Monday, August 15, 2011

Why does no one remember Samuel Cooper?

I had a great time signing books and speaking at the Bentonville Battlefield this past Saturday. A conversation with one of the patrons led me to this question: why does no one remember Samuel Cooper?

Ask the common rank and file on the streets who the highest ranking Confederate general was, and you usually get one, maybe two answers. Most people say Robert E. Lee. A few will say Joseph E. Johnston. Neither is right. The highest ranking Confederate general was Samuel Cooper.

Born in Dutchess County, New York, in 1798, Cooper graduated from West Point in 1815. He served in the artillery until 1837, when he became chief clerk at the War Department. After that he served as Assistant Adjutant General, until July 1852, when he was promoted to Adjutant General. For three days in March 1861, Cooper was Secretary of War ad interium. Cooper resigned from the United States Army on March 7, 1861, and a few days later, appointed Adjutant General and Inspector General of the Confederate Army. His appointment as a full general in the Confederate Army was dated May 16, 1861. Cooper died on December 3, 1876, and is interred at Christ Church Cemetery, Alexandria, Virginia.

The other ranks of the other top five Confederate Generals: Albert S. Johnston's commission as a full general dated to May 30, 1861; Robert E. Lee - June 14, 1861; Joseph E. Johnston - July 4, 1861; and, P. G. T. Beauregard - July 21, 1861. Of course, many of you are familiar with the story of Joseph E. Johnston, upset that he was not the highest ranking Confederate general, based upon his being promoted to quartermaster general in the regular army a year prior to the war.

So, what does this have to do with North Carolina and the War? In the last days of the conflict, as Jefferson Davis fled south into North Carolina, his cabinet followed him. Cooper traveled as far as Charlotte. When Davis chose to continue further south, Cooper, being 67 years old, chose to remain behind in Charlotte, supposedly watching over the papers of the War Department. Cooper was paroled in Charlotte on May 3, 1865.

So there you have it. The highest ranking Confederate general.

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