Wool, John E.

Born: 1784-02-29 Newburgh, New York

Died: 1869-11-10 Troy, New York

John E. Wool was a U.S. Army officer who enjoyed the distinction of serving in the War of 1812, Mexican War, and the Civil War. Orphaned early at four, Wool was raised by his paternal grandfather. His grandfather bound him over as an apprentice to a bookseller in Troy, New York. He married Sarah Moulton in 1810, and in 1811, he began reading law in a Troy law office. The onset of the War of 1812 interrupted his law studies. He raised a company of volunteers, and in April 1812, he secured a commission as a captain in the Thirteenth Infantry of the regular army. He distinguished himself at the Battle of Queenstown Heights in October 1812, suffering gunshot wounds in both thighs during the engagement. In April 1813, Wool earned promotion to major and was transferred to the Twenty-Ninth Infantry. He was breveted lieutenant colonel for gallant conduct at the Battle of Plattsburgh. At the close of the war, Wool chose to remain in the army, transferring to the Sixth Infantry. He became inspector general of the army in April 1816 and received promotion to lieutenant colonel in February 1818. Over the next three decades, Wool settled into a routine of peacetime duties, disturbed only by his participation in the removal of Cherokee Indians from their lands in Georgia west beyond the Mississippi River in 1836. He was breveted brigadier general in 1826 for ten years' service in one rank. He received promotion to full brigadier general in June 1841. At the onset of the Mexican War, the War Department placed Wool in command of one of the four forces set to invade Mexico. Wool chose the ground on which his force and that of Zachary Taylor received the Mexican attack at Buena Vista in February 1847. He was breveted major general for gallant and meritorious service at the Battle of Buena Vista. Wool subsequently took responsibility for the occupation of Chihuahua, where he gained a reputation for harshness in suppressing Mexican guerrilla operations and keeping his volunteers in line. Following the end of the war, Wool resumed peacetime assignments, commanding the Eastern Military District (1848-53), the Department of the Pacific (1854-57), and the Department of the East (1857-61). He received consideration as the Democratic nominee for president in 1852, and during the secession winter of 1860-61, he represented New York as a Democrat at the Peace Conference of February 1861. When the Civil War began, Wool, as commander of the Department of the East, moved his headquarters to New York City, where he assumed responsibility for raising troops, negotiating war contracts, and procuring supplies. In August 1861, the War Department placed Wool in command of the Department of Virginia, which, due to Virginia's secession, consisted largely of Fort Monroe, which Wool occupied. He began offensive operations in the fall of 1861, but the War Department gave George B. McClellan the main responsibility for an invasion of Virginia. In May 1862, Wool launched an independent operation to capture the Norfolk Navy Yard and occupy Norfolk--an attack witnessed by President Abraham Lincoln. This audacious action earned Wool promotion to major general. McClellan and Wool came into conflict over jurisdiction of Fort Monroe when McClellan launched his Peninsula Campaign, and in June 1862, the War Department transferred Wool to command of the Middle Department. During the Antietam Campaign, McClellan and Wool again came into conflict over jurisdiction, and McClellan succeeded in having Wool censured for the surrender of the garrison at Harpers Ferry. In December 1862, the War Department relieved Wool of command of the Middle Department, and in January 1863, he assumed command of the re-organized Department of the East. Wool's failure to contain and suppress the New York City Draft Riots prompted him to resign as commander of the Department of the East in July 1863, and on August 1, he retired from the army.

Gravestone, Oakwood Cemetery, Troy, NY; Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1903), 1:1059-60; Allen C. Guelzo, "Wool, John Ellis," American National Biography (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 23:842-44.