Howell Cobb

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Howell Cobb
Howell Cobb-crop.jpg
President of the C.S. Provisional Congress
In office
February 4, 1861 – February 18, 1862
Preceded by Office established
Succeeded by Office abolished
United States Secretary of the Treasury
In office
March 7, 1857 – December 8, 1860
President James Buchanan
Preceded by James Guthrie
Succeeded by Philip Thomas
19th Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
In office
December 22, 1849 – March 4, 1851
Preceded by Robert Winthrop
Succeeded by Linn Boyd
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from Georgia
In office
March 4, 1843 – March 3, 1851
March 4, 1855 – March 3, 1857
Preceded by James A. Meriwether (AL)
6th District created in 1845
Junius Hillyer (6th)
Succeeded by AL District eliminated in 1845
Junius Hillyer (6th)
James Jackson (6th)
Constituency AL district (1843–45)
6th district (1845–51)
6th district (1855–57)
40th Governor of Georgia
In office
November 5, 1851 – November 9, 1853
Preceded by George Towns
Succeeded by Herschel Johnson
Personal details
Born (1815-09-07)September 7, 1815
Jefferson County, Georgia, U.S.
Died October 9, 1868(1868-10-09) (aged 53)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Political party Democratic (Before 1851; 1853–1868)
Constitutional Union (1851–1853)
Relations Thomas R.R. Cobb (brother)
Alma mater University of Georgia
Military service
Allegiance  Confederate States
Service/branch  Confederate States Army
Years of service 1861–1865
Rank Confederate States of America General.png Major General
Commands Cobb's Brigade
District of Georgia and Florida
Battles/wars American Civil War

Thomas Howell Cobb (September 7, 1815 – October 9, 1868) was an American political figure. A southern Democrat, Cobb was a five-term member of the United States House of Representatives and Speaker of the House from 1849 to 1851. He also served as the 40th Governor of Georgia (1851–1853) and as a Secretary of Treasury under President James Buchanan (1857–1860).

Cobb is, however, probably best known as one of the founders of the Confederacy, having served as the President of the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States. Delegates of the Southern slave states declared that they had seceded from the United States and created the Confederate States of America.

Cobb served for two weeks between the foundation of the Confederacy and the election of Jefferson Davis as its first President. As the Speaker of the Congress, he was provisional Head of State at this time.

Early life and education[edit]

Born in Jefferson County, Georgia in 1815, Cobb was raised in Athens. He attended the University of Georgia where he was a member of the Phi Kappa Literary Society. He was of Welsh American ancestry.[1] He was admitted to the bar in 1836 and became solicitor general of the western judicial circuit of Georgia.

He married Mary Ann Lamar on May 26, 1835. She was a daughter of a Lamar family with broad connections in the South. They would have eleven children, the first in 1838 and the last in 1861. They were John Addison, Zachariah Lamar, Howell, Henry Jackson, Basil Lamar, Mary Ann Lamar, Laura Rootes, Sarah, Andrew Jackson, Elizabeth Craig, and Thomas Reade Rootes Cobb. Several did not survive childhood, including their last, a son who was named after Howell's brother, Thomas Reade Rootes Cobb.



Lucy May Stanton, Howell Cobb, 1912, Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives

He was elected as Democrat to the 28th, 29th, 30th and 31st Congresses. He was chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Mileage during the 28th Congress, and Speaker of the United States House of Representatives during the 31st Congress.

He sided with President Andrew Jackson on the question of nullification; was an efficient supporter of President James K. Polk's administration during the Mexican-American War. He was an ardent advocate of extending slavery into the territories, but when the Compromise of 1850 had been agreed upon, he became its staunch supporter as a Union Democrat.[2] He joined Georgia Whigs Alexander Stephens and Robert Toombs in a statewide campaign to elect delegates to a state convention that overwhelmingly affirmed, in the Georgia Platform, that the state accepted the Compromise as the final resolution to the outstanding slavery issues. On that issue, Cobb was elected governor of Georgia by a large majority.

Speaker of the House[edit]

After 63 ballots,[3] Cobb became Speaker of the House on December 22, 1849.[4] In 1850, as Speaker he would have been next in line to the Presidency for two days due to Vice Presidential vacancy and a president pro tempore not being appointed yet, except he did not meet the minimum eligibility for the presidency of being 35 years old. When Zachary Taylor died on July 9, Vice President Millard Fillmore became President. The president pro tempore of the Senate was not appointed until July 11 when William Rufus de Vane King took that position.

Governor of Georgia[edit]

In 1851, Cobb left the House to serve as the Governor of Georgia, holding that post until 1853. He published A Scriptural Examination of the Institution of Slavery in the United States: With its Objects and Purposes in 1856.[5]

Return to Congress and Secretary of the Treasury[edit]

Bureau of Engraving and Printing portrait of Cobb as Secretary of the Treasury.

He was elected to the 34th Congress before being appointed as Secretary of the Treasury in Buchanan's Cabinet. He served for three years, resigning in December 1860. At one time, Cobb was Buchanan's choice for his successor.[6]

A Founder of the Confederacy[edit]

In 1860, Cobb ceased to be a Unionist, and became a leader of the secession movement. He was president of a convention of the seceded states that assembled in Montgomery, Alabama, on February 4, 1861. Under Cobb's guidance, the delegates drafted a constitution for the new Confederacy. He served as President of several sessions of the Confederate Provisional Congress, before resigning to join the military when war erupted.[7]

American Civil War[edit]

Cobb in his postbellum days

Cobb joined the Confederate army and was commissioned as colonel of the 16th Georgia Infantry. He was appointed a brigadier general on February 13, 1862, and assigned command of a brigade in what became the Army of Northern Virginia. Between February and June 1862, he represented the Confederate authorities in negotiations with Union officers for an agreement on the exchange of prisoners of war. His efforts in these discussions contributed to the Dix-Hill Cartel accord reached in July 1862.[8]

Cobb saw combat during the Peninsula Campaign and the Seven Days Battles. Cobb's brigade played a key role in the fighting at Crampton's Gap during the Battle of South Mountain, especially at Crampton's Gap, where it arrived at a critical time to delay a Union advance through the gap, but at a bloody cost. His men also fought at the subsequent Battle of Antietam.

