Revenge of the Tribe of Dan: A Look at Alexander McCook’s Captured Correspondence
On December 30, 1862 Major General Alexander McDowell McCook’s headquarters wagon and ambulance were captured by Confederate cavalrymen at LaVergne. The contents were thoroughly picked over; someone absconded off with McCook’s rather large frock coat while others took ordnance reports and other bits of intelligence that were handed over to General Braxton Bragg.
One of the more interesting items found that was not turned over to General Bragg included three private letters from McCook’s father Daniel McCook. Written in November and December 1862 in the wake of McCook’s roughing up at Perryville, the leader of the “Tribe of Dan” keeps his son informed about the perceptions of the battle of Perryville, and the actions of the Buell Commission. He also offers plenty of advice to his son as to how to deal with Army politics, but perhaps his most chilling injunction was one that touched on the murder of his son General Robert L. McCook the previous August. “You will winter in southern Tennessee, northern Alabama, or Georgia,” Dan wrote. “If you do, I hope you will make the country bleed- remember the death of your lamented brother.”
The Mobile Advertiser & Register received the letters in early February from “a friend in the Army of Tennessee” and published them in their February 19, 1863 edition. “McCook’s father is evidently a venomous old blackguard whose morals are about on a par with his spelling,” the newspaper grumped. “If we had an opportunity, we should certainly send a copy to Generals Buell and Gilbert and some other persons whom the old sinner makes mention.” I’ve included some of the juicier excerpts from the three letters below as a window into the high command politics of the Army of the Cumberland between the Kentucky and Stones River campaigns.
November 2, 1862
You no doubt see by the papers that the question whether or not Buell was at fault at the battle of Perryville is still under discussion. Let Mr. Buell and his friends say what they please and let the Louisville Journal [one of Buell’s few press allies-my note] continue in his defense as long as Father Prentice is able to wield a pen. There is but one prevailing opinion in the mouth of every intelligent man and woman and that is that he was willfully, wickedly guilty of a great misdemeanor for which if he was put before a jury of his countrymen, he would be condemned and shot as the fullest possible mode of punishment. Thousands believe him to be a traitor and that he desired your troops either to be cut to pieces or captured. Although I think he is largely interested in the welfare of the South and would have no objection to see the Southern Confederacy permanently established. I cannot think he is a traitor and would sell his country, but his conduct in refusing to furnish you with the necessary support in your great extremity is most marvelous, indeed. And a great and wonton neglect that he can never explain away. And that infamous [General Charles C.] Gilbert is more worthy of death than the coward Colonel [Jonah] Taylor [50th Ohio] who was very unwisely permitted to resign.
We have great cause of thankfulness to Almighty God for the preservation of your life and that your little division of raw troops had not been entirely destroyed and taken prisoners. If Buell had advanced when you made your personal visit to him, he would have obtained a decided victory and his temples now would have been adorned with the wrath of honor and glory instead of the one of disgrace that now surrounds them.
I think that Bragg is not sustained by his government in that inglorious retreat of his, although he boasts of capturing all the baggage and servants of General McCook, he was not included in the batch of lieutenant generals made since the battle while other (much more distinguished men) have been. This is significant of something. You will winter in southern Tennessee, or northern Alabama, or Georgia; if you do, I hope you will make the country bleed- remember the death of your lamented brother. We would all rejoice to see you in Ohio enjoying the company of dear friends and the many thousands of your admirers, but you cannot leave your command until circumstances will justify it.
I saw [Henry] Villard in Cincinnati on his way to New York; let his feelings be what they may heretofore, he now sustains you but is most bitter against General Buell. General Lytle speaks in the most condemnable manner of Buell while Judge Swain of this city says that if half of what Lytle says about Buell is true, that he ought to be hung. Villard fears a conspiracy between Buell, Crittenden, and Rousseau to injure you. I cannot think that Rousseau would be guilty of a mean act towards you. I do not know whether his asking that his troops should be withdrawn from your command could be construed into opposition to your or not. They are Kentuckians and bear watching, but I think Rousseau has said more about the immortal Negro than you ever did.
November 23, 1862
I resume you have seen the article by Villard in the New York Tribune of the 12th; if you have not got it, I will send a copy. It is a scathing rebuke to General Buell. A correspondent in the Cincinnati Commercial yesterday tried to bolster him up in his general administrative conduct as an officer and tried to revive him by throwing a large amount of censure upon other gentlemen for not carrying out his suggestions in regard to the campaign in Kentucky and Tennessee. He passes over the battle of Perryville very smoothly and never attempts to answer the general charges of incompetency and neglect which are made against him. I know very little about the capability of committees appointed to investigate the charges. I subscribe I presume that the ablest man on the board, old man [General Daniel] Tyler is an imbecile. Lew Wallace will not be disposed to probe very deep as he thinks that he is at present under the bane of General Halleck and others at Washington. A vigorous investigation will depend entirely upon the legal talent of Don Piatt. If Joe Holt was there as judge advocate you might expect an honest investigation and full report, but as it is, I think he will get a good whitewashing . I am of the opinion that Buell ought to be dismissed from the service and that Gilbert ought to be hung. He and Buell have no doubt understood each other and winked at your partial defeat on that bloody day. Gilbert being on trial, [General Albin] Schoepf’s testimony alone would convict him.
December 10, 1862
In the Cincinnati Gazette of today I find the report of General Buell’s official report of his campaign in Kentucky, especially the battle of Perryville in which, by his innuendos, he tried to throw the defeat of our army in that battle at your door. In your personal report on the morning of the 8th, I understand that you informed him that the enemy were in your front ready to attack you. Did he then make arrangements to sustain you? Even at the hour of 4 in the evening, he hesitated to believe that the cannonading that he heard was nothing more than a reconnaissance. What was his aide doing on the 8th that he knew nothing that was going on in the vicinity? I have no doubt that he will try through his staff and other toadies to throw the responsibility of the day upon you. I hope Rousseau will do you justice in denying the fact that your brought on the engagement. He concedes the fact that the enemy had attacked Daniel’s [McCook’s] brigade and that he was relieved between 10 and 11 o’clock by Buell’s orders, hence he must have known that the enemy were in the vicinity and his entire force ought to have been brought up, at least the corps of Gilbert that were within short range ought to have engaged the enemy. But they wanted to destroy you, and when he says that the disaster is to be attributed to your great confidence in yourself, that you could manage the matter without the knowledge or controls of your commander, he does you great injustice.
I think Mitchell, Carlin, Sheridan, and Schoepf will do you justice. Let me hear from you when the commission leaves Nashville and state whether he will attempt to throw the responsibility of that sad day upon you. Put Rousseau into the mill and make his show his hand. He will no doubt try to save Buell, but he cannot charge that you were instrumental in bringing on the fight.
“Captured Correspondence,” Mobile Advertiser & Register (Alabama), February 19, 1863, pg. 2
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