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

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.



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.



Leesburg, Virginia – Union/Confederate Town?

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.






Lessons in “Military Journalism”

Early in the Civil War, some generals recognized that their advancement in rank and prestige depended not only on their military achievements, but also on their public relations, especially with journalists.  It was a time when the standards for objective and accurate journalism were, shall we say, “evolving,” and reporters often embellished the records of generals they favored, as well as those who treated them well or even bribed them.  Those who did not indulge the journalists often saw the reporters write negative articles about them, regardless of the facts.

George McClellan, who effectively used a portable printing press on his early campaigns to make public pronouncements about his achievements, was especially skilled in currying favor with the press.  The latter quickly dubbed him “The Young Napoleon” after his troops’ 1861 victories in western Virginia — even though McClellan himself was never actually on a battlefield during this period.

General Jacob Cox, one of McClellan’s key aides in that region, had an autonomous command which had succeeded in taking Charleston and Gauley Bridge in late July 1861, key steps toward the creation of the new state of West Virginia.  Cox’s policy toward the press differed from McClellan’s, which was one of the reasons why he was not well known.  For example, the day after his troops had taken Gauley Bridge, reporters from the New York Times and New York Tribune approached him to ask on what terms they could accompany his forces.  The self-effacing Cox did not see this as an opportunity to engage in self-promotion.  He told them they could accompany the army and would be furnished with tents and transportation.  But he would require that their reports be reviewed by his staff to make sure they did not aid the rebels.  The disappointed journalists instead wanted to be made volunteers with military rank.  In his Military Reminiscences, he wrote that he emurred, noting they would be more independent if they did not feel they had to repay favors with flattery.  Their response was “General Cox thinks he can get along without us, and we will show him.  We will write him down.”‘

Despite Cox’s military successes, subsequent articles from these men described Cox’s army as “demoralized, drunken, and without discipline, in a state of insubordination,” and their commander as “totally incompetent.”  Cox wrote to his wife that “I was depressed when I first saw the malicious criticism, but now I feel that the discipline for dealing with it will better my character.”

After two more months of campaigning, and after Cox and his colleague William Rosecrans had rolled back the rebels at the Battle of Carnifex Ferry, the tone of press reports changed.  Cox was undoubtedly surprised and pleased when, on September 18, 1861, the New York Times reported, “Nowhere else in the war has the Union army so well sustained their cause as in western Virginia…Considering the terrain and obstacles there, it is a great victory…General Cox enjoys the unquestioned honor of winning the important valley of the Kanawha for the Union.”



Political Generals’ Revenge: McPherson’s Death, Sherman’s Decision, and Logan’s Angst

On July 22, 1864, at the Battle of Atlanta, Union Army of the Tennessee commander General James McPherson was killed.  That was the root cause of a series of events which would over time reduce the size and effectiveness of the postwar army.

Union army commander W.T. Sherman now had the opportunity to replace McPherson with XVth corps commander (and “political general”) General John T. (Black Jack) Logan, the next highest in rank in that army and a proven, fierce fighter popular with his men.  He chose instead to name General O. O. Howard to the post., despite the fact that Howard, a West Point graduate, had performed poorly at Chancellorsville and at Gettysburg.

Sherman’s reasoning?  He wrote later that it was because Logan was a political general and politicians “were mistrusted by regular officers like Generals Schofield, Thomas, and myself.”  Sherman admitted that Logan “had some reason to believe that we intended to monopolize the higher honors of the war for regular officers;” but that he believed volunteers “looked to personal fame and glory as auxiliary and secondary to political ambition and not as professional soldiers.”

Logan took the decision very hard, writing to his wife, “West Point must have all under Sherman, who is an infernal brute.” He likely wasn’t mollified when, after Howard was made the head of the Freedman’s Bureau, Sherman named Logan as commander of the Army of the Tennessee just in time for the May 1865 Grand Review in Washington.

Logan’s postwar return to politics included helping to manage the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson; strenuously resisting attempts to overturn the conviction of Fitz-John Porter; and running as James G. Blaine’s vice-presidential candidate in the election of 1884.   He also was one of the founders of the volunteer military group, Grand Army of the Republic, and a creator of Decoration Day (later Memorial Day).

