Maj. Gen. Robert E. Lee to Col. Philip St. George Cocke Clarifying the Latter’s Rank and Command

28 11 2020



O. R. – Series I – VOLUME 2 [S #2] CHAPTER IX, pp. 836-837

Headquarters Virginia Forces,
Richmond, Va., May 13,1861.

Col. P. St. George Cocke,
Comdg. Virginia Forces, Hdqrs. Culpeper Court-House, Va.:

Colonel: I have just received your letter of the 12th instant, and hasten to give such explanation as I can of the circumstances to which it refers. Your change of rank has resulted from the action of the Convention. Before the termination of its session an ordinance was passed requiring all appointments in the military service by the governor to be submitted to the Convention for confirmation. The Convention also determined, as I have understood, to reduce the number of the higher grades in the service, which resulted in the renomination by the governor, by and with the advice of the council, of several officers for appointments to grades one degree lower than those to which they had been originally appointed. General Gwynn’s, General Johnston’s, General Ruggles’, yours, and others were of this number. Another ordinance of the Convention gave to officers of the Provisional Army rank above those of the volunteer forces of the same grade, and subjected them to duty with the volunteers until required for service with the Provisional Army. Colonel Ruggles and Colonel Terrett having been appointed in the Provisional Army, it was incumbent on me to recognize their rank. It therefore became necessary to change your command, which I did with regret. Of the circumstances attending it I supposed you were cognizant, as the action of the Convention, I think, occurred before your last visit to this city.

When Colonel Jackson was sent to Harper’s Perry, it was to muster into service the companies there assembled, with a view of organizing a force as rapidly as possible to hold that point. Hence he was not directed to report in person to you on his route, as that would have occasioned delay, though it was well understood that Harper’s Ferry was embraced within your command. At the present time, as well as for the reasons given in Special Orders, No. 39, it was deemed advisable to give to the commander at Harper’s Ferry command of that station, without reference to any other question. I hope you will perceive, from the foregoing explanation, which has been necessarily brief, that the change in your command was dictated by necessity and not by choice. In assigning the officers within your former district to their present posts, I was guided entirely by the convenience of the service and a desire to hasten the organization of the troops. It is temporary, and designed to meet the exigencies of the occasion. As to yourself, I desired to have the benefit of your knowledge of the troops and officers called from the extensive country assigned to you, in their organization and equipment, and hoped the service would be as agreeable to you as I believe it will be beneficial to the public. Recognizing as fully as I do your merit, patriotism, and devotion to the State, I do not consider that either rank or position are necessary to bestow upon you honor, but believe that you will confer honor on the position. In the present crisis of affairs, I know that your own feelings, better than any words of mine, will point out the best course for you to pursue to advance the cause in which you are engaged, and to promote the interests of the service, which you have so much at heart, and will leave to the voice of your fellow-citizens to assign to you the position you deserve.

I am, with high respect and esteem, your obedient servant,

R. E. LEE, Major-General.



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