Wool, John Ellis (1784–1869)

By: Harwood P. Hinton

Type: Biography

Published: January 1, 1996

John Ellis Wool, army officer, the son of John and Ann (Reliva) Wool, was born on February 29, 1784, in Newburgh, New York. He attended country schools, and later he ran a store in Troy, New York, and was a militia officer. In 1812 Wool entered the regular army as a captain in the Thirteenth Infantry; he won national acclaim for heroism at the battles of Queenston and Plattsburg and was promoted to brevet lieutenant colonel. He served as an army inspector general for twenty-five years, receiving special assignments in Europe, the Cherokee country, and along the Canadian border, before assuming command of the Eastern Department in 1841 as a brigadier general. In May and June 1846 Wool mustered ten volunteer regiments in the Ohio Valley for Zachary Taylor's army on the Rio Grande, then proceeded to Texas to organize a division to invade Chihuahua. In early July he landed volunteers and supplies at Camp Irwin on Matagorda Bay and laid out Camp Crockett at San Antonio for some 3,400 men. In August he sent a Texas cavalry unit under Col. William C. Young to Eagle Pass to recall and arrest Col. William S. Harney, commander of the Second Dragoons at San Antonio, who had launched an unauthorized and unsuccessful invasion of Mexico. In early October Wool released Harney from arrest, placed him in charge of the advance, and marched for the Rio Grande at Eagle Pass. He crossed into Coahuila on a pontoon bridge laid down by Capt. Robert E. Lee, but found it impossible to penetrate the cordilleras into Chihuahua and swung east to join Taylor's forces at Saltillo. Wool chose the battlefield at Buena Vista, and as field commander on February 22–23, 1847, he enabled Taylor to repulse a larger Mexican army under Antonio López de Santa Anna. At Taylor's departure for the United States, Wool commanded the occupation forces, which included Texas cavalry, in Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, Coahuila, and Zacatecas, from November 1847 until the American withdrawal from Mexico in June 1848. Wool commanded the Eastern Department (1849–53, 1857–61) and the Department of the Pacific (1854–57), and during the Civil War he commanded successively the Department of Virginia (Fortress Monroe), the Middle Department (Baltimore) and the Department of New York and New England (New York City). He retired on August 1, 1863, a regular major general, at the age of seventy-nine. He was a Presbyterian and Jacksonian Democrat. He married Sarah Moulton on September 27, 1809, and they had no children. Wool died on November 10, 1869, and was buried at Troy, New York.

Roger J. Spiller et al., eds., Dictionary of American Military Biography (3 vols., Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1984).
Time Periods:
  • Antebellum Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Harwood P. Hinton, “Wool, John Ellis,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 26, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/wool-john-ellis.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 1, 1996