Philip St. George Cooke: J.E.B. Stuart’s Father-in-Law

This entry is part 14 of 17 in the series Union General Officers

General Philip St. George CookeAlthough he had a very similar name to our last subject, Philip St. George Cooke was dissimilar in that even though he was a native Virginian he remained loyal to the Union. Cooke was most often associated with the cavalry having written an Army cavalry manual. He is sometimes called the “Father of the U.S. Cavalry.” But his service to the Union, although significant, was eclipsed by that of his more famous son-in-law, J.E.B. Stuart.

Philip St. George Cooke was born in Leesburg, Virginia on June 13, 1809. Graduating from West Point in 1827, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the infantry. He served on a number of frontier posts in the West and fought in the Black Hawk War. In 1833, he was promoted to first lieutenant and assigned to the newly-formed United States Regiment of Dragoons which would become the 1st U.S. Dragoons in 1836.

The word dragoon originally meant mounted infantry, who were trained in horse riding as well as infantry fighting skills. However, usage altered over time and during the 18th century, dragoons evolved into conventional light cavalry units and personnel. The name is possibly derived from a type of firearm (called a dragon) carried by dragoons of the French Army.

Cooke served throughout the West in the years before the Civil War. During the Mexican-American War he led the Mormon Battalion from Santa Fe to California, receiving a brevet promotion to lieutenant colonel for his service in California. In the 2nd U.S. Dragoons he defeated the Jicarilla Apache in Ojo Caliente, New Mexico in 1854.

He was in the 1855 Battle of Ash Hollow against the Sioux. He was sent to keep the peace in Bleeding Kansas in 1856 – 1857. Acquainted with Brigham Young, Cooke took part in the Utah expedition of 1857–58, after which he was promoted to colonel and assigned command of the 2nd U.S. Dragoons. He was an observer for the U.S. Army in the Crimean War, and commanded the Department of Utah from 1860 until 1861.

The issue of secession deeply divided the Cooke family. Although he remained loyal to the Union his son, John Rogers Cooke, joined the Confederate Army, eventually commanded an infantry brigade in the Army of Northern Virginia and was wounded seven times in the service of the Confederacy.

His more famous son-in-law, J.E.B. Stuart, was never reconciled to Cooke and said about his father-in-law’s loyalty to the Union: “He will regret it only once, and that will be continually.” Stuart had met and married Flora Cooke in 1855. Of Flora, it was written the she was “an accomplished horsewoman, and though not pretty, an effective charmer,” to whom “Stuart succumbed with hardly a struggle.”

At the start of the war, the Union Army had five regiments of cavalry. Cooke’s unit, the 2nd Dragoons, was redesignated the 2nd U.S. Cavalry. Cooke had written a new cavalry manual in 1858 but the War Department did not publish it until 1862.

Cooke believed in mounted attacks as the primary use of cavalry but the adoption of the rifled musket as an infantry weapon made the classic cavalry charge essentially obsolete and recommended a mission emphasis on reconnaissance and screening.

A prominent theory of cavalry charges at the time, endorsed by future generals Henry W. Halleck and George B. McClellan, was that the cavalry should be deployed in double ranks (a regiment would deploy in two lines of five companies each), which would increase the shock effect of the charge by providing an immediate follow-up attack.

Cooke’s manual called for a single-rank formation in which a battalion of four companies would form a single line and two squadrons of two companies each would cover the flanks. A third battalion would be placed in reserve a few hundred yards to the rear. Cook believed that the double-rank offensive promoted disorder of the horses in the ranks and would be difficult to control.

Cooke was appointed a brigadier general in November 1861. At first, he commanded a brigade of regular Army cavalry headquartered in Washington as part of the defenses there. For the Peninsula Campaign he was given the command of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Reserve, a division-size formation. The Reserve had two brigades with three regiments each.

Cooke was sent along with Major General George Stoneman in pursuit of Confederate forces that had evacuated Yorktown. His cavalry was roughed up in an assault ordered by Stoneman against Fort Magruder. He saw subsequent action at the battles of WilliamsburgGaines’ Mill, and White Oak Swamp. Cooke ordered an ill-fated charge of the 5th U.S. Cavalry at Gaines’ Mill during the Seven Days Battles, sacrificing nearly an entire regiment of regulars.

