This letter by Ex-President Jefferson Davis
appeared in the Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume III, January
to June, 1877.
Letter from President Davis
Mississippi City, Mississippi, April 5th, 1877.
General F. Lee:
My Dear Sir-I am gratified to know that you have
under-taken to make a record of the services and virtues of a man than
whom none has higher claims upon the regard of all who loved the Confederacy.
No one presents an example more worth of the emulation of the youth
of his country. My personal acquaintance with General Cooper began at
the time when he was associated with Mr. Poinsett in the War Office,
where his professional knowledge was made available to the Secretary,
in those army details of which a civilian was necessarily but little
informed. His sterling character and uniform courtesy soon attracted
the attention and caused him to be frequently resorted to by members
of Congress having business with the War Office. Ex-President Pierce,
who was then a Senator, spoke in after years of the favorable impression
which General Cooper had made upon him, and said his habit had been
when he "wanted information to go to Cooper instead of to the Secretary;"
But while he thus bought to the service of the Secretary his professional
knowledge, the latter eminently great in other departments of learning,
no doubt did much to imbue General Cooper's mind with those political
ideas which subsequently marked him as more profoundly informed upon
the character of our Government than most others of his profession.
In the midst of his professional duties, he found
leisure for high literary culture, had much dramatic taste, and in the
dull days of garrison life he contributed much to refined enjoyment.
When I became Secretary of Ward, General Cooper was Adjutant-General
of the United States army. My intercourse with him was daily, and as
well because of the purity of his character as his knowledge of the
officers and affairs of the army, I habitually consulted him in reference
to the duties I had to perform.
Though calm in his manner and charitable in his
feelings, he was a man of great native force, and had a supreme scorn
for all that was mean.
To such a man, a life spent in the army could not
fail to have had its antagonisms and its friendships; yet when officers
were to be selected for special duties, to be appointed in staff corps,
or to be promoted into new regiments, where qualifications were alone
to be regarded, I never, in four years of constant consultation, saw
Cooper manifest prejudice, or knew him to seek favors for a friend,
or to withhold what was just from one to whom he bore reverse relations.
This rare virtue-this supremacy of judgment over feeling-impressed me
as being so exceptional, that I have often mentioned it as a thing so
singular and so praiseworthy that it deserves to be known by all men.
When in 1861 a part of the Southern States, in
the exercise of their sovereignty, passed ordinances of secession from
the Union, and organized a separate Confederacy, General Cooper was
at the head of the corps, in which a large part of his life had been
passed. This office was one for which he was peculiarly qualified, and
which was best suited to his taste. He was a native of a Northern State;
his sole personal relation with the South was that he was the husband
of a granddaughter of George Mason, of Virginia-Virginia, not yet belonging
to the Confederate States. He foresaw the storm, which was soon to burst
upon the seceding States-saw that the power which had been refused in
the convention which formed the Constitution of the Union-the poser
to use the military arm of the General Government to coerce a State,
was to be employed without doubt, and conscientiously believing that
would be violative of the fundamental principles of the compact of Union,
he resigned his commission, which was his whole wealth, and repaired
to Montgomery to tender his services to the weaker party, because it
was the party of law and right.
The Confederate Government had no military organization,
and, save the patriotic hearts of gallant men, had little on which to
rely for the defense of their country. The experience and special knowledge
of General Cooper was, under these circumstances, of incalculable value.
If he would consent, while his juniors led armies in the field, to devote
himself to the little attractive labors of the Adjutant-General's office-if
he would consent? They little knew the self-sacrificing, duty-loving
nature of Cooper, who did not anticipate his modest request "to
be employed wherever it was thought he might be useful," and with
unrelaxing assiduity he applied himself to the labors of the Adjutant-General's
office. The many who measure the value of an officer's service by the
conspicuous part he played upon the fields of battle, may not properly
estimate the worth of Cooper's services in the war between the States,
but those who like yourself were in a position to know what he did,
what he prevented, what he directed, will not fail to place him among
those who contributed most to whatever was achieved.
Faithful to the cause he espoused-unmoved by the
prospect of disaster, when the fortune of war seemed everywhere to be
against us-Cooper continued unswerving in the discharge of his duty,
and when the evacuation of the capital became a necessity, he took with
him such books and papers as were indispensable, and although worn down
by incessant labor, never relaxed his attention to the functions of
his office until disease compelled him to confess his inability to continue
the retreat. The affection, the honor and the confidence with which
I regarded him made our parting a sorrowful one, under circumstances
so had for us both. Of the events which followed his return to the spot
where his house had stood, you are so well informed that I will not
protract this already long letter.
I remain with great regard and affectionate remembrance,