Daniel McCook was born in 1798 in Pennsylvania, the 2nd son of George McCook, who had been a member of the notorious Whiskey Rebellion, which sorely tested George Washington and the six-year old Constitution in the early days of Republic. By the time Daniel was born George had become a respected store-keeper, with great plans for his five children. (Old George McCook had 17 of his sons and grandsons who served the Union forces in the Civil War, including Daniel, the father of Alexander McCook, the namesake for our fair city.)
Daniel's two brothers became respected doctors and surgeons, and his two sisters married well. Daniel was a young man in a hurry, and impatient with college. He chose, instead, to read law with a local attorney (he did eventually graduate from Jefferson College).
In 1817 he married Margaret Lattimer and the couple moved to the Ohio Valley where he practiced law and became a Judge. The couple had 12 children, nine boys and three girls.
For some years Daniel was active in local politics and the promotion of canals in the Ohio Valley, which promised to make him and his partners very wealthy. This probably would have happened had it not been for the railroad, which was just beginning to make its way into the country, and which doomed the fortunes of the canal builders.
In the years leading up to the Civil War, Daniel, a Democrat, had made some important friends in high places, including Edwin Stanton, Attorney General under President Buchanan, and who would be Secretary of War under Abraham Lincoln. After his move to Southern Illinois he became a friend of Lincoln's arch rival, Senator Stephen Douglas, who helped find Daniel various government positions in Washington after he had come on hard times.
When war was declared, 62-year old Daniel parted ways with some of his fellow Democrats, and joined the War Democrats, who backed Lincoln's stand on Fort Sumter. Daniel's older brother, Dr. George McCook, declared for his family at a rally in Pittsburgh. A heckler rudely interrupted his speech, questioning his loyalty. "Young man," he retorted, pointing his long finger at the fellow, "If this war lasts six months, there will be more McCooks in the Army than there are Indians in hell."
When the Confederate Army threatened Washington just six days after the War began, Daniel joined some 60 assorted Westerners, who came with guns, swords, and fixed bayonets and drilled on the thick velvet carpet of the White House until the threat of invasion was over, with the arrival of 10,000 Northern troops, thus saving Abraham Lincoln from a promised "lynching" by what Daniel McCook called "that Southern rabble."
At the first Battle of Bull Run, Daniel chose to join the fray as a civilian volunteer, to fight alongside his 8th son, Charles, a Private in the Ohio Volunteer unit. He had already lost one son, James, a Midshipman in the Navy, who died at sea just before the war began. The battle at Bull Run began as something of a lark for the civilian observers, as Daniel and his friends took pot shots at Confederate artillery units from a safe distance. Late in the day the battle turned and became a rout of Union forces. Daniel hurried to warn Charles of the rout, only to find him mortally wounded by a Rebel cavalryman. He was able to take Charles back to Washington, but his wounds were such that he died in his father's arms. Daniel vowed vengeance on the Rebels.
By October 1861, Daniel had already taken part in three battles, as a civilian, some at which a son was a General officer. At these battles he was often quite daring, to the point of recklessness, much to the consternation of his sons. And while his sons distrusted the newspaper reporters who covered the battles, Daniel was very vocal in promoting the idea of "The Fighting McCooks", further agonizing his high ranking sons. At the Battle of Bolivar Heights, MD. Daniel received a special mention from Col John Geary: "It affords me pleasure to mention that Honorable Daniel McCook, father of General McCook, as an amateur soldier, gun in hand, volunteered and rendered much service during the engagement."
In 1861 Daniel was awarded a commission in the Union Army and served as a Major of the Ohio Militia. He never commanded troops, but fought in some of the epic battles of the war.
The Battle of Shiloh, one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, took place in the summer of 1862. Daniel's son, Robert McCook was a General in command of the 3rd Brigade, and suffered severe leg wounds leading a bayonet charge in that battle. Even though wounded he refused to give up his command. On the march to Chattanooga, Robert was riding in a make-ship ambulance because of his wounds. Somehow McCook's ambulance and a small force of soldiers got separated from the main body of the Army. Their badly outnumbered force was overtaken by Southern guerrillas, led by Frank Gurley. Disregarding the rules of war, Gurley's men fired upon the unarmed ambulance, one of the shots fatally wounding General Robert McCook. From the New York Times editorial, "The rebel assassination of Gen. McCook is one of the most melancholy and disastrous events of the war. There is no circumstance to redeem it as one of the most wanton and savage butcheries that ever occurred in a civilized country."
Daniel was beside himself with grief over the death of his son, Robert. For him the war had become personal. He was looking for Frank Gurley, the guerrilla who had killed his son.
A year later, Daniel and Martha McCook were living in Cincinnati, Ohio. Daniel had bought one of the new Henry Repeating Rifles, one of the latest on the market. The gun was a popular lever-action carbine that carried 15 rounds and could fire 10 shots per minute. Rebels called it "that Yankee rifle that can be loaded on Sunday and fire all week."
Whenever a new batch of Confederate prisoners came to town en route to Northern prison camps, McCook went down to the depot with his Henry rifle. Everyone knew he was looking for Frank Gurley, with vengeance on his mind.
When he heard that Gurley was riding with Confederate General John Hunt Morgan, he slipped away, without telling his wife, Martha and joined Gen. Henry Judah as a volunteer, to intercept Morgan's forces, which they did, at the Battle of Buffington Island, the only major battle of the Civil War fought on Ohio soil, in June 1863.
The Union Army caught up with Morgan's Army as they were attempting to escape across the Ohio River, back to the Rebel lines. There was a thick fog and Gen. Judah ordered a small group of scouts to probe the Rebel line. Daniel McCook, at the General's side, was directly ordered not to join the scouts. Giving a mock salute, he galloped off to meet the enemy and avenge his son's death. There was a barrage of fire, after which 30 Union soldiers were captured, two were killed, and 12 were wounded. One of the men killed was Daniel McCook.
In the battle and pursuit that followed, Morgan was caught and some 800 of his men were captured. It was the only major battle on Ohio soil and the only Field Grade officer to die on Ohio soil was Maj. Daniel McCook, who had predicted that, like his sons, Charles and Robert, he too, would die from a Rebel bullet. He was laid to rest beside his son, Robert.
From an editorial in the Cincinnati Daily Commercial, "The community, nay the whole Country, will be shocked by the death of Major Daniel McCook, the well-known father of so many distinguished soldiers in the Union Army. The record made by the McCooks is, and always will be, an important part of the history of our country."
Then it was discovered that Frank Gurley had not been with Gen Hunt after all.
Source: "The Fighting McCooks", by Chas. & Barbara Whalen, and Ohio Historical Society