After the Peninsula Campaign, Cooke left active duty service. One reason that has been given was his son-in-law’s humiliation of the Union cavalry by completely encircling the Army of the Potomac in his celebrated raid.

Stuart had set out with 1,200 troopers on the morning of June 12 and, having determined that the flank was indeed vulnerable, took his men on a complete circumnavigation of the Union army, returning after 150 miles on July 15 with 165 captured Union soldiers, 260 horses and mules, and various quartermaster and ordnance supplies. His men met no serious opposition from the more decentralized Union cavalry, commanded by his father-in-law.

Cooke served on boards of court-martial, commanded the District of Baton Rouge, and was superintendent of Army recruiting for the Adjutant General’s office. On July 17, 1866, President Andrew Johnson nominated Cooke for appointment to the brevet grade of major general in the regular army, to rank from March 13, 1865, and the U.S. Senate confirmed the appointment on July 23, 1866.

Cooke commanded the Department of the Platte from 1866 to 1867, the Department of the Cumberland from 1869 to 1870, and the Department of the Lakes. He retired from the Army with almost 50 years service on October 29, 1873 as a brigadier general. Cooke died in Detroit, Michigan, and is buried there in Elmwood Cemetery.



Daniel Harvey Hill

This entry is part 2 of 8 in the series Confederate Generals Officers

General Daniel Harvey HillOne of the more aggressive Confederate battle commanders, Daniel Harvey Hill ran afoul of Robert E. Lee and Braxton Bragg for his outspokenness. This in turn led him to fall out of favor with President Jefferson Davis. All of this led to his under-utilization in the second half of the war. This aggressive commander was shelved after the Battle of Chickamauga until the very end of the war.

D.H. Hill was a South Carolinian who graduated from West Point in 1842. He was assigned to the artillery due to his superior mathematical skills. He distinguished himself in the Mexican-American War, being brevetted to captain for bravery at the Battle of Contreras and Churubusco, and brevetted to major for bravery at the Battle of Chapultepec.

In February 1849 Hill resigned his commission and became a professor of mathematics at Washington College (now Washington and Lee University), in Lexington, Virginia. It was during his time at Washington College that he wrote an Algebra textbook that included many disparaging examples that insulted Northerners. To say that D.H. Hill disliked Yankees would be an understatement.

In November 1848 Hill married Isabella Morrison, who was the daughter of Robert Hall Morrison, a Presbyterian minister and the first president of Davidson College. Hill and his wife would have nine children. In 1854, he joined the faculty of Davidson College and was, in 1859, made superintendent of the North Carolina Military Institute of Charlotte.

Hill’s wife was the sister of Mary Anna Morrison who would marry Thomas J. Jackson, later known as ‘Stonewall’, who was a professor of mathematics at the Virginia Military Institute.

At the start of the war Hill was commissioned as the colonel of the 1st North Carolina Infantry.He led his troops to victory at  the Battle of Big Bethel, near Fort Monroe, Virginia, on June 10, 1861. Shortly afterward, he was promoted to brigadier general and assigned to duty around Richmond.

By the spring of 1862 D.H. Hill was promoted to major general and given a division in the Army of Northern Virginia. He participated in the Yorktown and Williamsburg operations that started the Peninsula Campaign in the spring of 1862 and led his division with great distinction in the Battle of Seven Pines and the Seven Days Battles.

However, at the Battle of Malvern Hill he was ordered to lead a frontal assault by Robert E. Lee, who had succeeded to command after the serious wounding of General Joseph E. Johnston at Seven Pines. Lee’s plan was very complex and due to the Confederates’ unfamiliarity with the wooded terrain and confusing roads led to a series of disjointed attacks.

The Union artillery had disabled most of the Confederate batteries so the Confederate infantry were forced to advance with no artillery support. The Confederate troops reached only within 200 yards of the Union center and were repulsed by nightfall with heavy losses.

As the sun was going down, Brig. General Isaac Trimble of Ewell’s division began to move his troops forward. Jackson stopped him and asked “What are you going to do?” Trimble replied “I’m going to charge those batteries, sir!” “I guess you’d better not try it.” Jackson said. “General [D.H.] Hill has just tried with his entire division and been repulsed. I guess you’d better not try it.” Hill’s division was crushed in the fighting. He wrote afterward in a postwar article, “It wasn’t war; it was murder.”

