Speech before the Washington, DC Civil War Round Table
January 10, 1978
S. Cooper Dawson, Jr., great-grandson of General Cooper
[The Dawson Papers] [Home - Main Page] [Email and Feedback]
[General Fitz. Comments] [President Davis's Comments] [Early Life Of Cooper]
Born on June 12, 1798, at New Hackensack, Dutchess County, New York, on his father's birthday. His father was Major Samuel Cooper of the Revolutionary Army where he served in Knox Artillery of Washington's Army. I think that the inscription on his tombstone might be interesting to you and I quote:
Sacred to the memory of Major Samuel Cooper of the Revolutionary Army, who in early youth at the first onset, struck for liberty and continued to wield the sword in the defense of his country until victory crowned her arms.
He fought at Bunker Hill, Trenton, Brandywine, at German Town and Monmouth, and other sanguinary fields. As then a valiant soldier, so in after years, was he an active and estimable citizen, an upright man and a pious Christian.
He was born in the State of Massachusetts. He died in the State of Virginia on the 19th of August 1840, at the age of 84 years.
Sam entered West Point from New York in 1813 at the age of 15, and graduated in 1815 after attending West Point for two years, seven months. His register number was 156 which date of rank made him much senior to all other Confederate officers including Jefferson Davis. Most sources say Cooper was born in New Hackensack, New Jersey, probably because no one ever heard of Hackensack, New York. Ezra Warner in General's in Gray, so stated and when I wrote to give him the facts, Mr. Warner replied that your father told me so. Was my face red! But, the West Point register of graduates says New York, and Mr. Warner dug further in Dutchess County records and later confirmed his birthplace.
So, I ask the question, why would a New Yorker with roots in New England with 46 years service in the U. S. Army, go South?
May 25, 1813, entered the Academy from New York State, appointed from New York, and he was not quite 15 years old at this time.
December 10, 1815, graduated from West Point and commissioned, Brevet Lt. Of Artillery, after spending two and on half years as a cadet. His registration was 156.
November 15, 1817, commissioned 2nd Lt. Of Artillery, and assigned to the First Artillery serving in the Boston, Massachusetts area.
June 1, 1821, Retained in the reorganized army as a 2nd Lt. in the First Artillery, and transferred to the Washington, D. C. area.
July 6, 1821, Promoted to 1st Lt., and transferred to the Second Artillery.
1824, Transferred to the 4th Artillery, and ordered to Old Point Comfort, Va., serving in the coast Artillery.
April 4, 1827, married Maria Mason, daughter of John Mason of Analostan Island, and granddaughter of George Mason of Gunston Hall.
1828, Assignment of General Alexander Macomb as Chief of Staff of the United States Army, by President John Quincy Adams. Story concerning this appointment, and the appointment of Lt. Cooper as aide to General Macomb.
July 6, 1831, Promoted to brevet Captain for faithful service, ten years in one grade.
Between 1834-35, he wrote Cooper's Infantry Tactics adopting the French tactics to the American Army. This book became the Army STANDARD until superseded by Hardee's Tactics in 1856. Hardee did his work at the instigation of Col. Cooper, Adjutant General and Jefferson Davis, Secretary of War at the time.
June 11, 1836, Given rank of Captain. He left Washington and went down to Florida, where he served on the staff of Gen. John Worthington in the Seminole War.
Late 1837, found him back in Washington serving as Judge Advocate for the court of inquiry convened to inquire into General Scott's conduct of Seminole War. The three generals on the board, Macomb, Atkinson and Brady, all hated Scott, but he was acquitted anyhow.
July 7, 1838, Appointed Assistant Adjutant General with rank of Brevet Major Staff, and made assistant to Col. Roger Jones, Adjutant General, USA
July 1839, Major Cooper purchased the property on Quaker Lane where I still live and where he made his home until March 1861. At that time, he owned 22 acres, a fine mansion with a number of slaves and various out buildings, as shown by the attached pictures.
1841, Towards the end of the administration of President Van Buren, the Secretary of War resigned and for a short period of a few months, Major Cooper was acting Secretary of War, sending orders to General Winfield Scott, which were not well received by General Scott.
