February 20, 1784 - November 10, 1869
Wool was the third ranking officer at the start of the war with Mexico. Suspected Whig leanings initially confined him to mustering duty but he was given command of the Chihuahua expedition in the summer of 1846. Wool had field command during the Battle of Buena Vista. He ended the war as commander of the Army of Occupation in northeastern Mexico.
John E. Wool was born in Newburg, New York, on February 20, 1784. When his father died in 1790, Wool was sent to live with his grandfather in Troy, New York. He had little formal education and was apprenticed in the mercantile trade at an early age. Wool opened a store in 1803 but was forced to pursue another career after it was destroyed by fire in 1810. Reading for the law when war with Great Britain broke out in 1812, Wool abandoned his studies to raise an infantry company. In April 1812 he was commissioned a captain in the 13th United States Infantry and fought with distinction on the Niagara frontier. He was wounded at Queenstown in October 1813, and brevetted colonel for his actions at Plattsburg in September 1814.
Wool remained in the army following the war. In April 1816, he was appointed inspector general with the rank of colonel, a position he held until June 1841, when he was promoted to brigadier general – the third ranking general in the army. In 1836 he supervised the removal of the Cherokee Indians from Georgia to the Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma.
At the start of the war with Mexico, Wool was responsible for organizing and training volunteer regiments from Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi. From his headquarters in Cincinnati, Wool organized and mustered into service 10,000 volunteers for Taylor’s Army of Occupation on the Rio Grande. In June 1846 he was given command of the Chihuahua expedition. Arriving in San Antonio in August, Wool took up the line of march in late September, reaching Monclova one month later. The War Department aborted the expedition, however, believing Wool’s force was needed to support Taylor’s army in northeastern Mexico (Chihuahua would be captured by Alexander Doniphan the following spring).
In February 1847, Taylor had concentrated his forces at Agua Nueva, a few miles south of Saltillo, in anticipation of a Mexican push northward from San Luis Potosí. On February 20, Wool’s scouts discovered the position of Santa Anna’s 15,000 man army east of Agua Nueva. Taylor ordered the concentration of troops at Angostura a mile south of Buena Vista and left Wool to determine the field of battle and the disposition of arriving troops. After desultory fighting between the two armies on February 22, Taylor’s left flank, under Wool’s command, bore the brunt of the Mexican assault. Wool personally collected disorganized troops and eventually stabilized the line.
Following Buena Vista, Wool served as military governor of Saltillo. He cracked down on the abuse of civilians by U.S. volunteers and sought to root out guerillas in the region. When Taylor returned to the United States in late 1847, Wool was placed in command of the U.S. army in northern Mexico. Wool’s efforts against guerilla activity proved successful, and by February 1848, U.S. army trains, accompanied by small escorts, could travel without incident. He also restored state government in northeastern Mexico and granted a general amnesty toward all who had fought against the United States.
In 1854 Wool took over command of the Department of the Pacific, headquartered in San Francisco, a position which required him to prevent American filibustering expeditions into Mexico and maintain peace between Anglo settlers and the Indians. Seventy-seven when the Civil War broke out, Wool commanded the Department of the East and then the Department of Virginia. He served as the military commander of New York City during the draft riots in the summer of 1863. Wool retired from active duty on August 1 1863. He died in Troy, New York on November 10 1869.
Bauer, Jack C. The Mexican War 1846-1848. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1974.
Hinton, Harwood P. The Military Career of John Ellis Wool, 1812-1863. PhD diss., University of Wisconsin, 1960.