About John Ellis Wool
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-American War and the American Civil War. 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 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. He was the oldest general on either side of the war.
War of 1812
A native of Newburgh, New York, Wool was practicing law in Troy, New York, at the outbreak of the War of 1812. He volunteered and became a captain in the 13th United States Infantry Regiment. 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, although eventually losing the battle itself. When he recovered, he was promoted major of the 29th United States Infantry Regiment, 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. He emerged from the war with the rank of colonel and the office of inspector-general.
Peace time service
An orphan with little formal education, Wool remained in the service, where he had the opportunity to visit Europe to observe foreign military organizations and operations. He became the Inspector General of the U.S. Army and participated in the deportation of the Cherokees from Georgia and Tennessee. He established Fort Butler at present-day Murphy, North Carolina, the eastern headquarters of the military removal of the Cherokee. In 1841, he was promoted to brigadier general in the U.S. Army and commanded the Department of the East.
The Mexican-American War gave General Wool another opportunity to distinguish himself. He took 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, he joined General Zachary Taylor at the Battle of Buena Vista. There his gallant leadership earned him 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 the Eastern Department and the Department of the Pacific at the end of the war.
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 after the Volunteer Militias had committed many acts of genocide against the Tribes in Southwestern Oregon. General Wool was based in California and sent many opinions of the Oregon situation to the local papers. His opinions were generally in defense of the Indians and in condemnation of the Militia's acts. Indian removal to reservations occurred in order to save them from further violence from the settlers. He wrote his opinions of several conflicts in a letter to Governor Stevens:
(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.
Whilest 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."
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 Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan's Peninsula 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 in the regular army. General Wool was reassigned to command the Middle Department, then the VIII 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 following July. Shortly thereafter, on August 1, 1863, General Wool retired from the army following more than fifty years of service. He was the oldest general officer to execute active command in either army during the war.
He lived in Troy, New York, for the remaining five years of his life and is buried there in Oakwood Cemetery.