On July 22, 1862, Hill and Union Maj. Gen. John A. Dix concluded an agreement for the general exchange of prisoners between the Union and Confederate armies. This agreement became known as the Dix-Hill Cartel and would be in effect for a good part of the war.

Hill’s division held up the Union advance at South Mountain during the Maryland Campaign. They would defend a part of the Sunken Road during the Battle of Antietam. Hill would personally lead a small group of detached soldiers from different brigades to hold the line at the critical moment. He had three horses shot out from under him during the battle.

After Antietam, Hill’s conflicts with Lee began to surface. After the death of ‘Stonewall’ Jackson at Chancellorsville, Lee reorganized the Army of Northern Virginia. Hill who expected to be promoted to corps command was not. In fact, he was off in South Carolina recruiting fresh troops. While the army was in Pennsylvania, Hill commanded reserve troops around Richmond.

Later in 1863, Hill was transferred to the Army of Tennessee with a provisional promotion to lieutenant general, to command one of Gen. Braxton Bragg‘s corps. At Chickamauga, Hill’s troops saw some of the heaviest fighting. After the battle Hill join with other general’s who openly condemned Bragg’s failure to exploit the victory.

President Jefferson Davis came to personally resolve this dispute, in Bragg’s favor, and to the detriment of those unhappy generals. The Army of Tennessee was reorganized again, and Hill was left without a command. Hill’s promotion was not confirmed by Davis, effectively demoting him to major general. He was also stripped of his corps with the reorganization of the Army of Tennessee.

After that, D.H. Hill served as a volunteer commander in smaller actions away from the major armies. Hill participated in the Battle of Bentonville in North Carolina, the last fight of the Army of Tennessee. Hill was a division commander when he, along with Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, surrendered on April 26, 1865.

From 1866 to 1869, Hill edited a magazine, The Land We Love, at Charlotte, North Carolina, which dealt with social and historical subjects, and had a great influence in the South. In 1877, he became the first president of the University of Arkansas, a post that he held until 1884, and, in 1885, president of the Military and Agricultural College of Milledgeville, Georgia until August 1889, when he resigned due to failing health. General Hill died at Charlotte the following month, and was buried in Davidson College Cemetery.




George McClellan and the Plan for the 1862 Richmond Offensive

This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series Command Decisions

General George McClellanMaj. Gen. George B. McClellan was greeted as the savior of the Union when he was promoted to General-in-chief on November 1, 1861. He replaced Winfield Scott who was 75 to McClellan’s almost 35. When Lincoln expressed his concern about the “vast labor” involved in the dual role of army commander and general-in-chief, but McClellan responded, “I can do it all.”

His life up to now was an unbroken success. McClellan was a brilliant engineer who had graduated second in his class from West Point. He served bravely in the Mexican War, receiving two brevet promotions to captain. During the war he learned the value of flanking operations and how to conduct siege warfare.

After the excitement of the war McClellan returned to the more sedate life of a peacetime military officer. In his case he served on an expedition to discover the source of the Red River. He was on a survey team that explored for passages through the Rocky Mountains. Returning to the East he courted and married Mary Ellen Marcy. McClellan’s was one of nine proposals that she received.

Secretary of War Jefferson Davis sent McClellan on a secret mission to scout the Dominican Republic. After that assignment he was dispatched to the Crimea as an official observer of the Crimean War. He observed the Siege of Sevastopol in 1856. Returning to the United States, McClellan wrote a lengthy report on the war but like most of the observers failed to highlight the importance of the new rifled musket.

He also wrote a manual on cavalry tactics based on his observations. He also proposed the adoption of a new saddle design that came to be know as the McClellan saddle. It is still in use today.

McClellan resigned his commission January 16, 1857, and, capitalizing on his experience with railroad assessment, became chief engineer and vice president of the Illinois Central Railroad and also president of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad in 1860. He performed well in both jobs, expanding the Illinois Central toward New Orleans and helping the Ohio and Mississippi recover from the Panic of 1857.

At the start of the war the governors of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York, the three largest states of the Union, actively pursued him to command their states’ militia. The Governor of Ohio, William Dennison, was the most persistent and McClellan accepted a commission as major general of volunteers on April 23, 1861.

