Ohio general George Crook had one
of the most adventurous and interesting Civil War and post-Civil War
military careers. This included participation in many of the major
battles of the Civil War (both East and West), acrimonious feuds
with Phil Sheridan and Nelson Miles, and postwar campaigns against
such notable Native American chiefs as Crazy Horse and Geronimo.
George Crook, of Scottish heritage,
was born on a farm near Dayton, Ohio in 1828. He graduated from West
Point in 1852, where a close friend was fellow Ohioan Phil Sheridan.
He was assigned to the Pacific Northwest, where he fought Indians in
northern California and southern Oregon and was wounded.
With the outbreak of the Civil War,
Crook was appointed colonel of the 36th OVI, and in September, 1962,
after being wounded, was promoted to Brigadier General commanding
the Third Brigade of the Army of West Virginia. It fought at Second
Bull Run, South Mountain, and at Antietam at the fight over the
Burnside Bridge. Crook was then transferred to the Army of the
Cumberland in command of its Second Cavalry Division. It
participated in the Tullahoma campaign and in the battles of
Chickamauga and Chattanooga.
In 1864, he was transferred back to the
Army of West Virginia as its commander. It was ordered to join the
Army of the Shenandoah under David Hunter. He unsuccessfully
protested Hunter’s torching of the Virginia Military Institute. When Hunter was replaced by Phil
Sheridan, Crook’s force was renamed the VIII Corps. Crook and his
command then took part in all of Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Valley
After being defeated at (Second) Kernstown, Crook
initiated flanking attacks at the Union victories over Jubal Early
at Opequon (Third Winchester) and Fisher’s Hill, causing postwar
controversy when Sheridan claimed credit for these maneuvers. Crook
bitterly resented Sheridan’s claims.
At Cedar Creek, it was Crook’s
first division which was routed by Kershaw’s surprise attack in the
fog, before the epic ride and arrival of Sheridan from Winchester
that galvanized the army and led to a reversal of fortunes and the
defeat of Early’s army. A hero of that Union victory was another
fellow Ohioan, Rutherford Hayes, commander of Crook’s second
division. Crook and this future President of the United States
became close friends.
Following the end of the Shenandoah
Valley campaign and his promotion to Major General of Volunteers,
Crook went into winter quarters at Cumberland, Maryland, the home of
his future wife. There, on the night of February 21, 1865, a
sleeping Crook and another general were captured in a daring raid by
guerillas (one of whom was his wife’s brother).
Crook was sent to Libby Prison in
Richmond but was exchanged a month later at the insistence of
Ulysses Grant, in time to participate as a cavalry commander in the
Army of the Potomac’s last campaign against Robert E. Lee’s Army of
Northern Virginia. Crook fought at the battles of Five Forks and
Saylor’s Creek and was present at the surrender at Appomattox. He
was overshadowed by others like Phil Sheridan and George Custer.
Crook, now a lieutenant colonel,
helped to subdue the Paiute and Snake Indians in the Northwest. He
was then re-assigned to Arizona in 1871, where he successfully
Promoted to Brigadier General in 1873, he was
re-assigned in 1875 to serve under Sheridan, whose wedding he
attended. He then played a key role in the Great Sioux War of 1876.
He commanded one of the three columns ordered to force hostile
Indians led by Sitting Bull in Montana back to the reservation in a
pincer movement. On June 17, 1876, his force (accompanied by Crow
and Shoshone Indian allies) was unexpectedly attacked on Rosebud
Creek by Crazy Horse. After a stand-off, Crook retreated back to his
supply base, not being able to communicate this battle to either of
the commanders of the other converging columns – George Armstrong
Custer and John Gibbon. For this, he was blamed by some for being at
least partly responsible for Custer’s disastrous defeat eight days
later at the battle of the Little Bighorn.
Crook would participate
in the battles that would end this war the following year with the
surrender of Crazy Horse (who was later killed while in captivity).
In 1882, he returned to Arizona, where he defeated the Chiricahua
Apaches whom he pursued into Mexico and twice persuaded their chief
Geronimo to surrender, but who still later escaped. This led Crook
into conflict with Miles, who relieved him in 1886 and eventually
sent Geronimo, his band, and also Crook’s Apache scouts into exile
in Florida. Crook never forgave Miles (later commander of the U.S.
Army) for this.
Criticized by then U.S. Army
commander Phil Sheridan for his lenient treatment of Indians, Crook
nevertheless, in 1888 was promoted to Major General and appointed to
head the military department of the Missouri. Sheridan died that
Crook died in 1890 and was
eventually buried in Arlington National Cemetery, where Crook Walk
is named after him. As the U.S. Army’s most successful Indian
fighter, Crook (called the “Gray Fox” by Indians) was known for his
extensive use of Indian scouts, his relentless pursuit, and his
readiness to negotiate rather than force conflict (in contrast to
Sherman, Sheridan and Miles). His death was lamented by Native
American leaders who had once been his foes. Never a flashy general,
haphazard in his attire, and caustic in his criticism of some of
this fellow officers, nevertheless, Crook should be remembered for
his considerable accomplishments, both military and in championing
the cause of those Native Americans whom he so ably fought.
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