Editor’s Note: The following letter appears courtesy of Neal Griffin and appears in its entirety on his excellent 9th Georgia site: http://9thgeorgiainfantry.org/capture.html
The information contained on this page is copyright Neal Griffin and may not be used without his written permission. Neal first provides some background information, as his Great-Great Grandfather Jacob W. Cobb, Jr. was the soldier who captured Walker!
Some background on this: My GGGrandfather, Jacob W. Cobb, Jr. wrote this letter to the Atlanta Constitution newspaper, from there it was published in the New York Times. Cobb was a private in Company K of the 9th Georgia Infantry. Company K was the P.A.C.S. (Provisional Army of the Confederate States) designation for the “Americus Volunteer Rifles”, formed 11 June 1861 in Americus, Ga. In 1880, the General Hancock referred to below was the Democratic nominee for President. Colonel (later General) Walker captured by Cobb, was head of the U.S. Census Bureau (1880), and was acting Adjutant General for Gen. Hancock at the time of his capture (1864) at Ream’s Station, Va., one of the Petersburg battles.
This letter was written Aug. 10, 1880 in Americus, Ga., and published on Aug. 13, by The Atlanta Constitution and Aug. 16 by The New York Times:
The following letter has been sent to us from Americus. It refers to the capture of Gen. Walker, who is now the head of the Census Department at Washington:
Americus, Aug. 10 (1880)
I see going the rounds of the press a little anecdote related recently by Gen. W.S. Hancock, Democratic nominee for President, about the capture of Gen. (then Col.) Francis A. Walker, then acting Adjutant-General on Gen. Hancock’s staff, at the battle of Ream’s Station, on the 26th of August, 1864. I was a scout-the only one at the time I believe-in Gen. G.T. Anderson’s brigade at the battle of Ream’s Station. I and two other Confederate soldiers got within 100 yards of a Federal battery, and commenced sharpshooting, having just screened ourselves behind a pine and an old log cabin. We prevented the Federals from using the guns of the battery to shell our forces while charging. Gen. G.T. Anderson’s brigade made three desperate charges and was repulsed each time. A North Carolina brigade was brought up a little before sundown. They charged and forced the enemy from the railroad cut. Myself and two comrades held our position and kept a steady fire on the battery. We did considerable damage to both men and horses, killing or wounding all the horses to be seen about the battery except one, which we captured afterward. After the enemy retreated from the battery I went to it, got the horse, turned him over to my two friends, and ran down the railroad to my command and exchanged my gun for a pistol. When the firing had ceased, I went on to the front in pursuit of the enemy, crossing the road leading from Ream’s Station to “Old Shops” on the plank road. I came up with several Federal soldiers, but being disguised as a Federal soldier, they did not suspicion me. My object in going forward among them was to see if they were making a general retreat or were going to make a stand. To make my disguise more complete, I picked up a Federal army gun. I soon found that I was inside the Federal lines. I picked up a package of papers, which I imagined might be of importance to my officers, and putting them in my pocket moved on. I was going north-east to the enemy’s main line when an officer on horseback came along from my left and passed by me to my right. It was nearly dark and I could not discover his rank. I ran after him about 100 yards, which placed me out of earshot of any Federal soldiers, and then called to him and said, ” You are going the wrong way!”. My object for this was to delay him until I had come to him. He replied, “I am looking for Gen. Curtis.” I think that was the name he used. Being close to him by this time he asked me what I wanted. I told him in very strong language, that he must surrender. This seemed to bewilder him, and he exclaimed, “Where am I?” I told him “a prisoner,” and he asked me to have more respect for him as he was an officer. I replied that he must respect my commands as I was a Confederate soldier, and stated that it would be death to one of us if he did not surrender, and follow my directions.
Without dismounting him or demanding his arms, I started in the direction of Ream’s Station. About the time we crossed the road, I dropped the bundle of papers I had found. I had the muzzle of my gun directed at the officer’s head, and fearing to stoop to pick them up, asked a soldier I saw approaching to do so for me. Whether he did so or not I do not know. Neither do I know whether he was a Federal or Confederate-I suppose the latter. In the excitement of the moment, I moved my prisoner on. Coming near our lines, I asked the prisoner to surrender his arms. He handed me a Smith & Wesson pistol and a very fine sword. We then went on to the railroad, where I called for Lieut. Jones, Adjutant Ninth Georgia Regiment. As soon as he appeared, I asked the prisoner to dismount and give me his name and rank. He replied, as he dismounted: “I am Col. Walker, Adjutant-General of Hancock’s staff.” I saw he had a watch, and told him that if he would give it to me and his money to me that I would take care of them for him and return them to him, as the guards would take them from him. He replied that he would as soon trust one rebel as another, but said that the sword which he had given me was not his, and that he would be greatly obliged if I would have it sent back into the Federal lines where the owner might get it. I laughingly replied that I would take it to Gen. Hancock’s head-quarters myself. It was a very fine sword, and I afterwards gave it to an officer friend of mine, and I believe he has it yet. I saw Col. Walker the next day among other prisoners as I was going to Petersburg, and asked him if he knew me. He answered, “I know that mare you are riding.” I think he had been divested of every valuable he had. I found Col. Walker to be a perfect gentleman, and have always wanted an opportunity to beg his pardon for the rough language I used in arresting him. I don’t know what Confederate Colonel it was that captured Gen. Walker after he made his escape from Petersburg and swam the river, but should this meet the eye of Gen. Walker he will recollect the facts of his first capture as they are herein detailed. My brigade commander, Gen. G.T. Anderson, will recollect and indorse the facts of the above narrative.
JACOB W. COBB,
Company K, Ninth Georgia Regiment, and scout in Longstreet’s Corps.
A representative of the Constitution called yesterday to see Gen. Anderson about the facts referred to in the above letter. Gen. Anderson is at present our efficient Chief of Police. We found him busily engaged in his office. We handed him the letter, and, after he read it, we asked him if he had any information to give on the subject. “I know Cobb captured Col. Walker, as he states it, and I know he was a good soldier. I presume what he says about the engagement is true. My recollection is that we did not charge but one time. A grape-shot struck me on the knees about 20 feet from the breast-works, and while it did not break the skin, it made the knees very sore, and made me lame. We captured between 3,000 and 4,000 of Gen. Hancock’s men at Ream’s Station.” “Then it was a hard fight?” “I should think it was,” replied the General, “about as tight a fight as any of them. Cobb came to me late in the evening and told me he had captured a Colonel. He had taken from him a splendid sword, and Cobb gave it to me. I have it now at home. It was a fine sword, and I wore it from that day till the war ended. I think I will send Walker his sword,” said the General. “I had about forgotten who it belonged to, anyhow, and I don’t think we will ever need it again. If we do, I presume Walker would lend it to me.” “What was done with Walker after he was brought to you?” “I don’t remember. I ordered him sent to the rear-probably to the provost guard.” This is all we could get out of the General, so we left him to pursue the even tenor of his way.1,2
- (Title Unknown), August 13, 1880 Atlanta Constitution, unknown column and page ↩
- Griffin, Neal. “Capture of a famous Union General by my GGGrandfather.” 9th Georgia Infantry. Ed. Neal Griffin. 2010. Accessed 8 Sept. 2011 <http://9thgeorgiainfantry.org/capture.html>. ↩