John E. Wool

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John Ellis Wool (1784-1869) - Born 29 Feb 1784, Newburg, New York. Died 10 Nov 1869, Troy, New York.

John E. Wool

He was an officer in the United States Army during the War of 1812, the Mexican War and the U.S. 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 U.S. 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

Wool was practicing law in Troy, New York at the outbreak of the War of 1812. He quickly joined the army and became a captain in the 13th U.S. Infantry. 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 U.S. Infantry which he led with distinction at the Battle of Plattsburgh in 1814. After the battle he was a major of the 6th U.S. Infantry. He emerged from the war with the rank of colonel and the office of inspector-general. 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. 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 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.

Civil War

In the early days of the U.S. 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 1862 Fort Calhoun (1) which lay just off of Fort Monroe on an artificial island was renamed Fort Wool (1) in his honor.

New York City Draft Riots

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 in July 1863. Wool's reputation was permanently sullied because he commanded the Union forces during those disastrous draft riots which were among the worst civil disturbances in American history. The riots erupted on July 13 and continued for four days and nights. The violence was largely fueled by draft policies that allowed well-off New Yorkers to buy their way out of the draft for $300 while those unable to pay for a substitute were drafted. The first draft lottery on July 11th came soon after the reports of the carnage at Gettysburg and the draft was greatly feared and hated. Much of the rage was directed toward Abolitionists and blacks and many were lynched and murdered. Wool was tenacious in putting down the riot and was among those investigated after the riot. Shortly after the riot (1 Aug 1863), General Wool retired from the army after more than fifty years of service. He was the oldest officer to execute active command in the army at the time. He lived in Troy, New York for the remaining five years of his life. He died at his residence, 75 First St., 10 Nov 1869 and was buried 13 Nov 1869, Oakwood Cemetery, Troy, New York.

Father: John James Wool (1750-1790) born abt 1750. Died 23 Jul 1790.

Mother: Ann Relay (1750-) born abt 1750.


  • Sarah Moulton (1785-1873) born 4 Jul 1785, Stafford, Connecticut. Died 7 May 1873, Troy, New York. Married 27 Sep 1810, Troy, New York.


  • None


  • (1811-1812) Ensign (19 Jun 1811) of a Company in Battalion of Riflemen
  • (1812-1812) Capt. (14 Apr 1812), 13th U.S. Infantry
  • (1812-1814) Maj. (13 Oct 1812), 29th U.S. Infantry, for gallant conduct at Queenstown
  • (1814-1816) Ltc. (11 Sep 1814), for gallant conduct at Plattsburg
  • (1816-1821) Col. (3 May 1816), Cavalry and Inspector General
  • (1821-1833) Bvt. Brig. Gen. (26 Apr 1826), the War Department and the U.S. Army Adjutant General's Office
  • (1836-1837) Bvt. Brig. Gen., Cherokee Indian Transfer Expedition (Trail of Tears)
  • (1841-1843) Brig. Gen. (25 Jun 1841)
  • (1843-1847) Bvt. Maj. Gen. (23 Feb 1843), for gallant and distinguished services at Buena Vista
  • (1847-1854) Bvt. Maj. Gen., Commander of the Department of the East, Troy, New York
  • (1854-1857) Bvt. Maj. Gen., Fort Vancouver, Commander, U.S. Army Department of the Pacific
  • (1857-1860) Bvt. Maj. Gen., Commander of the Department of the East, Troy, New York
  • (1861-1862) Bvt. Maj. Gen., Commander of the Department of Virginia (Aug 1861-Jun 1862)
  • (1862-1863) Maj. Gen. (16 May 1861), Commander Middle Department (Jun 1862-Jan 1863), Baltimore, Maryland
  • (1863-1863) Maj. Gen., Commander of the Eastern Department (Jan 1863-Jul 1863), New York City, New York
  • (1863-1863) Bvt. Maj. Gen., military Commander of New York City during the draft riots (13-17 Jul 1863)
  • (1863) Maj. Gen., Retired 1 Aug 1863

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  • John Ellis Wool Papers, 1810-1869, New York State Library Inventory
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