My comparison between Cooke & Lee

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1861 Nov 16 Philip St. George Cooke wrote a letter to President Lincoln in which he referred to the nature of the war as a "ruthless rebellion". He also pointed out that by customary rights one did not find duty under a former junior officer. (He cited Knox refusing Washington's offer to him of the commission of Major General under Hamilton because Hamilton had been a junior officer fifteen years ago). Clearly he was not happy with being under McClellan who was 17 years his junior, or of the "apparent favor bestowed in the appointment of Brigadier General of Volunteers", and he went on to relate his accomplishments in the army over the last thirty-four years. Unfortunately half of the letter was lost, but it appears he was petitioning for a higher position because of his vast experience and seniority. Was he aiming for General Chief of the Union Army? From his journal on the Black Hawk War, and his initial reaction to the Mormon Battalion, we know Cooke did not have a high regard for volunteers, and having decided to go with the North out of principle, I would guess he was greatly wounded at being offered what he considered to be an inferior position. On both sides it had been supposed that Cooke would probably "follow the State" and go with the South, but his loyalty to the Union was unshaken, and when a letter from a Confederate general was secretly delivered to him in Washington, he promptly handed it over to the War Department.


Philip Saint George Cooke was born on June 13th, 1809 Robert Edward Lee was born on January 19th, 1807

Both men were born in Virginia. Both lost contact with their fathers at an early age - Cooke by death, Lee by desertion.

Both of their fathers were Revolutionary War heroes.

Both mothers suffered privations and struggled to support their children. The fact that West Point tuition was free was most likely the deciding factor that sent both young Virginians north for their education.

Both men were tall and had small feet. My cousin marveled at the small size of Philip St. George Cooke's boots. [I don't know what happened to them].

Cooke went to West Point at age 14 in 1823, and graduated 23rd in his class in 1827 at the age of 18. He then joined the Infantry. Lee went to West Point age 18 in 1825, so they would have known each other. He graduated age 22, 2nd in his class  with no demerits in 1829. He joined the Corps of Engineers.

Lee was praised for his action during the Mexican War. Cooke was assigned to escort the Mormon Battalion to California during the Mexican War - an event which he feared would hamper his chance for advancement.

Philip age 51 wanted command of the Union Army, as far as I can see, but was turned down and accepted the position of Brigadier General of the volunteers instead.

Robert E. Lee, age 54 turned down the opportunity to be in command of the Union forces after Virginia seceded, and accepted the assignment as commander of the Confederate Army.

The point of this comparison is to show that Cooke could have foreseen a future as top military commander of the North as a viable one considering his vast experience.

Against Philip holding the highest military position in the North, was the fact that he was born in Virginia, and had a son, two son-in-laws, a nephew, many relatives, friends, and former comrades, on the side of the South. It seems plausible that despite his former achievements, and his dedication to the Union, Lincoln and the War Department may have considered him a risk.

So many West Point graduates had joined the Confederacy that some members of Congress considered West Point to be "a breeding ground of traitors". In the Senate, a motion to close the academy outright actually came to a vote: it was defeated 29 to 10.

1861 Nov 19th, Philip St. George Cooke accepted the commission as Brigadier General, Volunteers.

1861 Nov 21 Anita Withers's diary: "Mrs. Gen. Stuart and the children came this evening to stay here [in Richmond] for the winter."

1861 Nov 24 When Jeb Stuart read in The Washington Star that Philip St. George Cooke had command of the volunteers he said "I propose to take him prisoner. I married his daughter, and I want to present her with her father. So let him come on." C.M.Blackford, Letters from Lee's Army p. 57

"The affair of his father-in-law in Federal uniform seemed to gall Stuart. He wrote Flora on November twentieth: 'The Washington Star announces your Pa's appointment as Brig. Genl.' Four days later he wrote once more, warning her to keep her name out of the newspapers, where controversies over divided families were raging." He also wrote: " consoled in what you rightly regard as very distressing, by the reflection that your husband and brothers will atone for the father's conduct". He suggested that she write to her brother and "tell him you expect him and us to wipe out every stain on the name by our own brilliant service". "It was around this time that their one and a half year old son's name was changed from Philip St. George Stuart to James Ewell Brown Stuart Jr. or "Jimmie". Burke Davis Jeb Stuart The Last Cavalier p. 77

