John Wool (1784-1869)

John Ellis Wool (February 20, 1784 - November 10, 1869) was an officer in the United States Army during three consecutive U.S. wars: the War of 1812, the Mexican War and the Civil War. By the time of the Mexican 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 saw the most Civil War service. When the war began, Wool, at age 77, a brigadier general for 20 years, commanded the Department of the East.

War of 1812

After engaging for awhile in the book business, in Troy, the loss of his stock in trade by fire induced him to begin the study of the law, which, upon the breaking out of the War of 1812 with Great Britain, he abandoned and accepted a call to serve his country. On the February 6, 1812, he opened a recruiting office in Troy, and, having raised his company, was, in April following, upon the recommendation of Governor Clinton and others, commissioned a captain in the 13th Regiment of United States Infantry. He joined his regiment at Greenbush, and in the autumn marched to the Niagara frontier. Soon after his arrival there, he distinguished himself for bravery in the line of duty. He fought at the Battle of Queenston Heights in 1812 where he was wounded. He had led a group of American soldiers up a fisherman's path to the British artillery stationed on top of the heights. Then, in the face of an infantry charge led by famed British general Isaac Brock, he rallied his men and held his ground, repulsing the charge and leading to the death of Brock. When he recovered he was promoted major of the 29th Unites States Infantry which he led with distinction at the Battle of Plattsburgh in 1814. When he recovered he was promoted major of the 29th Unites States Infantry which he led with distinction at the Battle of Plattsburgh in 1814. After the battle he was a major of the 6th United States Infantry. Under the act of Congress of April 24, 1816, providing for the general staff, Maj. Wool was appointed inspector-general, with the rank of colonel, which position he retained until June 25, 1841, when he was appointed a brigadier-general, to which rank he had been brevetted in the year 1826. During the year 1822, as inspector general of the army, he made a professional tour of Europe, examining the various systems then prevailing there. He became the Inspector General of the U.S. army and in 1836 participated in the deportation of the Cherokee Indians from Georgia and Tennessee to the territory west of the Mississippi. In 1841 he was promoted brigadier general in the U.S. army and commanded the Eastern Department.

Mexican War

The Mexican War gave General Wool another opportunity to distinguish himself. He superintended the organization of the Western regiments of volunteers, and after dispatching some 12,000 to the seat of war, commanded himself a force of three thousand on the march from San Antonio to Saltillo, a distance of 900 miles, where he joined the army under Gen. Taylor as second in command. He took command of the Center Division and led the Chihuahuan Expedition which resulted in the capture of Saltillo. At Buena Vista, before the arrival of Gen. Taylor, he assumed the command during the early part of the day. The disposition of the troops made by him for the battle was approved by Gen. Taylor. After Gen. Taylor returned to the States, Gen. Wool remained in command of the army of occupation until the close of the war. For his services at Buena Vista, he was brevetted major-general, and in 1854 Congress passed a joint resolution of thanks and presented him with a sword for his Mexican services. On his return home in August 1848, the Legislature of the State of New York and the Common Council of the City of Troy each presented him a sword. He was placed in command of the Eastern Military Division from 1848 to 1853, and of the Department of the East from 1853 to 1854; of that of the Pacific from 1854 to 1857, and again of the Eastern Department until 1860.

Civil War

In the early days of the Civil War, Wool's quick and decisive moves secured Fort Monroe, Virginia for the Union. The fort guarded the entrance to 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 General George B. McClellan's Peninsular Campaign. In May 1862, Wool's troops occupied the navy yard, Norfolk, and the surrounding towns after the Confederates abandoned them; he was then promoted to the full rank of major general. General Wool was reassigned to command the Middle Department, then the VII Corps. In January 1863, he again assumed command of the Department of the East, and led military operations in New York City during and after the draft riots the next July. Shortly thereafter, General Wool retired from the army following more than fifty years of service. He was the oldest officer to execute active command in the army at the time. On August 1, 1863, he was placed on the retired list. He died at Troy Nov. 10, 1869 and was buried with high military and civic honors. In Oakwood Cemetery at Troy, a high monolith was raised to his memory in 1879.