Research Paper


E. Rowland Dawson

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[General Fitz. Comments] [President Davis's Comments] [Early Life Of Cooper]

"In the War of the Rebellion, a collection of official records of the Union and confederate armies published by the United State Government, General Samuel Cooper is mentioned in Sixty-five of the one-hundred-and-thirty volumes. References to him are numerous in many of these sixty-five volumes, but his name appears simply as the addressee or as the sender - "By Order of the Sec'y of War" - of dispatches. A cursory examination of the tomes reveals no evidence of his acting on his own authority, or except for occasional references to conferences, of his participating in the making of decisions.

"Military procedure, of course, required reports and communications from commanders in the field to be addressed to the adjutant-general, and orders issued by the War Department to be sent out over his signature. His name was intrinsic in such communications as are published with the historical papers, which incidentally, he is credited with having preserved when Richmond was evacuated. The use of his name as a matter of form gives no hint whatever as to how much or how little authority he wielded. It is reasonable to assume, however, from credible comments made in his time, that responsibility for the conduct of a vitally important office rested on him alone, and that he sometime served a counselor and adviser to his two superiors, the President and the Secretary of War, or at least, to the dominating one of the two.

"Jefferson Davis apparently took his title of Commander-in-Chief seriously. Historians seem agreed that the West Pointer who was President craved leadership in military affairs of every character, and that he overshadowed the gentlemen who served, successively, as Secretary of War. The sphere of the Adjutant General was, no doubt, circumscribed by the aggressiveness of the military-minded chieftain, but the unstinted praise bestowed upon him by the President allows no doubt that he had his chief's respect and affection. "Those who know what he did, what he prevented, what he directed, will not fail to place him those who contributed most" is an astonishing tribute from the executive who is alleged to have coveted a monopoly of military authority. Moreover, Mr. Davis said in The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government that "Cooper was as pure in heart as he was sound in judgment."

"President Davis was well qualified to speak of General Cooper. No one else had so comprehensive a knowledge of his work. The association of the two began when Davis was in Congress and members of Congress often sought information about the army of Assistant Adjutant General Cooper. The relationship became intimate, officially at least, when Davis became Secretary of War in Pierce's cabinet, and by his own confession, was instructed and guided in his duties by Cooper, who was then Adjutant General. Throughout the life of the Confederacy, the Commander-in-Chief, who gave so much attention to the War Department, would have been alert in observing the performance of the Adjutant General, through whom he maintained contact with the armies. When Jefferson Davis says that "none other had higher claims upon the regard of all who loved the Confederacy," it is the testimony of the most competent of witnesses.

"It is possible to imagine that President Davis found it expedient, for political, military, or personal reasons, to have a staff officer outrank the popular field commanders, in which case, he would have been inclined to exaggerate the virtues of the Adjutant General to justify the little intrigue. The available facts make resort to such conjecturing unnecessary.

"At the time Samuel Cooper resigned from the United States Army and offered his services to the polyglot government in Montgomery, which was trying to form an army out of nothing, he was the most experienced staff officer in the old army, and as a result of his long effectual service, he was the best qualified man in the country to direct the organization of a new army. Many in the Montgomery government besides Jefferson Davis had held offices in Washington and were aware of Cooper's reputation and qualifications. There is small wonder that he was nominated for a commission as a brigadier general, the first person chosen for the rank of general, and that his nomination was confirmed by the Confederate Congress on the same day. The warmth of his reception is indicated by the date on which he was nominated and confirmed - March 15, 1861 - just eight days after his resignation from the United States Army was dated.

"When the grade of full general was later established, the priority given him over Robert E. Lee, the two Johnstons, and Beauregard is circumstantial evidence that he had fulfilled, up to that time, the expectations that prompted his appointment as Adjutant and Inspector General. To be sure, the army, then as always, lacked an adequate supply of guns, ammunition, food, clothing, and other supplies, yet there was an army in the field that was well enough equipped to give a magnificent account of itself. Competent staff work was required to bring that army into being and keep it operating, and credit must go to Cooper. His continuance as the chief of the staff, with seniority over all the other generals, to the end of confederate existence, shows rather conclusively that he rendered services of the very highest order throughout the war.

"Although determining strategy and planning campaigns do appear to have been a function of the adjutant-general's office, it is unlikely that Jefferson Davis, who did exercise his authority as Commander-in-Chief, failed to consult frequently the veteran staff officer whose opinion he professed to value so highly. Be that as it may, General Cooper was undoubtedly confronted at all time with a mass of detail work, and problems in infinite variety, most of them perplexing, some of them insolveable. Authority (tempered at time, no doubt, by politics) over the promotions and assignments of officers was vested in him, and responsibility for getting men, munitions, and supplies to points where they were needed, when they were needed, rested on him. Governmental military activity centered in his office. Discharging "the onerous duties confided to him with fidelity, exactness, loyalty, and honesty" was quite enough to justify his being given a share in the honors bestowed upon the leaders of the confederacy.

"War heroes are, however, made on the field of battle. Officers who sit at desks are generally regarded as pseudo soldiers. It is not surprising that General Cooper has never been given a place among the Confederate immortals. He was a staff officer who sat at a desk; he was a Yankee; and he and his work lacked the sensationalism that arouses popular enthusiasm.

"Existing printed comments about General Cooper's military and social activities reveal a man of refinement, puncilious about the proprieties, content to fulfill his obligations and uphold his dignity in relative obscurity. Although a professional soldier, he was not a swashbuckler, characteristics usually innate in scholars were, in fact, prominent in his individuality, and at an early stage in his career, he manifested a preference and aptitude for staff work. He is described as courteous, calm, astute, honest, duty-loving, conscientious, self-sacrificing. Diaries left by persons of impeccable social standing show that they regarded him as a highly respected compeer.

"In Montgomery, and Richmond, as in Washington, politicians swarmed, intrigue was rampant, and disappointed office-seekers vied with gossips in ferreting out scandal and corruption. For fifty years General Cooper and his work were subject to the scrutiny of the Walter Winchels of his day, but he seems to have escaped criticism worthy of notice. A biographer of Winfield Scott attributed his appointment as an aide to General Macomb to the machinations of "his mama and Aunty." Generals Joseph E. Johnston and Beauregard resented being outranked by anybody, especially by a staff officer who saw no service in the field. A War Department clerk, in a diary that has become important historical material, harped on the fact that "old General Cooper" was a Yankee. No charges more derogatory than these trivialities seem to have been made against him.

"Substantially, General Cooper appears to have been a cultivated, scrupulous man who occupied an important post and applied himself diligently to his job. If we have ceased to admire such an example and fail to recognize the value of deportment of that sort to civilization, we are somewhat perverted, but performance of duty has never set the crowd to cheering. Glamour and fame thrive on sensationalism, good or bad. Drama passed General Cooper by, and fame has overlooked him. The most conspicuous act of his career, and the greatest, was his decision to "go south."





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