This is the fourth in a 10-part series that began on July 2 and takes a closer look at Richland County’s eight Medal of Honor winners. Coming Thursday: Joseph Hedges helped drive the Confederates out of Tennessee.
This series is supported by Mansfield Cemetery Association.
LEXINGTON — 1st Lt. David L. Cockley was not content to remain safely in the rear as the 10th Ohio Cavalry Regiment took part in Maj. Gen. William Sherman’s “March to the Sea” through Georgia in late 1864.
Cockley performed heroically in the battle of Waynesboro, Ga., that helped open the way to Savannah during Sherman’s scorched-earth campaign that helped to finally break the will of the Confederacy during the U.S. Civil War.
In fact, Cockley, born in Lexington, became the third Richland County native to that point to win a Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroics on Dec. 4.
It served a great deal of picket and scout duty, including marching and countermarching, when Union Maj. General William Rosecrans (from Delaware County, Ohio) launched his Stones River campaign against Confederate Maj. Gen. Braxton Bragg that drove the Rebels from the field — six months before the battle of Gettysburg.
(Click above to listen to today’s accompanying podcast. You may also listen to the first three episodes of this podcast series.)
The 10th Ohio Cavalry was then assigned to Gen. Hugh Judson Kilpatrick’s 3rd Cavalry Division and was actively involved during Sherman’s campaign to capture Atlanta.
After capturing the city in September 1864, Sherman, a native of Lancaster, Ohio, marched his three armies totaling nearly 100,000 troops southeast through Georgia.
There was little organized military response to his 250-mile drive through the Peach State.
That was not always the case, witness the battle of Waynesboro.
As Sherman’s infantry marched southeast, Kilpatrick’s cavalry provided an effective screen, moving more northeasterly.
Some 155 miles into the march, Kilpatrick’s 6,000-member cavalry was in the process of burning a wooden railroad bridge on Nov. 26, north of Waynesboro.
But they were driven off by a smaller Confederate cavalry force under the command of Gen. Joseph Wheeler, who was born in nearby Augusta and was the best Confederate cavalry leader in the “western theater” during the Civil War, earning the nickname “Fighting Joe.”
William T. Sherman, a major-general for the U.S. Army during the Civil War, sent this telegram to the head of the United States Army, General Ulysses S. Grant.
The letter was sent from just outside of Atlanta, on October 9, 1864. Sherman, from Lancaster, Ohio, discussed the practical difficulties in holding such land in the Georgia region with major Confederate military leaders like John Hood, Nathan Forrest and Joseph Wheeler in the area.
Sherman particularly reiterated his belief to Grant, a Point Pleasant, Ohio, native that it was necessary to destroy roads, houses and “make Georgia howl,” as that was the most efficient military strategy.
Allatoona 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 9th 1864
Lt. Gen. Grant
It will be a physical impossibility to protect this road now that Hood, Forrest, Wheeler and the whole batch of Devils are turned loose without home or habitation.
I think Hood’s movements indicate a direction to the end of the Selma and Talladega road to Blue Mountain about sixty miles south west of Rome from which he will threaten Kingston, Bridgeport and Decatur and I propose we break up the road from Chattanooga and strike out with wagons for Milledgeville Millen and Savannah.
Until we can repopulate Georgia it is useless to occupy it, but utter destruction of its roads, houses, and people will cripple their military resources.
By attempting to hold the roads we will lose a thousand men monthly and will gain no result. I can make the march and make Georgia howl. We have over 8,000 cattle and 3,000,000 pounds of bread but no corn, but we can forage the interior of the state.
Source: Civil War Era North Carolina
Kilpatrick entered Waynesboro the next day and destroyed a train of rail cars and other private property before Wheeler’s troops harassed and pushed them out again.
At dawn on Nov. 28, Wheeler’s 4,000-strong cavalry attacked Kilpatrick’s camp south of Waynesboro and drove him southwest.
Annoyed by Wheeler’s harassment, Kilpatrick sent his entire division to destroy the Confederate force on Dec. 4.
In the early morning hours, Kilpatrick, supported by two infantry brigades from the nearby XIV Corps, advanced toward Waynesboro.
Kilpatrick’s forces destroyed several defensive barricade lines and forced their way into Waynesboro.
Wheeler ordered a charge to allow his remaining forces time to withdraw across Brier Creek and block the road to Augusta.
Cockley, serving with Company L of the 10th Ohio, was acting as an aide-to-camp to a Union general.
But the 21-year-old cavalry officer, born on June 8, 1843, wanted to take the fight to the enemy. He was not comfortable “remaining in the rear with the gear.”
He wanted to lead his men into battle.
According to his Medal of Honor citation:
“(Cockley) three times asked permission to join his regiment in a proposed charge upon the enemy. In response to the last request, having obtained such permission, (Cockley) joined his regiment and fought bravely at its head throughout the action.”
After furious fighting, Wheeler’s forces hastily withdrew.
Finally reaching his objective of Brier Creek, Kilpatrick burned the rail and wagon bridges and withdrew. The supporting infantry brigades marched toward Jacksonboro and rejoined the rest of Baird’s division, encamped at Alexander.
They were followed that evening by Kilpatrick’s command, which camped at Old Church on the old Quaker Road. Additional fighting over the next few days enabled Sherman to close in on Savannah.
The 10th Ohio continued its service through the end of the Civil War, including the siege of Savannah Dec. 20 and 21 and then continuing north to participate in the Campaign of the Carolinas in 1865 until the war ended in April.
Cockley, who later rose to the rank of captain, was the only member of the 10th Ohio Cavalry Regiment to win the Medal of Honor, an award he received Aug. 2, 1897.
He died on Dec. 26, 1901, at the age of 58, and was buried at Oakland Cemetery in Shelby.
(Coming Thursday: Mansfield native Joseph Hedges helped to lead his regiment to victory along the banks of the Harpeth River in Tennessee.)
Previously in this series: