December 28, 1827 – August 6, 1862
A member of the famed "Fighting McCooks," Brigadier General Robert Latimer McCook died near New Market, Alabama on August 6, 1862, from wounds he received during an ambush the previous day.
Robert Latimer McCook was born at New Lisbon, Ohio, on December 28, 1827. He was the fourth son of Daniel McCook and Martha Latimer (McCook). McCook studied law with future Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, at the office of Stanton and McCook, in Steubenville, Ohio, before opening his own law practice in Cincinnati.
When the American Civil War began, McCook organized the 9th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry, a three-month unit comprised mostly of recent German immigrants who later earned the label of “Bully Dutchmen” for their distinguished service. McCook was commissioned as the regiment’s colonel on May 6, 1861. The unit was later reorganized as a three-year regiment, becoming the first Ohio regiment to enlist for three years’ service.
On June 16, 1861, the 9th departed Camp Dennison, near Cincinnati Ohio, for western Virginia (modern-day West Virginia), assigned to Major General George McClellan’s command. Later that year, the regiment participated in the Battle of Rich Mountain (July 11, 1861) and the Battle of Carnifex Ferry (September 10, 1861). In November, officials reassigned the 9th to the Army of the Ohio and traveled to Kentucky, where it participated in the Battle of Mill Springs (January 19, 1862). As McCook led his troops in that battle, he was severely wounded in the leg. During his convalescence, he was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers on March 21, 1862.
McCook returned to his regiment later that year, and participated in the Siege of Corinth, Mississippi (April 29, 1862-May 30, 1862). Unable to ride his horse for long distances due to his wound, McCook was often forced to travel by wagon. After the fall of Corinth, McCook’s regiment advanced to Tuscumbia, Alabama, where it remained for nearly five weeks, before marching to Decherd, Tennessee on July 27. On August 5, Rebel guerillas, commanded by Frank Gurly, ambushed McCook and his small escort party as they travelled from Decherd toward New Market, Alabama. Northern press accounts claimed that someone (perhaps a civilian named Charles Wood), shot McCook in the abdomen as he lay helpless in an ambulance wagon suffering from dysentery. Southerners claimed that McCook had taken the reins of the wagon after the driver was wounded, and McCook failed to heed orders to halt. In any case, McCook was taken to a local house where he died the next day after suffering nearly twenty-four hours of agonizing pain. In retribution for his death, members of McCook’s old regiment destroyed buildings and other property in the vicinity of where McCook was shot. A contemporary account from Harpers Weekly stated:
Retribution—terrible retribution—is being dealt by the 9th Ohio. The hands of the men that cheered rebel murderers will clap no more. With fire, and sword, and bayonet the scene of the foul assassination was reduced to a state of desolation from which it will not recover until time will have swept away the remembrance of the death of Robert L. McCook.
McCook’s body was sent north, and he was buried in Cincinnati’s Spring Hill Cemetery.
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 three of his sons (Latimer, Daniel Jr., and Charles), in addition to Robert, died from wounds received during the Civil War.