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

Hayes, Hays, and Haze

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During the early days of the Maryland campaign, just about 156 years ago, future president Rutherford B. Hayes, a colonel in the 23rd Ohio regiment, was involved in an incident which later led to a charge that he had caused the death of General Jesse Reno.

Hayes, who had a well-deserved reputation as a tough, hard-nosed soldier, had told his men to bivouac in a Maryland field and to feel free to gather wood and hay from a farmer’s field.  As they were doing so, Reno, commander of the 9th corps (of which Hayes’s men were part), rode up and accused the men of thievery, calling them “You damned black sons of bitches.”  Hayes reacted testily to this hazing, responding that he hoped the general would be as energetic in treating his foes as he was in treating his friends.  Reno felt insulted, but Hayes assured him that he had not wanted to cause any offense.

Later, Colonel Hugh Ewing (Hayes’s commander and W.T. Sherman’s foster brother), who had a well-deserved reputation as a hothead, went to Reno himself to defend Hayes and complain about his use of profanity.  Reno said he didn’t recall using profanity, but apologized if he had.  He added that he would put the 23rd corps and the Kanawha division in the lead for the campaign to see how they would perform.   The division, led by General Jacob Cox, in fact led the way in taking Frederick, Md. and then in the victory at South Mountain, September 14, 1862.  At the latter battle, Hayes was seriously wounded and Reno was killed.

But the earlier incidents were clearly not forgotten.  In 1882 a history of the 21st Massachusetts regiment accused Hayes of pillaging and justified Reno’s anger against him.  Later, according to a letter from Cox to Hayes, a letter to the editor in the Boston “Journal” claimed that a member of the 23rd regiment had killed Reno to prevent him from court-martialing Hayes.  An indignant Hayes confirmed the realities of the situation and denied any intent to harm Reno.

Pictured are, in order, images of Hayes and Reno and the Reno monument at South Mountain fa77c1fa0ce6199fb42a381496138d3fgeneral-jesse-reno3

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“Cursing Cox” and the Fall of Atlanta

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As we near the 154th anniversary of the fall of Atlanta in the Civil War, I thought readers might enjoy a vignette about how a misjudgment by Confederate commander John Bell Hood and an embarrassing episode for Union General Jacob Cox helped pave the way for the Union triumph.

Having besieged Atlanta in late July/early August, Union commander William T. Sherman “was now convinced that he could expect no permanent results from cutting the enemy’s communications (and supply line) unless it were done in force.” So Sherman ordered a comprehensive flanking maneuver, entrenching the 20th AC to the north of the city and swinging the rest toward its south. Cox’s division was to be the “pivot of the movement,” and by August 27 “most of the army was between Atlanta and Sandtown.” In his diary on August 26 Cox noted, “The enemy is excited and watches to see what this means, but does not interfere.”

Sherman had not intended this effort as a subterfuge, but it became one when Hood concluded that Sherman was retreating via the Sandtown road because his earlier effort to cut the Union supply line to Chattanooga had succeeded. Hood’s Chief of Staff wrote in his journal August 26, “The prevailing impression is that the Federals are falling back across the Chattahoochee River.” Hood’s communiqués of August 25 and 26 included a report that his cavalry had captured 1000 head of cattle and that Sherman seemed to have “disappeared.”

An incident on August 27 in which Cox was allegedly involved was, by some accounts, critical to convincing Hood that Sherman had indeed retreated. According to W.J. Hardee, one of Hood’s subordinates, who related the story to Cox after the war, a female spy told him that she had been within Schofield’s lines on August 18 and had asked for food. She said she had met personally with Cox, who refused her request and even told her that he and his men had been “living on short rations for seven days, and now that your people have torn up our railroad and stolen our beef cattle, we must live a damn sight shorter.”

Cox, who neither drank, smoke, nor cursed, wrote in his memoirs that that he didn’t remember the incident, blushingly adding that “a laugh was raised at my expense as Hardee in telling the story repeated some profane camp expletives as having added emphasis to the refusal… [Cox’s commander General John] Schofield merrily rallied me on a change of habits of speech when not with my usual associates, and refused to credit my protestation.” Hardee said he had taken the woman to Hood to tell him her story, and in response “Hood exclaimed, ‘There, Hardee! It proves that it is just as I told you. Wheeler has broken Sherman’s communications; he is short of provisions and is retreating north by the Sandtown road…To this conviction he stubbornly adhered for forty-eight hours longer.”

On August 31 the flanking movement by Cox’s men allowed them to destroy the Macon and Western Railroad tracks south of Atlanta.  When Hood heard of this, he ordered the abandonment of the city the next day.  He also ordered the destruction of supplies, including armaments, which led to the first “burning of Atlanta” (at least in part).