March 3, 1847, Major Cooper was made second in command to Col. Roger Jones, with the Brevet rank of Lt. Col.
On May 30, 1848, Lt. Col. Cooper was promoted to Brevet Col. for meritorious conduct, particularly in the performance of his duties in the prosecution of the War with Mexico.
Col. Cooper was in Washington, serving in the Adjutant Generals' office, under Col. Jones when General Winfield Scott returned to the War Department from the Mexican Wars. General Scott took one look at Col. Cooper and told him to go out and inspect the Western Defense. Cooper went to New Orleans by train, to Galveston by boat, and got on a horse in Galveston with 15 men and a Lt. As his escort. He rode from Galveston to El Paso, and then down the Rio Grande inspecting the forts facing Mexico, until he reached Corpus Christi. At Corpus Christi, he turned north, traveling through San Antonio to Ft. Worth, which was then a very new town, on up through the Oklahoma territory, where he met some of his old Indian Chief friends, whom he had known in the Indian Wars in South Carolina. He went on to Kansas City and to Ft. Leavenworth. During this trip he describes in his memoirs, the country, the people he saw, the Indians he met, and the rivers they crossed in their trackless and long trips.
From Ft. Leavenworth, Cooper rode west to Ft. Laramie, where he attended and helped organize a very large Indian Pow Wow. On this trip west, he remarks that he met many gold miners returning from California, disappointed and in tatters. It is quite evident that many of the '49ers were returning home, broke, and in bad shape.
After the great Indian Pow Wow at Ft. Laramie, consisting of the meeting between the Great White Father and the Crows, Cheyenne, Pawnees, some Sioux, and possible some other of the plain Indians, Col. Cooper returned to Ft. Leavenworth, reaching there in the late summer of 1852. He says that he had traveled 5000 miles in 2-1/2 years, and that he had inspected most of the Western Defense.
When he reached Ft. Leavenworth, he learned that Col. Jones had died, and that he, Samuel Cooper, was then Adjutant General, United States Army. As you know, the Adjutant General was the number two man in the army, making most of the assignments, and responsible for the day to day operations of the United States Army.
Cooper returned to Washington where he served with distinction from 1852-1861.
When Franklin Pierce was President, 1853-1857, Col. Cooper worked very closely with the Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis. The United States Army was completely reorganized, and in many cases rearmed, and Hardee's Tactics was written and distributed. Some of the assistant Adjutant Generals in his office during that time were Joseph Hooker, Irving McDowell, Don Carlos Buell, Fitz John Porter and Lorenzo Thomas. All of these names will certainly be familiar to all of you members of the Civil War Round Table.
On March 7, 1861, Col. Cooper resigned his commission in the United States Army, after 46 years of service, and departed from Montgomery, Alabama. He joined Jefferson Davis at that place and was commissioned General in the Confederate States Army. He was the senior officer of the Confederate Army, ranking Albert Sidney Johnson, Robert E. Lee, Joseph E. Johnson and Pierre Beauregard.
In the words of General Fitzhugh Lee, his nephew, and I quote -
As head of the Adjutant General's Department of the United States, Cooper gave great satisfaction. His qualifications and ability as an officer, his private worth as a man, was universally acknowledged by army officers, many may saying he was the best chief the army ever had.
His Northern friends profess to see no reason why a soldier born in their section, holding a position of trust for life, honored and respected, should, after 46 years of service and in his 63rd year, relinquish a position in which he would not be called upon for field service, and cast his fortunes with the Confederacy. It has been said by them that he was more guided by the counsels of his friend, Jefferson Davis, and of his brother-in-law, James Murray Mason, than by his native and natural opinion. To those holding such sentiments, it may be said that they did not know their man. General Cooper, upon such an important issue, allowed no dictation and no advice. That he should have case aside the personal possession of comfort and plenty to the end of his days, and embarked with his family upon an unknown sea. . .is the strongest proof of the pure and conscientious character of the old hero. . . .
