George Crook: From the Redwoods to Appomattox

George Crook: From the Redwoods to Appomattox

by Paul Magid


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Renowned for his prominent role in the Apache and Sioux wars, General George Crook (1828–90) was considered by William Tecumseh Sherman to be his greatest Indian-fighting general. Although Crook was feared by Indian opponents on the battlefield, in defeat the tribes found him a true friend and advocate who earned their trust and friendship when he spoke out in their defense against political corruption and greed.

Paul Magid’s detailed and engaging narrative focuses on Crook’s early years through the end of the Civil War. Magid begins with Crook’s boyhood on the Ohio frontier and his education at West Point, then recounts his nine years’ military service in California during the height of the Gold Rush. It was in the Far West that Crook acquired the experience and skills essential to his success as an Indian fighter.

This is primarily an account of Crook’s dramatic and sometimes controversial role in the Civil War, in which he was involved on three fronts, in West Virginia, Tennessee, and Virginia. Crook saw action during the battle of Antietam and played important roles in two major offensives in the Shenandoah Valley and in the Chattanooga and Appomattox campaigns. His courage, leadership, and tactical skills won him the respect and admiration of his commanding officers, including Generals Grant and Sheridan. He soon rose to the rank of major general and received four brevet promotions for bravery and meritorious service. Along the way, he led both infantry and cavalry, pioneered innovations in guerrilla warfare, conducted raids deep into enemy territory, and endured a kidnapping by Confederate partisans.

George Crook offers insight into the influences that later would make this general both a nemesis of the Indian tribes and their ardent advocate, and it illuminates the personality of this most enigmatic and eccentric of army officers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780806144412
Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
Publication date: 01/24/2014
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 416
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Paul Magid is a retired attorney who worked with the Peace Corps, then served as General Counsel of the African Development Foundation. Since leaving government in 1999, he has devoted himself to research and writing about General Crook.

Read an Excerpt

George Crook

From the Redwoods to Appomattox

By Paul Magid


Copyright © 2011 University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Publishing Division of the University
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8061-5011-6


On the Ohio Frontier


George Crook was born on the 28th of September 1828. Taciturn by nature and almost fanatical about his privacy, he was famously closed-mouth about the details of his personal life, including his childhood. At the height of his career, Crook received a letter from a boy named Daniel Farrington of Massachusetts who had written in the hope of learning something of the early years of the great Indian fighter. The general's curt response was all too typical. It read in toto: "My boyhood was passed exactly like that of all boys on a farm—my home was six miles from Dayton, Ohio." His family seems to have been equally reserved, sharing very little information that would shed light on their lives or inter action with their famous relative. Thus, most of what we know of Crook's early years has been gleaned from secondary sources—local histories, the writings of contemporaries, and government records, notoriously scanty in the early years of the Republic.

There was little in George Crook's background that foretold a career as a soldier. His father, Thomas Crook, was born on a farm along the Middle River in Baltimore County, Maryland, into a family that immigrated to America in the seventeenth century from East Renfrewshire, in the southwest corner of Scotland. Members of the Crook family may have fought in the Revolution, but Thomas's father (George's grandfather), James, was a farmer, not a soldier. He had been modestly successful, amassing some two hundred acres of bottomland and five slaves to help him work it.

Families were large, making it unlikely that Thomas would inherit the farm, so he apprenticed as a tanner at age twenty. In February 1812, just before the outbreak of war with Britain, his prospects seemed sufficiently hopeful that he proposed marriage to Elizabeth Matthews, daughter of a prosperous Baltimore family. She accepted. A little over a year later, she gave birth to their first child, a daughter, who was given her mother's name.

Thomas, meanwhile, enlisted in a Baltimore militia company to fight the British. But his military career was short-lived and disappointing. He served for roughly a year during a period when the militia's primary task was the construction of defensive works at Fort McHenry in preparation for an anticipated British attack. Then he was discharged for ill health.

Returning to civilian life with a wife and infant to care for, Thomas found his situation precarious, both economically and politically. The British blockade of the Maryland coast had depressed the local economy, making it uncertain whether the young man could support his family. In addition, many Americans in southern Maryland favored the British cause, raising the distinct possibility that some neighbor might inform the invaders of his militia service. And as long as he remained in the state, he could be recalled into the militia and once again forced to leave his young wife and infant daughter for the unpleasantness and danger of military service.

