This Day (Captain Cocke Edition)

On this day in 1862, Stonewall Jackson surprise-attacked Union forces at Port Republic, clearing the Shenandoah Valley of bluecoats. A year to the day later, J. E. B. Stuart was the one surprised, when Union cavalry under Alfred Pleasonton came out of nowhere at Brandy Station in one of the largest cavalry engagements of the war.* Stuart barely avoided a butt-whooping, but what was more embarrassing was that just four days earlier, at Culpeper Court House, he strutted his troopers through a mock battle for trainloads of gushing belles.
“Amidst this tumult of cannon fire and thundering hooves,” writes one historian, “a number of ladies swooned into their escorts’ arms. In the evening there was an outdoor ball, lit by soft moonlight and bright bonfires.” If that was one of Stuart’s best days, then June 9 was one of his worst.
On this day in 1864, meanwhile, something called the Battle of Old Men and Young Boys occurred. One of our crankier contributors has informed us that no decent historian calls it that, so, if you wish, call it the First Battle of Petersburg. Either way, Union troops marching up the James basically had the city for the taking, but a cobbled-together force of—you guessed it—old men and young boys managed to save the day.
Finally, a year to the day later, Edmund R. Cocke—better known among his friends as Captain Cocke—was paroled from service in the Confederate army and sent along to live the rest of his life. This involved large helpings of white supremacy and Democratic politics. My favorite sentence from our entry:

He told a friend that Republicans “putrefy every thing they touch,” but he never was accused of being unfairly partisan in his position.

How could you think otherwise?
A version of this post was originally published on June 9, 2011.
* In case you care, Trevilian Station, at the end of the war, was the largest cavalry-only battle. Brandy Station was a larger battle, but a few men-on-foot showed up, too.
IMAGES: The Battle of Old Men First Battle of Petersburg (left); J. E. B. Stuart, colorized (right)


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