The new Confederacy, staggering under the weight of organizing, warmly welcomed Adjutant General Cooper. In him they found the mastermind and vast experience necessary to put the intricate machinery into operation. The President of the Confederacy had been Secretary of War in President Pierce's cabinet, and no one knew better than he the character and qualifications of the soldier who joined him in Montgomery. He placed him at once at the head of the Adjutant General's Office, and afterward made him a full general - the first in the list of five.
During the four years of Confederate life, Cooper fully discharged the onerous duties confided to him with a fidelity, exactness, loyalty, and honesty, which while consistent with his conscience and ability, gave great satisfaction to the army and the country.
It is difficult to place a proper estimate upon the value of his service during that trying period, so great was his capacity for work. Punctiliously and unceasingly, he discharged the great duties of his office, and at night, when others sought relaxation and rest, he steadily carried his work forward.
At the termination of the war, General Cooper returned to his country seat near Alexandria to find his home in ruins. His house had been destroyed by Federal Troops, and upon its eminence a Federal fort had been erected. Adding to another house, which had been his slave quarters, he passed the remaining years of his life quietly and peacefully.
Some of you present, will remember Col. Allen Hicklin, a long time member of this Round Table. Col. Hicklin married a descendant of Samuel Cooper, and the two of us discussed on many occasions, the resignation of Samuel Cooper from the United States Army after 46 years of service. Although a Northerner, he had married a Virginian, and had lived many years in Virginia. He is bound to have been influenced by Sen. James Murray Mason, his brother-in-law, as well as by Adm. Smith Lee, Robert E. Lee's brother, and another brother-in-law. In addition, he felt strongly, that the rights of the states were preeminent, and he also, was a slave owner.
Furthermore, he did not like General Scott in any way, and he must have had a tremendous admiration for Jefferson Davis, with whom he had served so closely 1853-1857.
Allen Hicklin and I still, could really not give you any real reason why Col. Cooper went south. He must have known, as Robert E. Lee also must have known, that the North would be victorious, and that they would lose everything that they had in the struggle ahead. In spite of these considerations, and in spite of all evidence, which would have kept him in the United States Army, he resigned his commission and went South, where he gave unstintingly of his ability and time to the cause, which he espoused. He lost his property in Virginia, as well as a small farm at what is now 52nd Street and Broadway in New York City, which he had inherited from his mother.
During the evacuation of Richmond in April 1865, General Cooper accompanied the President and the cabinet, when they went South to Danville and on into North Carolina. When the party broke up near Charlotte, North Carolina, he surrendered himself, and turned over to his captors, all the records he had been able to move. The preservation of great quantities of valuable historical material was thus saved by his foresight and care.
During this retreat from Richmond, the presidential party reached a house in North Carolina at the top of a hill, and all joined together as guests of the owner. According to Burton Harrison, President Davis' secretary, they had the first good meal since leaving Virginia. At bedtime, there was a great bustle to enable all of us to sleep indoors. The house was too small to have enough beds for the entire party.
A big Negro came into the room where we were gathered around a fire, looking us over, he solemnly selected General Cooper, and with much deference, escorted him to the guest chamber. Through the door we could see the great soft bed and snowy white linens the old gentleman would enjoy. We all rejoiced in the comfort promised to the aged bones that for a week had been racked in the cars. The Negro gravely closed the door, walked through us, and disappeared.
He came back after awhile with wood for the fire, and some asked, "Aren't you going to give the President a room?" Yes sir, I done put him in thar, he replied, pointing to the guest chamber where General Cooper was luxuriating in delights procured for him by the darkie's mistaken notion that he was President Davis. The President and one or two others, were presently provided for elsewhere in the house. The rest of us bestowed ourselves on the floor, before the fire.
General Cooper was paroled at Charlotte, North Carolina on May 3, 1965. He moved back into Mecklenburg County, Virginia, where he remained for nearly a year, before returning to his home on Seminary Hill. Mrs. Cooper and their son and daughter, returned to Seminary Hill to find their home in ruins, and no place to stay. They lived for more than a year at the Wilderness, one of the faculty home at the Virginia Seminary, which is still standing. The old home place had been confiscated by the Yankees, and sold toward the end of the war, after a fort had been built on the site called "Fort Traitor", in honor of Col. Samuel Cooper. It is the only fort in the Washington area named for a Confederate officer.
