Perhaps one of the best “citizen generals” who served the Union army during the Civil War, Jacob Dolson Cox was seemingly positioned to be the sixth Ohioan who would ascend to the presidency in the post-bellum years. Yet this man who had done so much for the Northern cause would remain a back-bencher in the political world rising no farther than the governorship of the Buckeye State.
Gene Schmiel has spent nearly a lifetime researching this important individual and trying to answer the question of why he did not rise to the post-war level of Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Harrison and McKinley. Dr. Schmiel’s November program for the First Defenders showed that Cox was a self-taught military man who gained the trust and respect of George McClellan in the early days of the war, and was entrusted with keeping the eventual state of West Virginia firmly within Union control. He would lead the 9th Corps at South Mountain and Antietam, and would be with Sherman during the Atlanta Campaign. Cox almost single-handedly directed the Federal troops during the November 1864 bloodbath at Franklin, Tennessee. Yet his post-war years were anti-climactic.
Jacob Cox was, perhaps, ahead of his time with respect to his attitude toward freed Blacks and much-needed civil service reform in federal and state government. His views eclipsed a potentially bright career in politics and relegated him to more modest success during the late 19th century. Perhaps his greatest legacy has been his post-war writings which have been judged by historians as factual and without the chest-thumping, horn blowing and outright fabrications of so many other Civil War generals. In that respect, according to Dr. Schmiel, Jacob Cox may have rendered even more important service to his country.