Alexander McDonald McCook (1831–1903)

Alexander McCook was a Union general during the Civil War and commanded the District of Eastern Arkansas.

Alexander McCook was born in Columbiana County, Ohio, on April 22, 1831. The son of Daniel McCook and Martha Latimer McCook, he had two sisters and eight brothers. McCook attended the United States Military Academy at West Point and graduated in 1852. After earning his commission as an officer, he spent time teaching at the academy and served with the Third Infantry Regiment on the frontier.

Shortly after the outbreak of war in 1861, McCook received a commission as colonel of the First Ohio Volunteers. Seeing action at the First Battle of Bull Run, he received a promotion to brigadier general of volunteers on September 3, 1861. Transferred to the Western Theater, he led a brigade and later a division at Nashville, Shiloh, and Corinth. McCook received an additional promotion to the rank of major general of volunteers in July 1862. He took command of a corps and led it at the Battle of Perryville in October, where the unit did not perform well and suffered heavy losses. At the Battle of Stones River that winter, his corps again faced heavy losses. In September 1863, McCook led his corps at the Battle of Chickamauga, where the unit once again performed poorly. This led to his removal from command, and a court of inquiry was organized to determine if McCook’s conduct during the battle was appropriate. After twenty-one days of proceedings, the court determined that McCook did act appropriately during the engagement.

McCook remained without a permanent command after the court of inquiry. He commanded an ad hoc unit during the defense of Washington DC in July 1864. When the threat to the city was met, the command was dissolved.

On February 12, 1865, McCook was ordered to take command of the District of Helena, also known as the District of Eastern Arkansas. He relieved Brigadier General Napoleon Bonaparte Buford and took command on March 9. By this point of the war, major hostilities had ended in the state and McCook was left with little to supervise. Within a month of McCook’s arrival in Arkansas, his superiors in St. Louis were debating whether to send him to fight Indian tribes in New Mexico or Utah, as little action was occurring in Arkansas. On April 22, Major General John Pope received approval from the War Department to dispatch McCook. McCook was tasked with accompanying a congressional committee to examine the conditions in the west. Colonel Bentzoni of the Fifty-Sixth United States Colored Troops was the ranking officer at Helena (Phillips County) after McCook’s departure.

While McCook commanded the department for only a short period, his quick transfer demonstrates how quickly hostilities were ending in the area. The services of a major general were not required to command the department as the war came to a close in Arkansas.

At the conclusion of the war, McCook received brevet promotions to the ranks of brigadier and major general, and he received a permanent commission at the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Twenty-Sixth Infantry in 1867. He remained in the army and saw service in both Texas and Kansas and also served as an aide to General William Tecumseh Sherman. He was promoted to colonel in 1880, brigadier general in 1890, and major general in 1894. McCook retired the next year.

The McCook family was heavily involved in military service both before and during the Civil War. One of McCook’s brothers died serving in the navy in 1842. Another was killed at the First Battle of Bull Run. Six other brothers served in the army during the Civil War, with two reaching the rank of brigadier general and both dying in action. McCook’s father, Daniel McCook, was killed in action in July 1864.  

McCook married Kate Phillips before the war, and they remained married until her death in 1881. The couple had three daughters. In 1884, McCook married Annie Colt. The couple had a son in 1886 who did not survive. McCook died in Ohio on June 12, 1903, and is buried in Cincinnati at the Spring Grove Cemetery.

For additional information:
Warner, Ezra. Generals in Blue: The Lives of the Union Commanders. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1964.

Whalen, Charles, and Barbara Whalen. The Fighting McCooks: America’s Famous Fighting Family. Bethesda, MD: Westmoreland Press, 2006.

David Sesser
Henderson State University

Last Updated: 10/30/2018

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