In 1863, due to the efforts of General Frank Wheaton, son-in-law of General Cooper, the name of the fort was changed to Ft. Williams, and after the Civil War was over, General Wheaton was instrumental in getting Mr. W. M. Corcoran, who also gave the Corcoran Art Gallery to the City of Washington, to purchase the property which had belonged to the Cooper's and return it to Mrs. Samuel Cooper. Mr. Corcoran had been befriended by the Cooper's and the Mason's, when he first came to Washington in 1830, or thereabouts, and he had never forgotten the favors done to him by the family earlier. He not only purchased the property and gave it to Mrs. Cooper, but he also, built an addition to a building which had been slave quarters before the war, and gave that to Mrs. Cooper as a residence.
I remember this old house, as I was a small boy, and it was torn down in 1928, just before falling down. My father was raised in this house, and it was a real comedown from the mansion, which Col. Cooper had owned on top of the hill before the war.
General Cooper never regained his citizenship, and he lived a "Cameron" until his death December 14, 1876. During this time he commenced to write his recollections and incidents and characters during 50 years of military service. He unfortunately, got only to 1852, when he became Adjutant General of the United States. The book, or biography, ends suddenly at that date, and evidently that was 1876. During this period of time he was also, corresponding with the Southern Historical Society, and with various people concerning his duties in Richmond during the war. I quote from an article from the New Orleans Times-Picayune of September 28, 1869, in which the Confederate losses during the Civil War were detailed in correspondence between Dr. Joseph Jones, Secretary of the Southern Historical Society, and General Cooper. He also had correspondence with many people, and with many members of his family.
In 1867, when General Robert E. Lee came to Alexandria for the last time, he spent the night with his cousin, Cassius Lee, at Minoken on West Braddock Road, just across from the Episcopal High School. The next morning General Lee rode across the grounds of the Episcopal High School where he held a very nostalgic, impromptu meeting with the boys and masters of that school, many of whom had been members of the Army of Northern Virginia. He rode on down to Cameron arriving about 10 a.m., and according to family records, General Cooper and General Lee sat on a bench, under an old locust tree, from 10 o'clock in the morning until 4 o'clock in the afternoon. No one knows what they discussed, but wouldn't it be nice to have had a tape recorder such as we have operating here tonight, to record for posterity, the discussion between these two old soldiers. Mrs. Cooper sent them some lunch, and they spent the day together. Late in the afternoon, General Lee got on his horse and rode into Alexandria, to a reception, returning the following day to Lexington, to carry on his duties as President of Washington-Lee University.
Although Robert E. Lee and his family were always members of Christ Church in Alexandria, they actually, often attended services at the chapel at the Virginia Seminary, where the Coopers, also, generally went to church, although they too, were members of Christ Church, in Alexandria, and General Cooper and his family, his father, son and wife, are all buried in Old Christ Church Cemetery in Alexandria, very close to the National Cemetery.
In closing, I would like to read to you, the text of a letter from Jefferson Davis to Fitzhugh Lee, dated April 5, 1877 - General Lee......
Glamour and fame thrive on the field of battle. Drama passed General Cooper by and fame has overlooked him. The more conifacious act of his career and the greatest was his decision to go South.
I'd just also, like to remark, that I have given to you a packet in which you will find a picture of Cooper, a picture of his estate prior to the Civil War, a picture of his place after the Civil War, a picture of the powder magazine still in existence in the rear of the home of ............., at ............., Alexandria, Va., as well as a copy of a circular put out by General Cooper during the Civil War. This give you some idea of the work that he did in organizing the southern army, and keeping it running through four years of constant warfare.
It has been my great pleasure to speak to you gentlemen, on the subject of my great-grandfather, and I thank you for the opportunity, and I'll be happy to answer any question that you many send my way, if possible. Thank you very much.