Civil War Talks on the Life of Jacob Cox, the Battle of Antietam, the Battle of Franklin, and the War in West Virginia


My Civil War Blog

This is the post excerpt.

A picture says a thousands words — here is an example. This is the official portrait of Jacob Cox as Governor of Ohio. He was elected in 1865 while still in the Volunteer Army. He chose to be pictured as what I call the consummate “citizen-general.” A self-trained military man, Cox the private citizen had an outstanding military career in the Civil War, but then chose to return to civilian life. In the painting he wears his dress uniform as a two-star Major General, but in his hand is his commission as Governor. On the table behind him is his commission as a general, his sword and scabbard, and his binoculars. The latter are symbols of what he has left behind, but also reminders that they are available if the nation calls again. This is among the reasons why I put this picture on the cover of my biography of Cox, “Citizen-General: Jacob Dolson Cox and the Civil War Era.” The book is available via amazon. com. See also my web-site,

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Speaking Tomorrow in La Plata, MD at the Southern MD CW Round Table

Following is the notice from that group’s web-site about my talk tomorrow about the Battle of Franklin.  Hope you can make it.

December 11, 2018

The Southern Maryland Civil War Round Table is pleased to announce that its next meeting will take place on Tuesday, December 11, 2018 at 7:00pm at the College of Southern Maryland’s Learning Resources Center, Room LR-102, at 8730 Mitchell Road in La Plata, MD.


Join us tonight as we welcome Mr. Gene Schmiel, who will discuss Union General Jacob Cox and the Battle of Franklin, TN.

“Like so many men of his era, Jacob Cox never expected to be a military man, especially one who would play a key role for the Union at, among others, the Battles of Antietam and Franklin.  In his youth Cox was a ministerial student at Oberlin College, and his quiet, studious, introverted persona seemed to be ill-suited to the military life.  However, he rose to the occasion sufficiently well that General W.T. Sherman offered him a brigadier generalship in the regular army at the war’s end.  Instead Cox returned to civilian life, where he became a true Renaissance man, becoming Governor of Ohio, Secretary of the Interior, congressman, president of the Wabash Railroad, president of the University of Cincinnati, and Dean of the Cincinnati Law School.  He also wrote four histories of the war which are still today considered objective analyses of that conflict.

The Battle of Franklin, November 30, 1864, dealt a major body blow to the Confederate Army of Tennessee, which suffered its final defeat and resultant dissolution two weeks later at the Battle of Nashville, effectively ending the war in the West.  Confederate commander John Bell Hood launched the Civil War’s final major offensive charge that day with 20,000 men, fully 50% larger than Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg, attacking 13,000 Union men, most of whom were stationed behind hastily-constructed but formidable barriers.  Hood suffered an inevitable debacle at a time when most commanders had learned that fighting on the defensive was a far preferable tactic.

The Union defensive line at Franklin was commanded and created by General Jacob D. Cox.  He was given this role by the Union commander, John Schofield, who had learned during the Atlanta campaign earlier that year that Cox was a dependable and capable subordinate.  The defensive line was nearly-impregnable, but a mistake by one of Cox’s subordinates allowed the Confederates to penetrate a hundred yards into the center of the line.  At that critical time Cox, who had presciently created a potential second line of defense behind the first, displayed conspicuous leadership and saved the day.  As one of his men wrote later,  ‘General Cox remained mounted while the confusion was greatest, and during the break in the line, he was in the midst, displaying heroic bravery, with hopeful look and sword poised above. Gen. Cox’s quiet but superb magnetism impelled every man who caught his eye to redoubled effort in wresting victory from defeat.’

While Hood announced to his  men the next day that Franklin was a victory, the author of a superb Confederate memoir, Company Aytch, Private Sam Watkins, wrote later, “I shrink from the butchery…My flesh trembles, and creeps and crawls when I think of it today.  It was the finishing stroke to the independence of the Southern Confederacy.”