At the time, a substantial number of economically distressed and war-weary Marylanders turned their gaze toward the Northwest Territory, their attention particularly focused on the western frontier of what would become Ohio. The Shawnee and Miami tribes, the former occupants of these rich hunting grounds, had been driven west after half a century of warfare so fierce that the area had become known as the "Miami Slaughterhouse." Now land speculators sold acreage in the region to land-hungry eastern farmers, a number of whom immigrated from Maryland. Glowing reports sent back east to friends and relatives described cheap, fertile land available for the taking. These accounts attracted the attention of Thomas and his wife's two brothers, Elias and John Matthews.

For Thomas, the notion of immigration as a means to a fresh start was deeply embedded in his family heritage. His ancestors had sought new horizons from their earliest origins in medieval Scandinavia. Men bearing variations of the Crook name had left Denmark as Viking raiders to settle in Norman France and, from there, later accompanied William the Conqueror to England, fanning out to the remotest reaches of the British Isles. In the case of Thomas's family, a descendant, one Robert de Croc, established an estate that became known as Crookston in East Renfrewshire. For five hundred years Crooks lived in the county's towns and villages. Economic reasons, or perhaps the desire to practice their religion freely, enticed some of the more adventurous members of the family to sail for the New World in the 1640s.

Like his forebearers, in the spring of 1814, Thomas too turned his face west toward the outer limits of his familiar world in hopes of a fresh start. He rode alone, guiding his horse along Indian trails through the primeval forests, following the broad Ohio River into the far reaches of the Northwest Territory. Finding what he was looking for in the fertile bottomlands of the Miami River valley, the young tanner returned to Maryland to fetch his family and in-laws. Selling most of their possessions to raise cash for the trip, the extended family set off by boat down the Ohio. In October they arrived at their destination, Montgomery County, on the east bank of the Miami River about four miles from the growing town of Dayton. There Thomas purchased "a hundred acres more or less" of timbered land for one thousand dollars.

The new Crook homestead was old-growth forest—hickories, butternuts, elms, maples, and oaks—trees of enormous girth. These Thomas attacked with only an ax and a stolid persistence that his son would come to mirror in his own life. Despite the pain and inconvenience of an improperly healed fracture of his right thigh bone, he eventually would clear land for a farm that, through a series of small purchases made over the years, would total 340 acres, again "more or less." From the enormous trees that he felled, Thomas built a two-story log home for his family, so solid that it remained standing for almost 150 years.

With hard work, perseverance, and luck, the family prospered. In 1827 their land multiplied in value after construction began on a canal connecting the Ohio River to Lake Erie. Running directly across the property, the waterway provided easy and cheap access to markets to the north and east.

The Whig Party, forerunner of the present Republican Party, supported the construction of canals (and other internal improvements) and favored enterprising landowners like Thomas; so it was natural that he would become active in local Whig politics. As the result of his political activities and his growing prominence in the community, Crook was eventually appointed justice of the peace and acquired the honorary title of "squire."

As his farm and standing in the community grew, so did his family. He fathered ten children. Elizabeth, the eldest, was joined by Maria, his second daughter, in 1815, followed by Catherine in 1817, Oliver in 1819, John the next year, and then, at two-year intervals, Thomas Jr., Walter, James, George, and finally Charles. As soon as they were old enough, the boys went to work in the fields. But aware that his holdings would not provide a livelihood for all of them, and placing great value in education, Thomas did not keep them there, taking great care to provide for their schooling. Of the older boys, Oliver, Thomas, and James went on to study medicine; Elizabeth married a physician. Each of the boys became highly respected in his profession and a valued member of the community in his own right. Only Walter and Charles became farmers, with Charles inheriting the family farm. But Walter, in addition, was elected to the state senate and appointed postmaster. He became the only other sibling beside George to serve in the Civil War, raising a company of volunteers and advancing to the rank of captain. John, who may have been mentally challenged, worked as a tailor, living with his sister Maria and her husband, a well-to-do businessman.

