As Eugene Schmiel concludes in his
Jacob Dolson Cox, he was a Renaissance Man in the
Gilded Age. Schmiel recounts his many pursuits as a Citizen-General.
These include his life as a lawyer, politician, corporate executive,
educator, author, and Civil War general.
Born in Montreal, Canada, Cox
entered Oberlin College in 1847 and married the daughter of its
president two years later. He then dropped out of its Theological
Seminary to first become superintendent of Warren's public schools
and then a lawyer. He became a founder of Ohio’s Republican party.
In his life he would interact with many of those notable Ohioans
prominent in the Civil War - among them Chase, Garfield, Grant,
Hayes, McClellan, Rosecrans, Sherman, and Stanton and Ohio's wartime
governors. In 1859 he was elected to the Ohio legislature.
Jacob Dolson Cox
With the outbreak of the Civil War
George McClellan put Cox in charge of training volunteers at Camp
Dennison. Cox soon followed McClellan to West Virginia in the
successful campaign to secure its secession from Confederate
Virginia. Cox enjoyed his first military successes there. In
September, 1862. he would rise to Union military prominence when at
South Mountain he succeeded a mortally wounded Jessie Reno as
commander of the Ninth Corps of McClellan’s Army of the Potomac. He
then played an important role at Antietam commanding that corps at
the battle for Burnside Bridge and the failed attempt to destroy
Lee’s army. After the battle, he became the target of criticism by
General Hugh Ewing of the prominent Ohio Republican Ewing clan for
his actions at Antietam.
He then was sent back to West
Virginia and then to Ohio with Burnside after the latter's
disastrous defeat at Fredericksburg. He briefly was made commander
of the 23rd Corps, only to be replaced by John Schofield under whom
he would serve as a division commander in Sherman's 1864 Atlanta
campaign. Cox distinguished himself by taking the Macon railroad,
forcing John Bell Hood to abandon the city.
He then fought his most well known
battle as Schofield's appointed defender of Franklin against Hood's
unexpected assault on November 30, 1864. While successful, he became
embroiled in a long lasting dispute with fellow Ohioan Emerson
Opdycke over the primary credit for repelling the bloody attack.
Following the Battle of Nashville, Cox was sent to North Carolina to
join Sherman's war-ending Carolina campaign.
Cox's postwar life included several
different phases. In 1865 he was elected governor of Ohio after
publishing his controversial Oberlin letter advocating internal
colonization of the freed slaves but opposing their being granted
suffrage. After a short stint as a lawyer in Cincinnati, Grant
appointed Cox Secretary of the Interior but Cox soon resigned,
largely because of his conflict over civil service reform with
Grant's administration. His return to Cincinnati was short lived as
he moved to Toledo to become head of a railroad. In 1877, he left
that post for a seat in Congress after Hayes' disputed election as
President. Again disillusioned with Republican opposition to civil
service reform, he served only one term. He returned to Cincinnati
to become dean of the University of Cincinnati's Law School (and to
later also serve as its President). He left the university in 1897
and he and his wife returned to Oberlin to retire.
Over this post-political period Cox
became a prolific historian, writing several books, his version of
the battle of Franklin, articles and reviews of many of the memoirs
of other Civil War generals. He finished his own war time memoir but
died in 1900 before it was published.
Citizen-General: Jacob Dolson Cox and the Civil War Era
by Eugene D. Schmiel
Ohio University Press,
2014, 352 pages
From the publisher: The wrenching events of the Civil War
transformed not only the United States but also the men unexpectedly
called on to lead their fellow citizens in this first modern example
of total war. Jacob Dolson Cox, a former divinity student with no
formal military training, was among those who rose to the challenge.
In a conflict in which “political generals” often proved less than
competent, Cox, the consummate citizen general, emerged as one of
the best commanders in the Union army.
During his school days at Oberlin College, no one could have
predicted that the intellectual, reserved, and bookish Cox possessed
what he called in his writings the “military aptitude” to lead men
effectively in war. His military career included helping secure West
Virginia for the Union; jointly commanding the left wing of the
Union army at the critical Battle of Antietam; breaking the
Confederate supply line and thereby precipitating the fall of
Atlanta; and holding the defensive line at the Battle of Franklin, a
Union victory that effectively ended the Confederate threat in the
At a time when there were few professional schools other than
West Point, the self-made man was the standard for success; true to
that mode, Cox fashioned himself into a Renaissance man. In each of
his vocations and avocations—general, governor, cabinet secretary,
university president, law school dean, railroad president,
historian, and scientist—he was recognized as a leader. Cox’s
greatest fame, however, came to him as the foremost participant
historian of the Civil War. His accounts of the conflict are to this
day cited by serious scholars and serve as a foundation for the
interpretation of many aspects of the war.
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