The Missouri in the Civil War Message Board

"Lt. Col." Samuel P. Cox Fake Commission

So there had been a whole complicated series of events involving Major William D. McDonald, acting c.o. of the 33rd Enrolled Missouri Militia (Caldwell County), who was controversially also serving as acting adjutant to to EMM Brigadier General James Craig clear over in St. Joseph (controversially because McDonald was not detached to do the adjutant job--he was doing both, or at least trying to).

At the time Bill Anderson was running rampant over McDonald's turf, as well as over the EMM units in that area -- McDonald's Caldwell County 33EMM, and Ray County's 51EMM commanded by Major John Grimes. Both units were highly ineffective -- 33EMM because McDonald was doing two jobs at once (with McDonald having a reputation of being afraid to engage the enemy according to one contemporary newspaper report), and Grimes because he was vocally afraid his inexperienced and outgunned 51EMM would meet the same fate that had befallen Major AVE Johnston and his 39th Missouri Infantry at Centralia a couple weeks earlier. With the loaded word "Massacre" being widely attached as a suffix to the word Centralia at the time.

So McDonald talked Gen. Craig into putting civilian and current circuit court clerk, Samuel P. Cox, former Indian fighter, trailsman, adventurer and discharged soldier (former Major), in command of both the 33EMM and 51EMM units, and to pull all unattached civilians and discharged veterans who were game, into his fold. But putting Cox in charge had two problems--he was a civilian, and he would need to hold rank over Major Grimes, lest Grimes tell him to go pound sand with his scary notion of taking on Bill Anderson directly head on.

Oh yeah. And there's a third problem. Getting a militia commission outranking a major requires the governor to make the appointment. Which takes time. And Bill Anderson was killing and burning right now.

So Cox meets with Craig in St. Joseph on an emergency basis right around October 21, 1864, and immediately returns to Ray County with everybody saying Cox has been commissioned lieutenant colonel. With Cox in the Caldwell and Ray County area, he exerts command over every Unionist within arms length, including the reluctant Grimes and his men.

And, within days, literally, Cox tracks Anderson down by using a female spy, figuratively slaps Grimes around to get him into the right attitude and frame of mind, uses his combat-seasoned veteran civilians to steady his green EMM troops, baits Anderson into following a small and supposedly bumbling Federal decoy force actually led by another highly-seasoned combat veteran, and reels Anderson hook line and sinker into 400 waiting Federal muskets where they blast hell out of him on October 26, 1864.

But nobody knows Cox is just a civilian except Craig and McDonald and maybe Cox. It's possible Cox didn't even know. Heck, a general stands in front of you and hands you oak leafs and says congratulations on your commission lieutenant colonel, who would think otherwise? Cox would find out eventually, but not necessarily at the time.

And so both immediately before and immediately after Anderson is killed in an extremely dramatic and highly-publicized ambush the military dispatches and laudatory newspaper articles floating around the entire United States of America say "Lt. Col. Samuel P. Cox."

Oops. The whole nation? So that was October 26, 1864, when Anderson was killed. Fast forward to November 30, 1864. Brigadier General James Craig is having to do some explaining to Major General W.S. Rosecrans, who seems to have asked James what the heck was a civilian doing running a major very high profile military op with hundreds of troops under him?

At which Craig says, "Cox was in command at my request without a commission, because I believed he would find and whip Anderson." Ha. That should explain it to the nation.

But not to worry, Gen. Craig continued with Gen. Rosecrans that November 30, "the government issued him a commission to-day as lieutenant-colonel, which I will carry to him." Now remember, that was over one month after Civilian Samuel P. Cox had led a large force in the field in a significant Civil War action.

But you can't argue with success, and nothing more seems to have come of this problem. There may be some other report making it into print regarding this fake commission, but I've looked and if it exists I haven't found it yet. The one and only report I've found (an irrefutable report, I might add) is in the O.R., Ser. 1, Vol. 41, Pt. 4, pp. 726-727. And that one is easily overlooked these 160 years later unless you're doing a deep dive into all this and know the entire context of events.

So anyway, by the time his commission comes through on November 30 (if it actually did--remember Craig already has used subterfuge on this very issue, why not continue it with Rosecrans?) Cox was back in his civilian job as circuit court clerk. These events may explain why Cox curiously never ever used the title lieutenant colonel the rest of his life. As mentioned, he likely would have found out at some point. Or maybe he always knew. Be that as it may, Cox always used his lower rank he held during the 10 months or so he spent in state militia forces very early in the war in 1861 and 1862 -- major. He was referred to as Major Samuel P. Cox the rest of his life for the next half century.

Funny thing to do if you were a lieutenant colonel....

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