Grant’s Postwar Views on Many Topics

I just finished reading an edited version of “Conversations with General Grant,” a book written by John Russell Young of the “New York Herald” based on their talks during Grant’s post-presidency world tour in 1877-9.   I had read excerpts before, some of which I used in my biography of Jacob Cox, but this edition contained many revealing — not to say astounding — thoughts from the 18th president.

  1. He says he wasn’t concerned about England and/or France recognizing the Confederacy, not only because the war would have gone on anyway — leading to a Union victory — and because it “would have meant the withdrawal of England from the American continent.  Canada would have become ours.  If Sheridan, for instance, with our resources, could not have taken Canada in thirty days, he should have been cashiered.”
  2. Speaking of Stonewall Jackson, he said that at West Point, “some of us regarded him as a fanatic. Sometimes his religion took strange forms – hypochondria – fancies that an evil spirit had taken possession of him.” Noting that Jackson’s early victories had been over mediocrities, “if he had attempted on Sheridan the tactics he attempted so successfully upon others, he would not only have been beaten, but destroyed.”
  3. He said, “Lee, of course, was a good soldier, and so was Longstreet…I do not know that there was any better than Joe Johnston…he gave me more anxiety than any of the others.”
  4. Noting his disappointment that the South had remained bitter about the war, Grant said, “looking back, over whole policy of Reconstruction, it seems to me that the wisest thing would have been to have continued for some time the military rule…it would have been just to all, to the negro who wanted freedom, the white man who wanted protection, the Northern man who wanted Union.” Instead, blacks got the vote, but as a result, “we have given the old slaveholders forty votes in the electoral college.  They keep those votes, but disfranchise the negroes.  That is one of the gravest mistakes in the policy of reconstruction.” He added that while this looked like a political triumph for the South, “it is not.  The Southern people have nothing to dread more than the political triumph of the men who led them into secession.  That triumph was fatal to them in 1860.  It would be no less now.”51zQBDaoAoL._SY346_

A Busy November/December on the Road

This November and December I have four talks scheduled:On November 8 I will be at the Chesapeake CWRT  in Arnold, MD, speaking about the life of Jacob D. Cox.

On November 14 I will be at the Western Reserve CWRT in Berea, Ohio, speaking about the creation of West Virginia during the Civil War and the crucial role played by Jacob Cox in securing it for the Union.

On November 15 I will be at the Gettysburg CWRT in that city, speaking about the Battle of Franklin and Jacob Cox’s critical role there.

On December 11 I will be at the Southern Maryland CWRT in Lat Plata, MD, speaking also about the Battle of Franklin and Jacob Cox.

Hope to see you there!007



Re-Taking “West” Virginia

On October 25, 1862, 156 years ago, General Jacob Cox was on the verge of once again taking West Virginia for the Union.

Early in the war Cox and William Rosecrans had led the Union forces which pushed the Confederates out of the northern part of Virginia, allowing the statehood forces to advance plans for “seceding from the secession.”  Cox had in fact taken Charleston, the future capital, in July 1861, a few days after the disaster at Bull Run I.

In August 1862 Cox had been called to Washington to reinforce John Pope’s Army of Virginia, an assignment which eventually led to his commanding the left flank of the Union at Antietam.  However, the forces he left behind in West Virginia failed to hold the gains, and in early October 1862 Cox was assigned the role of re-taking West Virginia.

He was very confident of his ultimate success, writing to his wife “the report now is that the rebels are retreating at the mere rumor of my preparations here to follow them. ”  Actually, Robert E. Lee was confident in his men, telling Confederate commander William Loring on October 15, “I do not think the enemy is able to send strong reinforcements into Western Virginia…Major General Cox, with four brigades has been detached…but no more.”

But Lee misjudged both Cox and Loring. The latter was in fact preparing to retreat, and he was soon replaced by General John Echols, who was ordered “to march his forces back into the Kanawha Valley.”  But Cox advanced rapidly, and Echols reported on October 28 that he had to make a “forced march of 31 miles” to escape.  Cox took Charleston a second time on October 29, telling his wife that “the rebels decamped pell-mell out of the valley.”

