Confederates abandoned them. The 16th U.S. President, Abraham Lincoln personally witnessed the capture of Norfolk and afterwards rewarded Wool by promoting him to a full major general in the regular army thereby becoming only the 23rd man to hold this rank since its creation in 1791.

Deciding that Wool should have a less demanding assignment at his advanced age, the president transferred him to be the 2nd Commander of the Middle Department in June 1862, which then became the VIII Corps on July 22, 1862. J.E. Wool then served as the 1st Commander of the U.S. Army 8th Corps until December 22, 1862. On January 3, 1863, he again assumed command of the Department of the East where he served until July 18, 1863.

But eventually Wool managed to find his way back into action. After the Battle of Gettysburg, he led troops diverted from that region in military operations to regain control in New York City during and after the draft riots in July of that year. US troops reached the city after rioters had already destroyed numerous buildings, including the Colored Orphan Asylum, which they burned to the ground. Despite the tiny force he had on hand, Wool managed to contain the situation until reinforcements arrived. Thus during July 13–17 of 1863, Wool was the de facto Military Commander of New York City.

On August 1, President Lincoln sent an order retiring Wool from service after 51 years in the Army. At the age of 79, he was the oldest general officer to execute active command in either army during the war.[13]

Retirement and death[edit]

Wool Monument at Oakwood Cemetery

Wool, who believed he was still healthy and fit enough for duty, was stunned and outraged at his dismissal and wrote a series of letters to the War Department in protest, but to no avail. He continued sending letters for the remaining few years of his life to the then President Andrew Johnson and Ulysses Grant, again without effect.

Wool lived in Troy, New York for the remaining five years of his life. He died on November 10, 1869. He was buried there in Oakwood Cemetery. An obelisk was erected as a monument to Wool at the cemetery.

Dates of rank[edit]

  • Captain, 13th Infantry - 14 April 1812
  • Major 29th Infantry - 13 April 1813
  • Brevet Lieutenant Colonel - 11 September 1814
  • Major, 6th Infantry - 17 May 1815
  • Colonel, Inspector General - 29 April 1816 to 21 June 1841
  • Lieutenant Colonel, 6th Infantry - 10 February 1818 to 1 June 1821
  • Brevet Brigadier General - 29 April 1826
  • Brigadier General - 25 June 1841
  • Brevet Major General - 23 February 1847
  • Major General - 16 May 1862
  • Retired - 1 August 1863 [14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Some accounts (Eicher and Warner) list his birthday as February 29.
  2. ^ "Finding Aid to the John Ellis Wool Papers, 1810-1869". New York State Library web site. New York State Library. Retrieved March 11, 2015.
  3. ^ Latimer, p. 3.
  4. ^ "Canada on Fire: The War of 1812" by Jennifer Crump Page.25.
  5. ^ "The War of 1812: The War That Both Sides Won" by Wesley B. Turner Page.48.
  6. ^ ”The Battles at Plattsburgh: September 11, 1814" by Keith A. Herkalo pg.83-85.
  7. ^ ”The Battles at Plattsburgh: September 11, 1814" by Keith A. Herkalo pg.85-87.
  8. ^ ”The Battles at Plattsburgh: September 11, 1814" by Keith A. Herkalo pg.96-112.
  9. ^ "The New Orleans Bee - Google News Archive Search". No. July 3, 1832. Jerome Bayon. Globe. June 18, 1832. Retrieved January 12, 2021.
  10. ^ Duncan and Riggs, p. 189.
  11. ^ NCpedia.
  12. ^ Weise, Arthur James. Troy's One Hundred Years 1789-1889, Troy. William H. Young, 1891
  13. ^ Webb, Kerry, List of Civil War Generals Archived February 17, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  14. ^ Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army. Francis B. Heitman. Vol. 1., pg. 1059.


External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
Commander of the VIII Corps
July 12 – December 22, 1862
Succeeded by