This Day (Captain Cocke Edition)

Today in 1841, Edmund Randolph Cocke was born at Oakland, one of his family’s plantations in Cumberland County. The Cockes were an important, if not entirely stable, family in Virginia. Thomas Cocke was the guardian of Edmund Ruffin, who grew up to become an ardent secessionist and fire the first shot on Fort Sumter. Cocke committed suicide in 1840, and Ruffin followed his lead in 1865. Philip St. George Cocke — who is not to be confused with Philip St. George Cooke, Jeb Stuart‘s father-in-law — organized a regiment during the war from Charlottesville and the University of Virginia, but when he wasn’t promoted, he committed suicide in 1861.
By contrast, Edmund Randolph Cocke was a survivor. Let me just quote the introductory paragraph in full, and if you are moved to read more, then so be it:

Edmund R. Cocke was a veteran of the American Civil War (1861–1865) who, after the war, became a Populist Party leader, running unsuccessful campaigns for Virginia governor (1893) and lieutenant governor (1897). After being wounded at Gettysburg (1863) and captured at Sailor’s Creek (1865), Cocke, a staunch Democrat and white-supremacist, chaired Cumberland County’s electoral board beginning in 1884. He told a friend that Republicans “putrefy every thing they touch,” but he never was accused of being unfairly partisan in his position. Around the same time, Captain Cocke, as he was known, became involved in populist politics through the Farmers’ Assembly of the State of Virginia, which he cofounded, and his disagreement with Democrats over the gold standard led to his defection to the People’s Party in 1892. Although intellectually gifted, he was considered by his peers to be an uninspiring speaker, and he was soundly defeated in his run for governor in 1893 and, four years later, for lieutenant governor. This latter defeat effectively ended Populism in Virginia. In 1898, Cocke’s wife died, in 1900 his plantation burned, and in his last few years he experimented with making gold through alchemy and lashed out at Prohibition Democrats. He died of kidney failure in 1922.


2 thoughts

  1. Thanks for the comment, Tommy. I think our entry is fair on this issue:
    In Charleston, on April 12, 1861, Ruffin joined South Carolina troops as they initiated the Civil War by firing cannons on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. There are several theories about who actually fired the first shot of the war, but most scholars agree that the person who fired the first shot is unknown. Ruffin is believed, however, to have fired “the first shot” from Morris Island after the fusillade had already begun. Either way, his presence in Charleston afforded him a hero’s status in the South.

  2. Nitpicking: Ruffin is *said to have fired* the first shot on Fort Sumter — an apocryphal tale that makes a fine allegory for the South’s ill fate in going to war, starting with a bang and ending with a whimper.


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