Monday, April 22, 2013

Alexander McCook, born April 22, 1831

Alexander McDowell McCook was born the fifth son of Daniel and Martha McCook in Columbiana County, Ohio. 

Martha Latimore McCook
Daniel and Martha had twelve children: nine sons and three daughters.

His family was prominent in army service—his father Daniel and seven of Alexander's brothers, plus five of his first cousins, fought in the war. They were known as "The Fighting McCooks". His brothers Daniel McCook, Jr., Edwin McCook, and Robert McCook were all Union generals, as were his cousins, Anson McCook and Edward McCook. 
Daniel McCook, Sr.

Edward McCook
By the time Alexander was ready for college, his father was a successful lawyer and judge, with important friends in high places. He was able to secure a place for his son at the United States Military Academy at West Point, in 1847. His brother, Daniel Jr., called Alexander "the happiest man alive."   But he did not love studying, or the strict discipline at the school. An unacceptable number of demerits and a failure in mathematics caused him to repeat one entire year, taking him five years to finish a four year course.  Alexander graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1852.  

He was 30 years old when the Civil War began.

McCook was sent west to fight Utes and Apaches in New Mexico, which he did for five years. He was assistant instructor of infantry tactics at the military academy in 1858–61.

At the start of the Civil War, McCook was appointed colonel of the 1st Ohio Infantry in April 1861. He served in the Washington defenses and saw action at the First Battle of Bull Run. 

Ohio Volunteers at the First Battle of Bull Run
His younger brother, Charles Morris McCook, 18 years old, a private in the 2nd Ohio Infantry, was killed in action; he died in his father's arms. He had declined an offer of a lieutenant's commission in the regular army.  

Charles Morris McCook
 On September 3, 1861, McCook was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers and commanded a division in Tennessee, which participated in the capture of Nashville in February 1862.  

McCook's brother, Robert, was shot in a skirmish with the 4th Alabama Cavalry near Huntsville, Alabama in June 1862. Northern versions claimed he was shot by Confederates while lying helpless in an ambulance.  He was 34 years old when he died.

Robert L. McCook
McCook commanded the 2nd Division in the Army of the Ohio at the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862. He received much credit for the victory on the second day of the battle (after a disastrous first day of battle -- 13,047 Union soldiers killed, wounded, or captured.).  

Battle of Shiloh
The division then fought in the subsequent campaign against Corinth in Mississippi.  He was promoted to major general of volunteers on July 17, 1862.  

McCook was given command of the I Corps in the Army of the Ohio; his corps suffered heavy casualties at the Battle of Perryville in October 1862.  Because of a lack of understanding and poor communications, Perryville turned out to be a huge Rebel victory. McCook's headquarters was captured. His corps was pushed back a mile and was on the verge of a complete rout. McCook was frantically rallying his troops to make one last stand when reinforcements finally arrived. They forced the Confederates back down the road and retook McCook's headquarters. But the damage was done. One of the great opportunities to win the war in the west was lost. Gen. McCook became the scapegoat for the battle and was tarnished with the Union defeat.

Battle of Perryville
His command again suffered heavy losses at the Battle of Stone's River, December 31, 1862 - January 2, 1863.  The command structure was reorganized and his corps named the XX Corps.  

Battle of Stone River
When Confederate General John Hunt Morgan led his troops through southern Ohio during Morgan's Raid, McCook's father, Major Daniel McCook, Sr.,  joined in the advance of the Union pursuit. Early in the morning of July 19, 1863, Federal troops attacked Morgan at Buffington Island, where the Confederates were planning to cross the Ohio River back into Kentucky. Daniel McCook was shot and mortally wounded. He died two days later, and his body was buried with full military honors in Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, Ohio.
At the Battle of Chickamauga in September 1863, McCook's troops suffered heavily and were driven from the field. 

Battle of Chicamauga
McCook received an order for a court martial trial, the charge being "cowardice on the field of battle", for removing his troops from the fray. After only a short time the verdict of "Not Guilty" was received, vindicating him of the charge, with the following statement: "The court are of the opinion ... that in leaving the field to go to Chattanooga, Gen. McCook committed a mistake, but his gallant conduct in the engagement forbids the idea that he was influenced by consideration of personal safety ... The Court cannot regard this act of Gen. McCook other than an error of judgment."

For almost a year Alexander McCook waited for orders to return to take command of another Army unit.  

At the end of June, 1864, McCook's brother, Daniel, Jr., was selected by General William Sherman to lead the assault on Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia.  Just before the attack, he calmly recited to his men the stanza from Thomas Macaulay's poem beginning "Then how may man die better than facing fearful odds?"  He reached the top of the enemy's works, and was encouraging his men to follow him, when he was mortally wounded by a rifle shot to his right lung.

Daniel McCook, Jr.
In July 1864, McCook was summoned to Washington. Word had come that Confederate General Jubal Early was marching on Washington D.C. and McCook was to take charge of the defense of the capital.  McCook assembled his forces at Fort Stevens, set up for the defense of the capital -- a small force of some 1,000 men -- invalids, convalescents, and civilian volunteers. McCook's forces were outnumbered by 10 to 1, and were being attacked by a well-armed, veteran fighting force of Infantry and Cavalry.  McCook's order to his command was to hold their fire until the enemy was a bare 110 yards from the fort. Then, they opened up with everything they had, firing breach-loading carbines, a few cannons and howitzers.  Early was stopped in his tracks. McCook's invalids and bandaged convalescents even went on the attack and drove the enemy back, under a fresh barrage of cannon fire. Early, mistaking the all-out barrage for reinforcements from Grant's Army, withdrew.

McCook (center) and his staff, 1864
At this battle, President Lincoln came to the fort to witness the action first hand. He was curious and stood up so that he could peer over the parapets. With his stovepipe hat he made a tempting target. At one point someone yelled at him, "Get down you damn fool!"

The day the battle ended, so did McCook's command of the city's defenses and he was again without command. At the close of the war he was given command of the District of Eastern Arkansas.

Alexander McDowell McCook was the highest ranking officer of the fourteen members of the McDowell family who were officers in the Civil War.

McCook resigned from the volunteer service in October 1865 and was commissioned lieutenant colonel of the 26th Infantry in March 1867. He served in Texas, mostly in garrison duty, until 1874. 
William Sherman
From 1875 to 1880, he served as the aide-de-camp to the general-in-chief of the U.S. Army, William Sherman. 

In 1880, McCook was assigned to Fort Douglas at Salt Lake City, Utah.  Shortly after she arrived, his wife Kate fell ill and died at a hotel.  She was 44 years old, the mother of three daughters.  Before he left Utah he married for a second time, to Annie Colt.

From 1886 to 1890, he commanded Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and the infantry and cavalry school there.

McCook became a full brigadier general in 1890, a major general in 1894, and retired in 1895. 

In 1896, when McCook and his wife represented President Grover Cleveland at the Coronation of Czar Nicholas II (the last Czar).

In 1898–99, he served on a commission to investigate the War Department as administered during the Spanish-American War.

Alexander McDowell McCook died on June 12, 1903 at home of his daughter, Kathleen, in Dayton, Ohio.  His wife, Annie, was by his side.  He was 72 years old. 

He was buried in Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati, Ohio. 

McCook Family Monument in Spring Grove Cemetery

No comments:

Post a Comment