Neumann on Fanebust, 'Brigadier General Robert L. McCook and Colonel Daniel McCook, Jr.: A Union Army Dual Biography'

Wayne Fanebust. Brigadier General Robert L. McCook and Colonel Daniel McCook, Jr.: A Union Army Dual Biography. Jefferson: McFarland, 2017. 242 pp. $35.00 (paper), ISBN 978-1-4766-6986-1

Reviewed by Ellen Neumann (Independent Scholar)
Published on H-FedHist (February, 2021)
Commissioned by Caryn E. Neumann (Miami University of Ohio Regionals)

Printable Version:

The Fighting McCooks were the most prominent military family during the Civil War. They were loyal Union men from the Midwest who volunteered to serve and sometimes died in combat. It is this ordinariness that grabbed the public’s attention rather than any exceptional event. After the war, the brothers and cousins, including Major General Alexander McCook, were soon forgotten. Wayne Fanebust, who wrote a biography of Major General McCook, turns his attention to two of the war dead in this book.

Brigadier General Robert L. McCook of Ohio was a Cincinnati lawyer who raised the entirely German-born 9th Ohio Infantry regiment. The men elected him to serve as colonel. Unlike many political colonels, McCook proved quite competent and quite brave. He and his men helped push the Confederacy out of western Virginia, leading to the formation of the state of West Virginia. McCook and the 9th Ohio were sent to Kentucky to block any Confederate incursions into the state. At the Battle of Mill Spring, McCook led a bayonet charge that resulted in the death of Confederate general Felix Zollicoffer. Now a war hero, McCook gained promotion in 1862 to brigadier general in command of the 3rd Brigade of Major General George Thomas. Mostly, McCook and his men marched while getting into the occasional fight with other Union troops. While marching toward Tennessee in August 1862, McCook picked up dysentery, the great killer of soldiers. He rode in an open carriage lying on a bed. The carriage was overtaken by Rebel cavalry, who mortally wounded McCook after he attempted to surrender. The Union viewed his death as a cowardly assassination.

McCook’s killing was quickly laid at the feet of Captain Frank Gurley, who led guerrilla cavalry operations against the Union, raiding and destroying property. Fanebust includes a chapter on Gurley, who was captured by the Union in October 1863 and nearly lynched for killing McCook. Fanebust presents Gurley as a man who lived “quietly and peacefully” into old age and was known to fellow Southerners as a “good man and good citizen” (p. 99). He laments that Union men put Gurley through mental anguish by jailing and trying to execute him for McCook’s murder. However, Fanebust notes earlier that Gurley helped organize the Ku Klux Klan in Madison County, Alabama (p. 95). This is not a man viewed by Black Southerners as a good and peaceful. Fanebust ignores the viewpoints of African Americans and while this does not seriously weaken the book, it does lead to some odd interpretations. A man willing to use violence to terrorize Black people is exactly the sort of bad character who would shoot a defenseless McCook. Fanebust’s lack of historical knowledge with respect to African Americans is evident in both the long list of sources and his interpretation of events. His description of the impact of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation only addresses the white viewpoint.

Colonel Daniel McCook Jr., brother of Robert, studied law at the firm of Lincoln’s future secretary of war, Edwin M. Stanton. He left Ohio for Kansas to form a law practice with William T. Sherman in 1859. At the outset of the Civil War, McCook joined the Union. He received a commission as a captain and raised the Leavenworth State Guard, part of the 1st Kansas Infantry. McCook served bravely at Shiloh and Chickamauga. He died in June 1864 while leading his men in a futile assault up Kennesaw Mountain on the order of his former law partner, General Sherman. In later years, Sherman would lament that he got his friend killed.

Fanebust’s account of the McCooks is well written and, mostly, well researched. It is likely to appeal to scholars interested in Midwestern and Ohio history as well as Civil War buffs. It is a good complement to Charles Whalen and Barbara Whalen’s 2006 book on the entire family of Fighting McCooks.


Citation: Ellen Neumann. Review of Fanebust, Wayne, Brigadier General Robert L. McCook and Colonel Daniel McCook, Jr.: A Union Army Dual Biography. H-FedHist, H-Net Reviews. February, 2021.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.