On May 3rd he re-entered federal service as the commander of the Department of Ohio, responsible for Union forces in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. Later, western Pennsylvania, western Virginia and Missouri were added to the department. On May 14th, he was commissioned a major general of the Regular Army. McClellan now outranked everyone except Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott.

McClellan began the war with two objectives. The first was to build and train an army. The volunteers needed to clothed, fed, equipped and trained. His second objective was the occupation of western Virginia, an area that wanted to remain in the Union. After two minor victories, the Northern newspapers, hungry for a hero, christened him “Gen. McClellan, the Napoleon of the Present War.”

After the Union defeat at First Manassas (Bull Run) on July 21, 1861, Lincoln summoned McClellan to Washington to be the commander of the Military Division of the Potomac, the main Union force responsible for the defense of Washington. Carl Sandburg wrote, “McClellan was the man of the hour, pointed to by events, and chosen by an overwhelming weight of public and private opinion.”

On August 20th he formed the Army of the Potomac and began to train troops and integrate units into it. He created defenses for Washington that were almost impregnable, consisting of 48 forts and strong points, with 480 guns manned by 7,200 artillerists. The Army of the Potomac grew in number from 50,000 in July to 168,000 in November and was considered by far the most colossal military unit the world had seen in modern historical times.

He proposed that his army should be expanded to 273,000 men and 600 guns and “crush the rebels in one campaign.” He favored a war that would impose little impact on civilian populations and require no emancipation of slaves.

It was during this time that two overriding issues began to impact his conduct of the war. The first was his conflict with the Radical Republicans. McClellan was not an abolitionist. He believed that slavery was embedded in the Constitution and that the war was not being fought to free the slaves.

The second issue was his constant fear that the Confederate Army was far larger than it actually was. In August, he believed that they had 100,000 troops facing him despite their having only 35,000 at Manassas several weeks before. McClellan in fact rarely had less than a two-to-one advantage over his opponents in 1861 and 1862. That fall, for example, Confederate forces ranged from 35,000 to 60,000, whereas the Army of the Potomac in September numbered 122,000 men; in early December 170,000; by year end, 192,000.

After his appointment as General-in-Chief, McClellan and Lincoln began to be at odds with each other. McClellan treated the President with little deference. He privately referred to Lincoln, whom he had known before the war as a lawyer for the Illinois Central, as “nothing more than a well-meaning baboon”, a “gorilla”, and “ever unworthy of … his high position.” On November 13, he snubbed the president, visiting at McClellan’s house, by making him wait for 30 minutes, only to be told that the general had gone to bed and could not see him.

By January, Lincoln and his Cabinet were losing patience with the general. Lincoln expressed his exasperation with McClellan and was reputed to have said, “If General McClellan does not want to use the army, I would like to borrow it for a time.”

On January 12th 1862, McClellan was summoned to the White House and revealed his strategy to Lincoln and his cabinet. He revealed his intentions to transport the Army of the Potomac by ship to UrbannaVirginia, on the Rappahannock River, outflanking the Confederate forces near Washington, and proceeding 50 miles overland to capture Richmond. This would have left Washington without a proper defensive force and Lincoln would have none of it.

On January 27th, Lincoln ordered the Army of the Potomac to begin offensive operations by February 22nd. On January 31, he issued a supplementary order for the Army of the Potomac to move overland to attack the Confederates at Manassas Junction and Centreville. McClellan immediately replied with a 22-page letter objecting in detail to the president’s plan and advocating instead his Urbanna plan, which was the first written instance of the plan’s details being presented to the president.

Lincoln continued to interfere in McClellan’s planning and operation of the army. He reluctantly agreed to McClellan’s plan but on March 8th called McClellan’s subordinates to the White House where he questioned them on their confidence in the plan. They expressed their confidence to varying degrees.

After the meeting, Lincoln issued another order, naming specific officers as corps commanders to report to McClellan. He had been reluctant to do so prior to assessing his division commanders’ effectiveness in combat, even though this would have meant his direct supervision of twelve divisions in the field.

Then Confederate commander Joseph E. Johnston withdrew from positions in front of Washington and moved south of the Rappahannock River, nullifying the Urbanna strategy. McClellan came under extreme criticism from the press and the Congress when it was found that Johnston’s forces had not only slipped away unnoticed, but had for months fooled the Union Army through the use of logs painted black to appear as cannons, nicknamed Quaker Guns.

