Confederate Brigadier General Thomas Reade Rootes Cobb was born on April 10, 1823 in Jefferson County, Georgia. Incredibly, he weighed twenty-one and one-half pounds at birth.
He attended college at what is now the University of Georgia and finished first in the class of 1841. He became a lawyer in the state of Georgia before his nineteenth birthday. By the time the Civil War began, he had accumulated a fortune worth 120,000 dollars and owned 23 slaves.
Thomas Cobb was known for his mercurial temper. During the war, he constantly complained about his superiors especially Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee. He was always faultfinding and finding reasons to argue with others. Elijah H. Sutton, one of his soldiers, declared that his own men despised him. W.R. Montgomery claimed that his men admired him because he was brave and gallant.
The brigadier seemed to be paranoid, once writing about General Lee, “Lee hates me and sneers whenever my name is mentioned.” After meeting Lee, he wrote, “Lee is haughty and boorish and supercilious in his bearing and is particularly so to me.”
He missed all major combat until December, 1862. He was present with his brigade at Fredericksburg. Ironically, his first major battle would also prove to be his last. Cobb’s brigade held the Stone Wall at the Battle of Fredericksburg. He was seen waving his hat over his head and crying to his men, “Get ready, boys, here they come.”
As to what happened next remains a mystery. According to historian Robert K. Krick, a piece of artillery shrapnel struck General Cobb in the left thigh and severed his femoral artery. General Cobb collapsed in the sunken road about two in the afternoon and bled to death.
In 1901, an anonymous veteran announced that General Cobb had been killed by a Confederate soldier who lived at Lost Mountain. According to this veteran, General Cobb had berated several men for stopping on a march to fill their canteens with water. Cobb had then ordered them to pour out the water, but one soldier had refused. He then told the others that he would kill Thomas Cobb when the first opportunity presented itself.
According to this anonymous veteran, General Cobb was killed by a shot from Phillip’s Legion, the same unit that this man served with. This veteran approached the man who had made the threat against the general and asked, “Sam, did you shoot General Cobb?”
(Sam was later identified as Samuel Drake of Phillip’s Legion.) Sam replied, “Well, I got him.”
Later in the battle, Samuel Drake was shot in the chest and carried to the field hospital. The anonymous veteran went there and asked him, “Sam, you are going to die and I want you to tell me did you kill General Cobb?”
“I did,” Sam replied, “I always do what I say I will.”
According to this anonymous veteran, he had spoken to General Cobb’s descendants after the war and they told him they had always known that Thomas Cobb was killed by one of his own men.
Historian Robert K. Krick writes, “That story cannot be substantiated and in fact is clearly inaccurate, its calm assertion lends credence to the other negative declarations about Cobb.”
Doctor Gilmore, chief surgeon of McLaws division stated that Cobb was hit by a bullet that passed through a plank fence and a tourniquet would have saved his life. He stated that N.H. Hammond of Flippen, Georgia was within thirty feet of Cobb and can substantiate that the general died in this way.
According to Derek Smith, author of The Gallant Dead, General Cobb was hit by either artillery shrapnel or a Federal sharpshooter. He fails to mention the friendly fire theory at all.
General Joseph Kershaw reported that Cobb was killed by Federal sharpshooters posted near his left flank. Colonel Porter Alexander reported that Cobb was killed by a Union sniper about one hundred and fifty yards from his front.
It seems fitting that a man that was so paranoid would be surrounded by controversy as to who killed him following his death. There were several Confederate generals hit by friendly fire, Stonewall Jackson being the most famous. Micah Jenkins and James Longstreet were also hit by friendly fire. Thomas Reade Rootes Cobb seems to be the only one that a witness has come forward and claimed that it was intentional. Was Cobb shot by Samuel Drake? The story seems a little far fetched and we will probably never know.