Portrait of George Crook.
George Crook was an American military leader whose career spanned the era from the American Civil War to the closing of the Western frontier.
Crook was born on September 8, 1828, in Montgomery County, Ohio. In 1848, Crook enrolled at West Point. He graduated in 1852 and served as a second lieutenant in the Fourth United States Infantry. He participated in numerous battles with American Indians in the West and he was severely wounded in one of these skirmishes. By 1861, Crook attained the rank of captain.
With the outbreak of the American Civil War, Crook left his post in California and returned to Ohio, where he accepted a commission as the colonel of the Thirty-Sixth Ohio Volunteer Infantry. During the spring of 1862, Crook commanded the Third Brigade of the Army of West Virginia. In May 1862, his men defeated a force under General Henry Heth's command, capturing all of the Confederates' artillery. A month later Crook joined the Army of the Potomac and participated in the Battle of Antietam. Due to his heroism in this battle, Crook was appointed to the rank of brigadier-general of United States volunteers and to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the regular army.
In early 1863, Crook joined the Army of the Cumberland and served under the command of General William Rosecrans. Crook led the Second Cavalry Division of the Army of the Cumberland throughout the Chickamauga campaign in the fall of 1863. In February 1864, Crook assumed command of the Third Division, known as the Kanawha Division, of the Department of West Virginia. For the next several months, Crook battled against Confederate forces in West Virginia and in southwestern Virginia. In June, his command moved up the Shenandoah Valley to Staunton, Virginia. He was quite successful against his foes during these various movements. His men had marched approximately nine hundred miles; defeated Confederate forces at five major battles; killed, wounded, or captured more than two thousand enemy soldiers; and captured ten pieces of Southern artillery. Approximately one-third of Crook's division had died or been wounded.
In July 1864, Crook and the Kanawha Division played a major role in defeating General Jubal Early's raid on Washington, DC. He took command of the entire Department of West Virginia. Unfortunately for Crook, his command was significantly smaller than Early's force currently operating in the Shenandoah Valley. The Northern soldiers quickly fell back to the northern end of the valley at Harper's Ferry, West Virginia. Ohioan Philip Sheridan took command of the Army of West Virginia and combined it with other units to create the Army of the Shenandoah. Crook remained in command of the Department of West Virginia but served under Sheridan on the battlefield. Crook performed quite well at the Battles of Opequan, Fisher's Hill, and Cedar Creek and he was promoted to the rank of major general. He spent the winter of 1864 and 1865 with his army at Cumberland, Maryland. On the evening of February 21, 1865, a detachment of Confederate guerrillas stole into Crook's headquarters and successfully captured the general. Crook remained a prisoner of war until March 20, 1865, when Confederate authorities exchanged him. He resumed command of the Department of West Virginia. He eventually joined the Department of North Carolina and headed the District of Wilmington until he was mustered out of the volunteer army on January 15, 1866.
While Crook left the volunteer service during 1866, he remained in the regular army for the remainder of his life. He served as a lieutenant colonel at first but eventually earned the rank of major general. As the United States expanded westward, Crook spent most of the 1870s and the 1880s staging offensives against the Apache and Sioux people in the American West. Crook was well-known in his time for his prowess in these campaigns. William Sherman, Crook's commanding officer for much of this period, declared Crook to have been the "greatest Indian fighter" that the United States ever produced. In 1888, Crook became commander of the Division of Missouri, a position he retained until his death on March 21, 1890. During the later years of his life, Crook became a staunch defender of American Indian rights and sought better treatment for American Indians -- especially those who assisted the United States Army in the so-called "Indian Wars"-- from the federal government.
General George Crook is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
- Aleshire, Peter. The Fox and the Whirlwind: Gen. George Crook and Geronimo: A Paired Biography. New York, NY: Wiley, 2000.
- Cozzens, Peter, ed. Eyewitnesses to the Indian Wars, 1865-1890. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2001.
- Reid, Whitelaw. Ohio in the War: Her Statesmen, Generals and Soldiers. Cincinnati, OH: Clarke, 1895.
- Robinson, Charles M. General Crook and the Western Frontier. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2001.