Say WHAT? The Confederacy’s Highest Ranking General Was a New Yorker?!
Here's a fact that might surprise even the most seasoned history buffs: the highest-ranking general in the Confederate Army was NOT Robert E. Lee, but was, in fact, a Yankee from New York!
GENERAL SAMUEL COOPER
Samuel Cooper was born in 1798 in New Hackensack, New York, a small unincorporated community in the town of Wappinger (10 miles south of Poughkeepsie).
Cooper joined the U.S. Military Academy at the tender age of 15. After graduating, he enjoyed a steady rise through the ranks:
- 1815: Appointed brevet second lieutenant, U.S. Light Artillery
- 1821: Promoted to first lieutenant
- 1836: Promoted to captain
- 1838: Appointed chief clerk of the U.S. War Department
- 1838: Promoted to brevet major, assistant adjutant general of the Army
- 1846: Promoted to brevet lieutenant colonel
In 1827, Cooper married into a very pro-Confederate Virginia family. His wife's brother was future Confederate emissary James M. Mason, and his sister-in-law was the mother of Confederate general Fitzhugh Lee, a nephew of Robert E. Lee.
Cooper was also a slaveowner.
COOPER DEFECTS AS THE CIVIL WAR STARTS
Cooper's strong ties through marriage to Confederacy causes meant his loyalty did not lie with his birth state. Not only was his wife's entire family from Virginia, but he also reportedly had a close friendship with Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States of America.
In 1861 he resigned from the United States Army and relocated to Montgomery, Alabama, the capital of the Confederacy. According to Wikipedia:
On May 16, 1861, Cooper was promoted to full general in the Confederate Army. He was one of five men promoted to the grade at that time, and one of only seven during the war, but with the earliest date of rank. Thus, despite his relative obscurity today, he outranked the better-known confederates Albert Sidney Johnston, Robert E. Lee, Joseph E. Johnston, and P. G. T. Beauregard.
After the war, Cooper made a paltry living as a farmer in the state of Virginia. In 1870, Robert E. Lee sent Cooper $300 (approx. $7000 in today's money) and said "To this sum I have only been able to add $100, but I hope it may enable you to supply some immediate want and prevent you from taxing your strength too much."
Samuel Cooper died in 1876.