Once again “West” Virginia was secure, the path to statehood paved with a Union victory.2c6b70a354d0dae644be81bd55085284wvirginia


Oberlin Tributes to Jacob D. Cox

Oberlin College’s Jacob D. Cox administration building contains several significant tributes to its namesake, one of the Union’s best “citizen-generals.”  The entrance to the  building, financed by Cox’s son, J.D. Cox III, contains: 1) a brass plate commemorating Cox’s many achievements, and 2) two paintings by another of Cox’s sons, Kenyon.

Kenyon Cox is famous for his classical murals, many of which are on the walls of the Library of Congress, and  he painted these classical images as tributes to his parents.  As his biographer put it, “Cox caught his own view of his father a reserved, dignified, and important, yet thoughtful and caring.  And his mother was a personal symbol of the values he attributed to idealized women.  He saw her as a true helper to his father and a sustaining force for heer children.  But she was an independent personality.”


Oberlin College Visit

Kathryn and I visited Oberlin College on October 10, primarily to present a copy of my biography of Jacob Cox to College President Carmen Twillie Ambar, whose office is in the Jacob Cox administration building.

During a delightful chat with the President, who had been inaugurated in her position only a few days before, I noted that I first arrived in Oberlin almost 50 years before to begin the research for my doctoral dissertation.  The Oberlin College archives, then in Bosworth Hall, were the home of Jacob Cox’s papers, and I spent many months roaming through his writings and those of his many famous correspondents.

Below are pictures of our meeting, as well as of the Cox building.  Note that in the third photo, I am looking at the portrait of Charles Finney.  He was Oberlin’s second president, and a prominent evangelist and abolitionist of the early 19th century.  He was also Jacob Cox’s father-in-law.  At the bottom of that photo is a copy of the Oberlin Review noting President Ambar’s inauguration.


Whither the Rebel 100,000?

As we look back at the Battle of Antietam and debate Union tactics, one question I don’t recall being given much attention (then by McClellan, now by historians) is “whither the Rebel 100,000?”

McClellan “knew” that Lee’s forces numbered 100,000 or more for the Maryland campaign.  Nevertheless, he took the offensive on September 17 despite these alleged odds and, we now know, came within moments of overwhelming victory over Lee’s (actual about 45,000) men at several points.   Overnight on September 18-19, Lee retreated to Virginia, meaning, McClellan later told his wife, that God had, “in his mercy, a second time made me the instrument for saving the nation.”

But did McClellan also wonder on September 18, “whither the Rebel 100,000?”  That is, after September 17, did he or any of his key subordinates question his judgment about the numbers of his opponent?  Would not they have logically asked themselves why Lee, if he had such a large number of men, retreated at all, but rather have launched a massive counter-attack with his huge reserves?

According to one eyewitness, McClellan’s aide David Strother, the Union army’s leadership could have seen the answer to those questions by simply looking at the battlefield on September 18.  He wrote in his diary that day, “The enemy is…clearly in no condition to open the battle…I expressed my conviction that the enemy was beaten.”  But nothing happened, and the battle was not renewed, McClellan having been diverted, in Strother’s opinion, by “weak-kneed counselors — respectable book soldiers — who concentrated all their wits in finding something to scare at.”

Jacob Cox, reviewing McClellan’s autobiography, McClellan’s Own Story, in “The Nation” magazine, noted that McClellan made no reference there to his judgment about troop numbers in the Maryland campaign.  This fact, Cox wrote, was implicitly “an admittance of being wrong.”

As far as I know, McClellan never admitted being wrong.  To have done so in September 1862 would perhaps have undercut both his victory and his reputation.   Clearly he didn’t change his strategy or tactics — he still delayed and moved slowly until he was fired in early November.  Perhaps,  he still believed in the countless rebel reserves?