The children had a religious upbringing thanks to their mother, a practicing Methodist who attended services at the United Brethren church. The brethren were a conservative offshoot of the Dutch branch of the Methodist faith, a strict and intolerant sect noted for its opposition to earthly pleasures. Every Sunday, Elizabeth scrubbed the children, dressed them in their Sunday best, and led them off to the local church, yet another rude log cabin in the woods. Here George and his siblings endured interminable sermons blasting the sins of drink, profanity, sex, gambling, tobacco, and every other vice available on the frontier.

Though married in the Methodist Episcopal church in Baltimore, Thomas was not himself a churchgoer. Probably he shared the skepticism of his frontier neighbors, one in five of whom chose not to affiliate themselves with a particular sect. These holdouts were dubious of the competing claims to religious truth put forward by a proliferation of Protestant sects and denominations and uncomfortable with the intolerance they preached. But like his neighbors, Thomas firmly accepted the existence of a supreme deity, "was moral in his deportment," and saw social value in organized religion. This became evident in 1852, when he donated land and the sum of one hundred dollars toward the construction of a modest church building. But he and his fellow donors, in a notable expression of their own tolerance, deeded the structure to the United Brethren in Christ with the stipulation that it would be "open and free to all other Christian denominations."

At the time of George's birth in 1828, farmers on the Ohio frontier were a generation removed from the fear of imminent attack by Indians or the odd bear or mountain lion. But though the backbreaking labor of clearing primeval wilderness was behind them, theirs continued to be a struggle for subsistence that fully occupied the time and energy of all family members, including the children.

The tract purchased by Thomas Crook had been "entirely in the woods," requiring a tremendous effort to clear and improve it. Although he performed much of the labor himself, he relied heavily on help from those sons of sufficient age and physical strength to withstand the rigors of nineteenth-century farming. Boys began their active participation in the economic life of the farm as early as five or six years of age, helping the women around the house. As they grew older, they moved to the fields. The need for George's labor was probably acute because the oldest children were girls and two of his older brothers had already left the farm to pursue medical studies.

Hard labor proved agreeable to the younger Crook. He soon grew into a strapping, self-sufficient youth able to participate in heavy work—plowing, planting, and harvesting as well as helping with the slaughter of livestock and the mending of fences. By the time he entered his teenage years, George was tall and muscular, with unusual strength and stamina for his age.

Whenever the opportunity presented itself, the boys hunted, both for the pot and to rid the area of wildlife that preyed on their stock and consumed their crops. For George, hunting became a lifelong passion. Though school and chores left scant free time, he took every opportunity to slip off into the surrounding forest. His brother Walter awakened one chilly morning at dawn to the sound of ducks flying overhead. George "was up in a minute, dressed in a hurry, never stopping to slip his braces over his shoulders and away he went. After breakfast we went out to hunt for him. We found him pretty soon, and there he was banging away with his trousers slipping down around his ankles." In later years he would acquire "a familiarity with the habits of wild animals possessed by but few naturalists," augmenting his own observations with the works of the most eminent ornithologists and naturalists.

George's mother, Elizabeth, had her hands full with ten children and an impressive list of household chores. She was fondly described as "a woman esteemed by a large circle of friends [who] treated everybody that came under their roof with kindness and respect." Yet the exigencies of frontier life did not leave her much time to lavish on her large brood except on Sundays, when she attended to their religious education. With respect to George, her efforts to impart religion achieved only moderate success. Throughout his life he did adhere to the strict lifestyle tenets required by his mother's faith, abstaining from the use of profanity, strong drink, and tobacco. But like his father he would join no denomination and was not a regular churchgoer. In an army characterized by the extremes of hard drinking, profanity, and the use of all forms of tobacco on the one hand and ostentatious piety on the other, Crook was known for his avoidance of immoderation at either end of the spectrum.

With mothers heavily occupied, the older girls in frontier families often took responsibility for childrearing until their younger siblings were old enough to work. In the Crook family, the eldest daughter, Elizabeth, assumed this role. Only fifteen when George was born, she cared for five boys with only the assistance of her two sisters, eleven and thirteen. After the birth of Charles two years later, the number of boys increased to six, all under the age of ten.

