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[325]

‘You can go as one of my aides, but you cannot lead my men while I am here!’ rejoined General Cooke as he threw himself into the saddle. Placing himself at the head of his brigade, he gave the order to advance. ‘Then followed,’ said a member of A. P. Hill's staff, who witnessed the movement, ‘one of the most magnificent spectacles ever seen in war.’

No officer in the Confederate Army bore a more enviable reputation for prompt obedience to orders, skill in handling his men, resistless dash in the charge, or heroic, patient, stubborn courage in the defence. General Lee's high opinion of General Cooke and his command is best illustrated in a gentle rebuke the grand chieftain administered to the intrepid brigadier on the lines in front of Richmond. General Cooke was in his tent suffering from his wounds and facial neuralgia when General Lee rode up, called him out, and asked whether the breastworks had been changed as directed by the engineers. ‘No,’ replied General Cooke, impatiently, ‘and I don't believe they ever will be!’

General Lee rode off, followed by his staff and General Cooke. An inspection of the line showed that at several points it had been finished, and work all along it was progressing satisfactorily. Several times during the ride General Lee remarked to the thoroughly confused brigadier: ‘This seems to be completed,’ and finally when the end of the portion of the work to which Cooke's men had been assigned had been reached, he turned with a quiet smile and said: ‘I think, General, it will be finished all right. If not it will be the first time that Cooke and his North Carolinians failed to do their duty.’

Colonel Charles S. Venable, who was of the staff of General Lee, and who now fills a chair at the University of Virginia, adds the following tribute:

‘The death of General John R. Cooke recalls a splendid achievement of the two North Carolina brigades commanded by him and General William McRae, on August 15, 1864, when Generals A. P. Hill and Wade Hampton were sent to attack Hancock's corps at Reams' Station, on the Petersburg and Weldon railroad. Hancock held, with strong force, the railroad embankment as a breastwork. Two of our brigades, which had excellent fighting records, had failed in the first assault upon this strong position, strongly held. After a short interval General Hill ordered Cooke to make the attack with his own and McRae's brigades. The Federals had cut down the ’


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John Rogers Cooke (8)
Robert Edward Lee (5)
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Hancock (2)
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August 15th, 1864 AD (1)
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