Major General Alexander McDowell McCook, who served as a divisional and a corps commander with the Army of the Ohio and the Army of the Cumberland, was a member of the “Fighting McCooks,” fifteen family members who served the Union during the American Civil War.
Alexander McDowell McCook was born in Columbiana County, Ohio, on April 22, 1831. He was the fifth son of Daniel McCook and Martha Latimer (McCook). McCook received an appointment to the United States Military Academy and graduated on July 1, 1852, thirtieth in his class.
Upon his graduation from West Point, McCook was commissioned as brevet second lieutenant on July 1, 1852. He was stationed first at the Newport Barracks in Kentucky and then at the Jefferson Barracks in Missouri. In 1853, McCook was sent west where he scouted and fought against the Apache and the Ute Indians until 1857. On June 30, 1854, while serving in the West, McCook was promoted to second lieutenant. In 1857, McCook took a leave of absence, and upon his return on February 12, 1858, he served as an assistant instructor of infantry tactics at the United States Military Academy until April 24, 1861.
When the American Civil War began, McCook was appointed as colonel of the 1st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry on April 16, 1861. After recruiting volunteers and helping organize the unit at Dayton, McCook participated in the Battle of Bull Run I (July 21, 1861). Later that year, on September 3, he was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers.
In 1862, McCook was promoted to the rank of brevet lieutenant colonel in the regular army for his participation in the capture of Nashville, Tennessee in February. During the spring, he was placed in command of the 2nd Division of the Army of the Ohio, and he participated in the Battle of Shiloh (April 6-7, 1862) and the Siege of Corinth (April 29, 1862-May 30, 1862).
On July 17, 1862, McCook was promoted to major general of volunteers and was assigned to command of the 1st Corps of the Army of the Ohio. Serving in that role, he suffered the first of several major setbacks in his career when his troops did not perform well at the Battle of Perryville (October 8, 1862).
In December 1862, Union armies in the Western Theater were reorganized, and McCook was placed in command of the Right Wing of the 14th Corps in the newly created Army of the Cumberland. Shortly thereafter, McCook’s command performed badly once again at the Battle of Stones River (December 31, 1862-January 2, 1863). After that battle, the Army of the Cumberland was reorganized, and McCook was given command of the 20th Corps.
During the summer of 1863, McCook’s Corps participated in Major General William Rosecrans’s Chickamauga Campaign, helping drive Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee out of Tennessee. At the Battle of Chickamauga (September 19-20, 1863), however, McCook performed poorly once again, and his troops were driven from the field, suffering heavy losses. McCook was partially blamed for the Union disaster at Chickamauga. After the battle, he was court-martialed for his actions on the field, but he was exonerated. Nevertheless, McCook was relieved of his command when the 20th and the 21st Corps were consolidated into the new 4th Corps commanded by Major General Gordon Granger.
McCook spent the next ten months awaiting orders and a new command. During the summer of 1864, Confederate General Jubal Early launched an offensive in the Shenandoah Valley and threatened Washington, DC. Union officials placed McCook in command of the defenses around the nation’s capital. McCook rose to the occasion and defeated Early’s force at the Battle of Fort Stevens (July 11-July 12, 1864), driving the Rebels back into Virginia. Despite his redemption at Washington, McCook was without a field command at the conclusion of the Civil War.
After the war, McCook received brevet promotions to brigadier general and major general in the regular army and was given command of the District of Eastern Arkansas. McCook resigned from the volunteer service on October 21, 1865, but he remained in the regular army. On March 5, 1867, he was commissioned lieutenant colonel of the 26th Infantry and deployed to Texas, where he served until 1874. From 1875 to 1880, McCook served as the aide-de-camp to the general-in-chief of the U.S. Army, William T. Sherman. On December 15, 1880, McCook was promoted to colonel of the 6th Infantry. On May 13, 1886, McCook was named as commander of Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and the infantry and cavalry school. He served in that capacity until August 28, 1890. On July 11 of that year, he was promoted to brigadier general. After his stint at Fort Leavenworth, McCook commanded the Department of Arizona from 1890 to 1895. While there, he was promoted to major general in 1894.
McCook retired from the army in 1895 and lived his remaining years in Ohio. He died in Dayton on June 12, 1903 at seventy-two years of age. McCook is buried in Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati, Ohio.
McCook was a member of the “Fighting McCooks,” fifteen family members who served the Union during the Civil War. McCook’s father, Daniel McCook and his eight sons who served in the war were known as the “Tribe of Dan.” McCook’s uncle, John McCook and five of his sons who served in the war were known as the “Tribe of John.” Daniel McCook, along with four of his sons (Latimer, Daniel Jr., Robert, and Charles) died from wounds received during the Civil War. Alexander McCook achieved the highest military ranking among the members of the family.
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"Alexander McDowell McCook," Ohio Civil War Central, 2019, Ohio Civil War Central. 22 Nov 2019 <http://www.www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=851>
"Alexander McDowell McCook." (2019) In Ohio Civil War Central, Retrieved November 22, 2019, from Ohio Civil War Central: http://www.www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=851
- Army of the Cumberland
- Army of the Ohio 1861 - 1862
- Battle of Bull Run I
- Battle of Chickamauga
- Battle of Fort Stevens
- Battle of Perryville
- Battle of Shiloh
- Battle of Stones River
- Daniel McCook
- Fighting McCooks
- General Orders, No. 9 (U.S. War Department)
- General Orders, No. 93 (U.S. War Department)
- Gordon Granger
- Jubal Early
- Siege of Corinth
- Tribe of Dan
- William S. Rosecrans
- William T. Sherman