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Battle of Franklin Reminiscences

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Going through “old” pictures recently, I happened on these from the 2014 commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Franklin.  They are: 1) Ed Bearss and I agreeing on the critical role of Jacob Cox in winning the day; 2) Thomas Cartwright and I at Winstead Hill, from which John Bell Hood, looking at the Union bulwark, ordered the last massive offensive onslaught of the Civil War; 3-4) two descriptive tablets of the action around the Carter House; and 5) me standing under the placard of Jacob Cox, which was displayed on the streets of Franklin during the anniversary period.  It is now displayed on the wall of my home office!  Enjoy.

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Shenandoah Valley Visit

Last week we did a broad-based trip to the Shenandoah Valley, based in Staunton, the birthplace of President Woodrow Wilson.  We stayed, not surprisingly, in the Stonewall Jackson Hotel, which is next door to the Blackfriars Theater, a year-round Shakespeare playhouse.  Key stops were the Battle of Port Republic, where Jackson had his final triumph against Fremont’s forces in 1862 and the Virginia Museum of the Civil War.  The latter celebrates (venerates!?) the contributions of the VMI cadets who helped defeat Sigel in the 1864 campaign.  (Sigel helped by enhancing here his well-deserved reputation as one of the very worst Union generals).

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Jacob Cox in Spring Hill Cemetery, Cincinnati

We just celebrated the 118th anniversary of the death of Jacob Cox on August 4, 1900.  An avid sailor, he and his namesake son, J.D. Cox III, were sailing off the coast of Massachusetts in July when he had a heart attack.  Cox was never even wounded during his four years in the Civil War, and he had been relatively healthy until that time.  He was 72 when he died.

Below are two pictures from the gravesite at Spring Hill Cemetery in Cincinnati.  The grave is just a few meters from that of two other famous Civil War personna, Salmon P. Chase and Joseph Hooker.   On Cox’s obelisk is the inscription, “Jacob Dolson Cox, 1828-1900; Soldier, Statesman, Scholar, Patriot. ”  The motto inscribed under his name was quite fitting: “Integer Vitae”.  Many of his family members, including his wife Helen, who died in 1912, are also buried  at the site.

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Robert E. Lee the Marble Man (re-send)

Facebook has said it won’t automatically carry items from certain web-sites unless one has a “Page” and not a “Profile.”  This is a re-send experiment to see if I have a Page.

A few months ago, in between my lectures in Raleigh and Kitty Hawk, NC and Hershey, PA,  I had the occasion to see several Lee statues — Monument Avenue in Richmond (the most controversial of all); Gettysburg battlefield (Lee sending his men to their deaths during Pickett’s charge); and at the Antietam battlefield’s newest segment, the Newcomer House.  The Lee statue there was authorized by the previous owner, and the National Park Service has agreed to leave it there.  This statue is full of inaccuracies, e.g. Lee had injured both his hands and couldn’t ride and he did in fact support slavery and secession (the statue’s placard says he didn’t).  What was also interesting is that the statue is looking South across a segment of the battlefield where Jacob Cox fought.  And finally, Lee is wearing a hat only in the last statue.  All of the above is why this war continues to be the source of debate, not all of it, unfortunately, civil.

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Leesburg, Virginia – Union/Confederate Town?

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Despite being named for the Lee family (before Robert E. Lee was born), Leesburg’s Civil War history is a bit more “mixed” than one might think.  Yes, it was decidedly pro-Southern throughout the war, but not necessarily pro-secessionist.  Its two delegates to the April 1861 Virginia secession convention voted “no,” but in the referendum on secession in May, the vote in favor was 400-22.

We don’t know how Robert E. Lee, who accepted a commission in the Confederate army before Virginia became part of the Confederacy through that referendum, voted.  He had always said he opposed secession, so perhaps he would have voted “no”?  (If any reader knows the answer to that question, i.e. when and if Lee ever said how he voted, the Civil War community would appreciate your letting us know).

Leesburg changed hands some 150 times during the war, so it was both a Union and Confederate city many times.  However, its sympathies tended toward the South.  As one Union soldier commented as the Union took the town in March 1862, the people were “a perfect sneering next of rebels…the bitterest in their hatred of Northern mudsills of any we had met.”

Leesburg’s Courthouse Square has the inevitable monument to the Confederate dead (none for the Union!), but it is now also populated by memorials to World Wars I and II and the Revolutionary War.

A few blocks from the square is the retirement home of Virginian General George Marshall, now a National Historic Landmark.  Marshall was one of the leaders of the “Greatest Generation” as both World War II Army Chief and Secretary of State.  Interestingly, there is a painting of Robert E. Lee prominently displayed on the wall of Marshall’s house.

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