The Radical Republicans were outraged and demanded McClellan’s dismissal but a vote in Congress was defeated by a parliamentary maneuver. Meanwhile, McClellan had adjusted his strategy. He proposed moving his troops by water to Fortress Monroe on the Virginia Peninsula. From there they would move up the narrow peninsula and take Richmond from the east.

On March 11, 1862 McClellan was relieved as general-in-chief, ostensibly to devote his entire energies to commanding the Army of the Potomac. However, he was not replaced and the civilian leadership of Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and a group of officers called the “War Board” directed the strategic actions of the Union armies that spring. In time McClellan saw the change of command very differently, describing it as a part of an intrigue “to secure the failure of the approaching campaign.”



The Halfway Point: April 8, 1863

Lincoln reviews Union troops at Falmouth, VAA recollection from the the 10th Massachusetts regimental history reads: “WEDNESDAY, April 8. The infantry and light artillery of the army of the Potomac were reviewed by President Lincoln and General Hooker. Nearly the entire army was assembled, and though closely packed, covered a large area of country. It was an imposing spectacle. The army was in splendid condition, and made a fine appearance. This is the third time we have been reviewed by the President, in the field; once at Harrison’s Landing, once at Downesville, and now at Falmouth.”

April 8, 1863 was the halfway point in the American Civil War. Of course, those on each side had no idea that the war was at the halfway point. Both armies had evolved from armed mobs into semblances of the modern forces that they would become by 1864.

Behind them were the early battles in Virginia and Maryland, mostly won by Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. In the West the seeds of the Confederacy’s destruction were being sown in places like Fort Henry, Fort Donelson and along the Mississippi by a little-known Union commander, Ulysses S. Grant.

Grant was currently in a military chess match with his adversaries in an attempt to capture the fortress city of Vicksburg, Mississippi. With complete and utter determination the stubborn Grant would fence with his opponents for six months before his final triumph. But in April it seemed that Vicksburg was unassailable.

On January 1, 1863, the Lincoln administration had issued the Emancipation Proclamation. It proclaimed all those enslaved in Confederate territory to be forever free, and ordered the Army (and all segments of the Executive branch) to treat as free all those enslaved in ten states that were still in rebellion, thus applying to 3.1 million of the 4 million slaves in the U.S. With emancipation came the raising of regiments of black men to fight for the Union Cause. Eventually some 180,000 men would fight for the Union.

In the East, yet another Union commander of the Army of the Potomac, “Fighting Joe” Hooker was once more reorganized the oft-reorganized On to Richmond PosterUnion army. The army’s morale had been at a low point after Ambrose Burnside’s “Mud March” and Hooker needed to raise it before taking the huge army South across the Rappahannock against Lee. Hooker was planning a massive stroke against the Confederates before sending his force to Richmond.

In the East, Richmond was still the main target of the Union army. “On to Richmond” had been the rallying cry since the beginning of the war. The Union’s fixation on capturing the enemy capital played into the strategy of Lee. Using Richmond as bait, Joseph E. Johnston and Lee were able to defeat the Union army of George McClellan on the Peninsula and during the Seven Days’ Battles.

Lee then followed up his victories with the utter defeat of the Union Army of Virginia at Second Manassas or Second Bull Run. He then met McClellan once again in a bloody draw at Antietam near Sharpsburg, Maryland. This was followed by Lee’s successful defense of Fredericksburg in December 1862.

In the West, Grant was beginning to show the world his genius for the use of river transports to move his troops against his opponents. He captured Fort Henry after heavy naval bombardment from the U.S. Navy’s Western Flotilla. He then moved quickly to surround Fort Donelson and after naval bombardment failed to reduce the fort, Grant’s troops stormed the Confederate lines. Over 12,000 Confederates surrendered to the Union army.

At the halfway point, events in the West seemed to be moving in favor of the Union. With Grants skillful use of maneuver and his victorious Army of the Tennessee, the Union cause seemed to be on the upsurge. In the East, however, the Battle of Chancellorsville was yet to come. More importantly, every manpower loss by the Confederacy hurt them worse than the losses by the Union. Eventually, the South would bleed to death. It was a race against time for the South.