Jeb wrote: "I heard by underground railroad yesterday that your Ma is boarding at Brown's Hotel, Washington, and she remarked at the breakfast table the other morning, how much she would 'like to hear from her daughter Flora.' Now my Darling if you will write a small letter, put it in a small envelope, telling her how well and comfortable we all are and send it to me I can have it put under your Ma's breakfast plate, before the end of next week, and she will never know who brought it." [As a member of the secret service it was within his ability to arrange this.] And he mentioned that "Your Pa is dissatisfied with the way he has been served by putting others over him. It is what he might have expected. He would have been Major General this moment had he come over to us." Burke Davis, Jeb Stuart The Last Cavalier p. 78. So Philip St. George Cooke's dissatisfaction was widely known - a factor which probably added to his embarrassment.

1861 Nov 28 Philip St. George Cooke vacated the position of Brigadier General of Volunteers and was commissioned as Brigadier General, U.S. Army.

1861- 62 Winter In January, Jeb Stuart wrote to John Rogers Cooke saying, "I have felt great mortification at Col. Cooke's course. He will regret it but once, and that will be continuously. Let us so conduct ourselves as to have nothing in our course to be regretted. Certainly thus far we have nothing that we may not be proud of. It is a sad thing, but the responsibility of the present state of the separation in the family rests entirely with the Colonel. Let us bear our misfortunes in silence." Stuart to John Cooke in the P. St. Geo. Cooke Papers, VA Historical Society, Richmond. Burke Davis Jeb Stuart The Last Cavalier p. 87

Jeb and Philip never spoke to each other again, and Stuart in his reports on the battles during the Peninsular Campaign only referred to his clashes with the North - which sometimes included Philip St. George Cooke - as "the enemy".

1861 Dec McClellan known as "Little Mac" and "The Young Napoleon", became General in Chief of the Union Army and created a Cavalry Reserve Brigade to be led by Cooke. Cooke drilled his men incessantly through the streets of Washington until the Army of the Potomac entered upon the Peninsular Campaign. On January 16th 1862, Philip St. George Cooke's Reserve Brigade was paraded, inspected and praised by the Inspector General.

1861 Dec 21 "PHILIP ST . GEORGE COOKE , the renegade Virginian, has been made Brigadier-General of all the regular cavalry in the Yankee Army of the Potomac. He will thus be opposed face to face with his son-in-law, Gen. Stewart, who expected his father-in-law to get this appointment, and said he would certainly capture him - for Cooke is a dashing man, and will be sure to leave his cowardly cavalry behind." From "Our Richmond Correspondence" in The Charleston Mercury, December 21, 1861.

1862 Jan 5 Anita Withers's Diary: " My birthday, I completed my 23rd year today. The Capt. gave me a beautiful cake. We went to Church at eleven. I dressed finely for dinner, after which we invited Dr. and Mrs. Brewer to take a glass of wine and cake with us." [So the friendship between the two couples was a close one.]

1862 Jan 23 Birth - Maria "Bonnie" Brewer daughter of Charles & Maria. This was the first grandchild to be born after the family's estrangement. One can only wonder how Maria and her mother Rachel felt about this. This birth date was obtained through the Anita Withers Diary. Her entry for this date: "When I reached home they told me Mrs. Brewer was sick - her little daughter was born at six O'clock. I was the first person out of the room that heard her cry". ["Sick" was a euphemism for childbirth.]

1862 Feb 1 Anita Withers's Diary entry: "It rained all day nearly. I took my Music lessons. Mrs. Stuart finished my collar for me". [Flora Stuart is still in Richmond on this date, her sewing ability is mentioned. Apparently Flora made Jeb's uniforms for him as well as his battle flag. On Feb 9th Flora and a Mrs. Duval dressed Anita's blisters and poultices, showing an aptitude for nursing as well. There is a good chance that Maria Brewer also assisted her husband in the hospital when she could].

Lesley Blanch in The Wilder Shores of Love 1954 on p. 62 wrote: "Isabel [Burton] shared the Victorian woman's passion for nursing, for concocting experimental draughts, for poulticing, and generally ministering. It appears to have occupied an obsessive place in their make-up. [Richard] Burton opined it was the expression of a subconscious desire for power, for domination..." [- An interesting theory!]

1862 Feb -John Rogers Cooke was promoted to major of artillery and ordered to North Carolina as chief of artillery in that department.