Logan also wrote a book, published posthumously in 1887, “The Volunteer Soldier in America,” which was a paean of praise for volunteers and a dirge of attacks on regular army professionals.  The book echoed his activities while in the House of Representatives and Senate until his death in 1886 to block and deter any efforts by Sherman, then commander of the U.S. Army, to enhance the size and influence of the army.

During 1880-81, while he was writing his book “Atlanta,” as part of Scribner’s Great Campaigns of the Civil War series, Jacob Cox consulted with many of the commanders in the campaign.  Sherman, who had offered Cox a brigadier generalship in the regular army at war’s end, told Cox that because of his decision about Logan, he had had “to stand the brunt of Logan’s anger and hatred” ever since.  Cox, who rarely criticized Sherman, wrote in his review of Sherman’s Memoirs, “Sherman was wrong in failing to give civilian generals top commands because they are activated by political ambition.”

Below are images of McPherson, Logan, Logan’s Book, and Cox’s book.




Shooting the “Gap” — Pope’s Blunder

Driving home this afternoon I noticed these two placards regarding Thoroughfare Gap, the road through the Bull Run Mountains through which Lee and Longstreet advanced on an unready and unbelieving John Pope before the Battle of Second Bull Run/Manassas.  Despite being told several times by senior officers that he was going to be outflanked on his left, Pope bullheadedly focused solely on Jackson on his right.  The inevitable result was a rout which only hard work by John Reynolds, among others, prevented a total collapse of Pope’s Army of Virginia.

I recently re-read John Hennessy’s “Return to Bull Run” about that battle, and it is superb.  Unlike all too many Civil War books with details of the fighting, Hennessy is always crisp and to the point, without adding too much detail.  Excellent maps help too.



Hood Replaces Johnston on the Atlanta Campaign; The Clash of Military Tactics

On July 17, 1864, as W.T. Sherman’s army moved steadily south toward Atlanta, with some of his forces just ten miles from that city, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, displeased with commander Joseph Johston’s defensive-oriented tactics, replaced him with corps commander John Bell Hood, then just 33 years old.  In his message, Davis said Johnston “had failed to arrest the advance of the enemy…and expressed no confidence that “he could “defeat or repel” the Union.

Sherman, who learned of the change a few days later, asked his subordinates, several of whom knew Hood from West Point days, for their appraisal of the new rebel leader.  The comment by Army of the Ohio commander John Schofield, Hood’s classmate at West Point, who said he was bold even to rashness and courageous in the extreme,” was echoed by the others.  O.O. Howard made the most cutting analysis, writing his wife, “he is a stupid fellow but a hard fighter — does some very unexpected things.”

Sherman, presuming that Hood would discard Johnston’s effective tactics and go on the offensive, told his commanders, “This was just what we wanted, viz. to fight on open ground, on anything like equal terms instead of being forced to run up against prepared intrenchments.   Schofield’s deputy, General Jacob Cox, wrote later, “The change of commanders undoubtedly precipitated the ruin of the Confederate cause…We regarded the removal of Johnston as equivalent to a victory for us…The action of the Confederate government was a confession that Sherman’s methods had brought about the very result he aimed at.”

On July 25, after his first two offensives at Peachtree Creek and Bald Hill/Atlanta were thwarted, Hood issued a general field order encapsulating his philosophy of battle.  It read in part: “SOLDIERS: Experience has proved to you that safety in time of battle consists in getting into close quarters with your enemy.”  Recall that he wrote this at a time in the war when defensive tactics and the effective use of entrenchments were becoming the keys to military success.

Three days after this order was issued, Hood launched a new offensive at the Battle of Ezra Church.  Jacob Cox wrote later that this attack also failed because Hood’s “troops were losing their stomach for assaulting intrenchments.”  He noted that as “the Union breastworks grew as if by magic, the gray columns were beaten back.”  Some Confederate troops, recognizing the futility of their situation, “stolidly refused to continue the assaults.”  Despite their officers waving swords to encourage them, Cox wrote, “they remained motionless and silent, refusing to budge.”

Four months later, at the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee, the clash of the two approaches, massive offensive charge against entrenched defensive forces, would lead to the final destruction of Hood’s Army of Tennessee