Raised by sisters little older than themselves, necessity dictated that the boys learn early to do for themselves, developing rapidly into self-reliant and confident youngsters. For George, maturity may have even come earlier than it did for his older siblings. His mother died in 1844 at fifty-seven, when he was only sixteen. He never publicly gave voice to the emotions that must have overcome him at such a vulnerable age. But death was a constant and accepted presence in pioneer families, and the grieving process necessarily brief. With such a large family and a farm to run, Thomas could not go it alone. In the fall of the following year, he took a second wife, Anna Gallahan, a widow in her middle years who had also emigrated from Maryland. The marriage would survive until Anna's death in 1874 only months before Thomas also passed on.

As George matured, he took on the traits that he observed in his father: the adventurous spirit that had drawn Thomas west; a tolerance for the habits and beliefs of others; the stoicism and silent determination that characterized his father's daily battle with the land; and like all his siblings, he imbibed Thomas's commitment to public service, appreciation of the value of education, and the ambition to excel in his chosen vocation.

Along with the lessons absorbed at home, Crook's youth was immersed in the lore of the Ohio frontier. Every turn in its woodland trails and bend of its rivers offered reminders of the Indian wars that had raged in the region. The Crook farmstead on the banks of the Miami was no longer wilderness, and the Miami and Shawnee Indians who lived there had long since been driven west, though they remained a tangible presence. Major General "Mad" Anthony Wayne's climactic defeat of the Shawnee at Fallen Timbers, which secured the Ohio frontier for the United States, was fought only thirty-four years before George was born. Indian trails still criss-crossed the remaining forest; arrowheads and other artifacts regularly appeared in the turn of a furrow or rose from the mud after a heavy rain. Most immediately, memories of the Indians lingered vividly in the minds of many of Montgomery County's older settlers who had participated or lost friends and relatives in the fighting.

John Cuppy, a frontiersman of local note, was a veteran Indian fighter and a friend and neighbor of the Crooks. He had moved west in 1779 at the age of eighteen. Before long, his growing reputation as a hunter and woodsman prompted his selection as one of the founding members of Brady's Rangers, an elite corps of frontiersmen handpicked to act as scouts and guardians for the settlements on the Ohio frontier. Regularly patrolling the Ohio River, these men served as the settlers' first line of defense against attack, warning farmers of war parties in their vicinity and ambushing and driving off hostile bands. Cuppy scouted for General Wayne during the frontier wars that ebbed and flowed up and down the length of the river. Passing through the Miami Valley in 1794, he fell in love with the land and purchased 320 acres not far from the Crook farm, living there until his death in 1861 at the age of one hundred.


Excerpted from George Crook by Paul Magid. Copyright © 2011 University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Publishing Division of the University. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations vii

Prologue: Oakland Station, March 1890 3

1 On the Ohio Frontier 11

2 West Point 20

3 An Entirely New Experience 31

4 Assignment to Fort Humboldt 38

5 Fort Jones 45

6 Exploring the Country and the Williamson-Abbot Expedition 57

7 Indian Removal and the Rogue River War 66

8 Campaigning in the Pit River Valley 71

9 Fort Ter-Waw 87

10 The Coeur D'Alene War 93

11 Return to Fort Ter-Waw 101

12 A Trip East 106

13 A Colonel in the Volunteers 112

14 Lewisburg 123

15 The Second Battle of Bull Run 130

16 South Mountain and Antietam 133

17 The Army of the Cumberland 152

18 In Command of Cavalry and the Chattanooga Campaign 157

19 The Wheeler Raid 164

20 Blazer's Scouts 173

21 The Dublin Raid 177

22 The Lynchburg Campaign 192

23 Early's Raid on Washington 208

24 The Second Battle of Kernstown 222

25 The Bull Terrier and the Newfoundland Dog 231

26 Campaigning in the Valley 237

27 The Battle of Opequon (Third Winchester) 246

28 Victory at Fisher's Hill 256

29 The Battle of Cedar Creek 263

30 Mosby's Rangers 283

31 Kidnapped 288

32 Commander of Cavalry in Grant's Army 301

33 The Final Struggle 313

34 Afterward 332

Epilogue 343

Notes 349

Bibliography 383

Acknowledgments 391

Index 397

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