In October 1862, Cobb was detached from the Army of Northern Virginia and sent to the District of Middle Florida. He was promoted to major general on September 9, 1863, and placed in command of the District of Georgia and Florida. He suggested the construction of a prisoner-of-war camp in southern Georgia, a location thought to be safe from Union invaders. This idea led to the creation of Andersonville prison.

When William T. Sherman's armies entered Georgia during the 1864 Atlanta Campaign and subsequent March to the Sea, Cobb commanded the Georgia Reserve Corps as a general. In the spring of 1865, with the Confederacy clearly waning, he and his troops were sent to Columbus, Georgia to help oppose Wilson's Raid. He led the hopeless Confederate resistance in the Battle of Columbus, Georgia on Easter Sunday, April 16, 1865.

During Sherman's March to the Sea, the army camped one night near Cobb's plantation.[9] When Sherman discovered that the house he planned to stay in for the night belonged to Cobb, whom Sherman described in his Memoirs as "one of the leading rebels of the South, then a general in the Southern army," he dined in Cobb's slave quarters,[10] confiscated Cobb's property and burned the plantation,[11] instructing his subordinates to "spare nothing."[12]

In the closing days of the war, Cobb fruitlessly opposed General Robert E. Lee's eleventh hour proposal to enlist slaves into the Confederate Army. Fearing that such a move would completely discredit the Confederacy's fundamental justification of slavery, that black people were inferior, he said, "You cannot make soldiers of slaves, or slaves of soldiers. The day you make a soldier of them is the beginning of the end of the Revolution. And if slaves seem good soldiers, then our whole theory of slavery is wrong."[13] Cobb's opposition to Lee's proposal is dramatized in the opera Appomattox (composer Philip Glass, librettist Christopher Hampton), which debuted in Washington, D.C.'s Kennedy Center in November 2015. Cobb's role was sung by Timothy J. Bruno. Cobb surrendered to the U.S. at Macon, Georgia on April 20, 1865.

Later life and death[edit]

Following the end of the Civil War, Cobb returned home and resumed his law practice. Despite pressure from his former constituents and soldiers, he refused to make any public remarks on Reconstruction policy until he received a presidential pardon, although he privately opposed it. Finally receiving the pardon in early 1868, he began to vigorously oppose the Reconstruction Acts, making a series of speeches that summer that bitterly denounced the policies of Radical Republicans in the U.S. Congress.

That autumn, Cobb vacationed in New York City, and died of a heart attack there. His body was returned to Athens, Georgia, for burial in Oconee Hill Cemetery.[14]

Thomas Reade Rootes Cobb was a younger brother of Howell Cobb, and Thomas Willis Cobb was a cousin. His uncle and namesake, Howell Cobb, had been a U.S. Congressman from 1807–1812, and then served as an officer in the War of 1812. A niece was Mildred Lewis Rutherford.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ A memorial volume of the Hon. Howell Cobb, of Georgia, edited by Samuel Boykin, p. 14
  2. ^ Brooks, R. P. (December 1917). "Howell Cobb and the Crisis of 1850". The Mississippi Valley Historical Review. 4 (3): 279. JSTOR 1888593. 
  3. ^ Jenkins, Jeffery A.; Stewart, Charles Haines (2012). Fighting for the speakership the House and the rise of party government. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. p. 167. ISBN 9781400845460. 
  4. ^ Hamilton, Holman (2015). Prologue to Conflict : The Crisis and Compromise of 1850. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky. p. 42. ISBN 978-0813191362. Retrieved 14 June 2016. 
  5. ^ NIE
  6. ^ Klein (1962), pp. 11.
  7. ^ Davis, Ruby Sellers (1962). "Howell Cobb, President of the Provisional Congress of the Confederacy". The Georgia Historical Quarterly. 46 (1): 20. JSTOR 40578354. 
  8. ^ Official Records, Series II, Vol. 3, pp. 338-340, 812-13, Vol. 4, pp. 31-32, 48.
  9. ^ Seibert, David. "Howell Cobb Plantation". GeorgiaInfo: an Online Georgia Almanac. Digital Library of Georgia. Retrieved 4 November 2016. 
  10. ^ Hanson, Victor Davis (1999). The Soul of Battle: From Ancient Times to the Present Day, How Three Great Liberators Vanquished Tyranny. New York City, New York: The Free Press. p. 211. Retrieved March 8, 2016. 
  11. ^ Mitchell, Robert B. (November). "Terrible beyond endurance". America's Civil War. 27 (5): 37. Retrieved 14 June 2016.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  12. ^ "Memoirs, ch.21". William Tecumseh Sherman. Retrieved 2010-05-20. 
  13. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica
  14. ^ "Howell Cobb", New Georgia Encyclopedia


Further reading[edit]

  • Montgomery, Horace, Howell Cobb's Confederate Career. (Tuscaloosa, Alabama: Confederate Publishing, 1959).
  • Simpson, John E., Howell Cobb: the Politics of Ambition. (Chicago, Illinois: Adams Press, 1973).

External links[edit]