1862 Feb Around this time there was a parade in Washington and a dance afterwards which was attended by General and Mrs. Cooke. It is said that their daughter Julia, who would have been 19, met her future husband Jacob Sharpe at this time. It is also possible that Agnes and Prince Felix Salm-Salm who fought with the German division of the Union would have been in attendance as well. He had come to Washington in 1862 and he and Agnes were married on August 30th of that year. [My Aunt Ray probably heard about the Salm Salms from her grandparents the Cookes. I became interested in them through her diary. See: A Victorian Lady's Trip to Europe 1914 [ ]

1862 March 14 Philip St. George Cooke wrote a fiery protest to Asst. Adj. General: "Although disposed to devote my best energies to the country's service in any position or place that her authorities may best judge them available, I am impelled at this moment to express some mortification, in view of my circumstances. Possibly I am mistaken, but suppose that a far junior Volunteer Brigadier General Shields - was the other day assigned to command a division : - whilst I find myself commanding two regiments, and a fraction: - which I fear as now will be... frequently taken from me. I now have a Colonel's command, viz: six squadrons." (Otis Young The West of Philip St. George Cooke p. 329).

The Peninsular Campaign

1862 March 17 Philip St. George Cooke, now assigned as the Commander of the Cavalry Division of the Army of the Potomac, had orders to capture of Richmond, where two daughters (Maria and Flora) and three of his grandchildren (Bonnie Brewer, Flora, & Jeb Stuart Jr.) lived. He was also trapped between the cautious command of McClellan and the dashing daring attacks of Jeb Stuart, his former friend and son-in-law who, at the head of the 1st Virginia Cavalry, rode rings around McClellan. It became his task to pursue and catch Jeb, and on at least one occasion, the two men were in shooting distance of each other. (Would Cooke have shot him if he could? I think not.) His son John Rogers Cooke and nephew John Esten Cooke were also involved in this battle - on the other side of the line. This must have been quite a stumbling block for the normally single-minded seasoned old soldier to deal with.

1862 April 5 to May 4 Yorktown Philip St. George Cooke is listed as being at Yorktown.

1862 April 21 John Esten Cooke was commissioned captain.

1862 April John Rogers Cooke was elected colonel of the 27th North Carolina Infantry, which was ordered to Virginia and attached to the division of A.P. Hill.

1862 May 5 Williamsburg Philip St. George Cooke, John Rogers Cooke, Jeb Stuart, and John Esten Cooke were all at this battle. Records show that on March 25th and April 15th John Esten Cooke had acted as Stuart's voluntary aide. Then, on May 19th he was commissioned a lieutenant and ordered to report to Stuart. He was with Stuart until May 12, 1864 (when Stuart died), and then he was on General Pemberton's staff until the end of the war.

1862 May Jeb wrote to Flora about his part in the battle of Williamsburg.
"My Darling Wife-
Blessed be God that giveth us the victory. The battle of Wmsburg was fought and won on the 5th. A glorious affair. ...On the 4th my Brigade distinguished itself, and on the 5th by its attitude and maneuvering under constant fire prevented the enemy's leaving the woods for the open ground-thus narrowing his artillery scope of fire. I consider the most brilliant feat of the 5th to have been a dash of the Stuart Horse Artillery to the front. For myself I have only to say that if you had seen your husband you would have been proud of him. I was not out of fire the whole day. [How's that as a way to comfort the fears of a wife at home! ] The day before, the Cavalry made several charges-and Lawrence Williams told the bearer of a flag of truce that I came within an ace of capturing my father-in-law. Our Cavalry charged their Cavalry handsomely and, even they were entirely routed - their artillery captured, the Cav. flag of the enemy was captured-but the 4th Va. Cavalry lost its standard bearer and flag... God bless you-" Burke Davis, Jeb Stuart The Last Cavalier pp. 100-101

1862 May 31 Fair Oaks/Seven Pines John Rogers Cooke now a Colonel of the 27th North Carolina Regiment, led his men in this battleand was wounded. Jeb Stuart was also present.

1862 May 31 Anita Withers's Diary [Writing from Salisbury]: "The battle near Richmond commenced today - as far as we have heard they have continued fighting for three days."

1862 June 2 Anita Withers's Diary [from Salisbury] : " I have written to the Capt. [her husband] and sent the letter by persons going. Mrs. Myers and myself went to the depot this evening to hear the news. They have stopped fighting to bury their dead." [She returned to Richmond on June 8th].

Last Updated ( Thursday, 05 November 2009 09:37 )