Philip St. George Cocke (April 17, 1809 – December 26, 1861) was a brigadier general in the Confederate States Army during the first year of the American Civil War. He is best known for organizing the defense of Virginia along the Potomac River soon after the state's secession from the Union. He commanded troops in the Battle of Blackburn's Ford and the First Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas) in July 1861 before becoming despondent and committing suicide.
Early life and career
Cocke graduated from the University of Virginia in 1828 and then from the United States Military Academy in 1832 with the rank of brevet second lieutenant. He was soon assigned as second lieutenant to an artillery unit in Charleston, South Carolina. He served there during 1832 and 1833, becoming adjutant of the 2nd U.S. Artillery on July 13, 1833.
On April 1, 1834, Cocke resigned from the military and became a cotton planter in Powhatan County, Virginia and in Mississippi. He married Sallie Elizabeth Courtney Bowdoin on June 4, 1834.
Cocke became an accomplished agriculturist, publishing frequent articles in journals, as well as a book on plantation management entitled Plantation and Farm Instruction in 1852. From 1853 to 1856, Cocke was president of the Virginia State Agricultural Society. In 1859, concerned by John Brown's Raid on Harpers Ferry, he organized a militia infantry company known as the Powhatan Troop to help defend Powhatan County in case of a similar action or a slave revolt in the future.
Civil War service
Organization of Virginia's defenses
On April 21, 1861, Cocke was appointed as a brigadier general in the service of the Commonwealth of Virginia by Governor John Letcher. He was assigned command of all state forces along the Potomac River. Three days later, from his headquarters at Alexandria, Virginia, he reported to newly commissioned Maj. Gen. Robert E. Lee (assigned on April 22 to the command of all Virginia forces) that he had only 300 men to defend against what he thought was 10,000 Union troops across the river in Washington, D.C. Cocke made his headquarters at Culpeper, Virginia, on April 27, in order to better oversee the entire line of the Potomac as well as the mustering of volunteer troops in a large part of the state. Alexandria was evacuated by Lt. Col. A. S. Taylor on May 5, despite Cocke's orders "not to abandon it without fighting, even against overwhelming numbers."
Under Lee's orders, Cocke organized a new defensive line at Manassas. Cocke may have been the first to formulate the Confederate defensive strategy of concentrating forces at Manassas and at Winchester in the Shenandoah Valley, and using the Manassas Gap Railroad to allow them to be mutually supporting. This strategy would be a decisive factor in the Confederate victory in the First Battle of Bull Run.
When Virginia's state forces were consolidated with the Provisional Army of the Confederate States, Cocke was given the rank of colonel in the new CSA forces. Because of this effective demotion, Cocke was superseded in command at Manassas on May 21 by Brig. Gen. Milledge L. Bonham.
First Bull Run Campaign
Cocke was eventually assigned to the army of P. G. T. Beauregard in command of the 5th Brigade, consisting of the 8th, 18th, 19th, 28th, and 49th Virginia Infantry regiments. His brigade was initially assigned to Centreville, but in the face of advancing Union forces, withdrew behind Bull Run on July 17.
On July 20 Cocke was stationed at Ball's Ford on Bull Run. In the subsequent First Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861, Cocke was assigned to advance against Centreville, a plan abandoned when the Federals began their flanking movement against the Confederate left. While Col. Nathan George Evans, reinforced by Brig. Gen. Barnard Bee and Col. Francis S. Bartow, opposed the enemy, Cocke's forces defended against attack in the vicinity of the Stone Bridge, with his headquarters at the Lewis house. At 2 p.m., about an hour before the arrival of Elzey, he led his brigade into action on the left with "alacrity and effect." He was promoted to brigadier general in the Confederate Army on October 21 and given command of the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Division of the Confederate Army of the Potomac.
First Bull Run was Cocke's last battle. After eight months' service, during which he was promoted to brigadier general in the provisional Confederate army, he returned home, "shattered in body and mind." Exhausted from the strain, and despondent over perceived slights from General Beauregard stemming from the Battle of Manassas, Cocke shot himself in the head on December 26, 1861, at his mansion, "Belmead", in Powhatan County, Virginia. He was initially buried on the plantation grounds, but he was reintered in 1904 at Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia.
Philip St. George Cocke was the son of John Hartwell Cocke (b. September 19, 1780 in Surry County, Virginia) and Anne Blaws Barraud (b. December 25, 1784, in Norfolk, Virginia.)
He married Sallie Elizabeth Courtney Bowdoin (b. May 9, 1815) at Christ Church in Norfolk, Virginia, on June 4, 1834. The couple had 11 children:
- John Bowdoin Cocke, b. 2 Oct 1836, Richmond, Virginia
- Louisana Barraud Cocke, b. 14 Nov 1837, Surry Co., VA
- Sally Browne Cocke, b. 31 Jan 1840, Powhatan Co., VA
- Lucy Cary Cocke, b. 25 Jun 1842
- Philip St. George Cocke, b. 17 Mar 1844, Powhatan Co., VA
- William Ruffin Coleman Cocke, b. 7 Aug 1846, Powhatan Co., VA
- Courtney Bowdoin Cocke, b. 27 Sep 1848
- Charles Hartwell Cocke, b. 12 Mar 1851, Powhatan Co., VA
- Mary Augusta Cocke, b. 19 Jun 1852
- Helen Hansford Cocke, b. 28 Jan 1855
- Ann Blaws Cocke, b. 19 Mar 1857
- Eicher, p. 179.
- Evans, pp. 585-86.
- Davis, Battle at Bull Run, p. 15.
- Appleton's Cyclopedia
- Kaufmann, Confederate Post.
- Davis, Battle at Bull Run, p. 8.
- Davis, Battle at Bull Run, p. 31.
- Davis, Battle at Bull Run, pp. 60, 109.
- Eicher, p. 179; Davis, Cocke, p. 5, states 4th Brigade of the 2nd Division.
- Kaufmann at Confederate Post cites the perceived slights. Davis, Cocke, p. 5, states "Apparently his health was not good at the outset, and these strains [of eight months in the field], along with a probable nervous or emotional susceptibility, left him worn down physically and mentally."
- Davis, Cocke, p. 5; Eicher, p. 179.
- Davis, William C., "Philip St. George Cocke", The Confederate General, Vol. 2, Davis, William C., and Julie Hoffman (eds.), National Historical Society, 1991, ISBN 0-918678-64-1.
- Davis, William C. (1995). Battle At Bull Run: A History of the First Major Campaign of the Civil War. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books.
- Eicher, John H., and Eicher, David J., Civil War High Commands, Stanford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
- Evans, Clement (1899). "Philip St. George Cocke". Confederate Military History, Volume III. Atlanta: Confederate Publishing Company. http://members.tripod.com/~jweaver300/cocke.htm. Retrieved 2008-09-10.
- Kaufmann, Patricia A., Confederate letter with a miliary [sic] address and a sad statistic, Confederate Post philatelic website, retrieved September 15, 2008.
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