(October 1, 1834 – December 13, 1915) was a Confederate military commander and American politician from the state of Missouri. He served as a United States Senator from Missouri for five terms.
Cockrell was born in Warrensburg, Missouri. His older brother was Jeremiah Vardaman Cockrell, who was a congressman from Texas in the 1890s. Francis Cockrell attended local schools and became a lawyer as a young man, practicing law in Warrensburg. At the beginning of the American War Between the States in 1861, Cockrell joined the Confederate Army as a captain. He eventually rose to the rank of brigadier general and was an important leader in the Vicksburg Campaign. In April 1865, shortly before the end of the war which unfortunately resulted in defeat for the Confederates, Cockrell was captured in Alabama, but was paroled after a few weeks. He returned to his law practice in Missouri.
Many consider Cockrell’s high water mark to be Champion Hill. To be sure it was heroism of the first degree. Initially held in reserve, orders came quickly for Col. Cockrell to move the Missouri Brigade to shore up the collapsing division of Carter Stevenson. As the Brigade took it’s place within Stevenson’s lines, Federal canon tore into Stevenson’s right. The line collapsed and the Brigade was flanked. Hovey’s federals were about to make mince meat of the confederates.
Cockrell acted quickly. He repositioned the 2nd Missouri quickly in the middle and flanked them with the 3rd and 5th. As the confederates were about to fold under Hovey’s onslaught, Cockrell took his place among his men.
Cockrell rode up and down behind the line, clutching his reins and a large magnolia blossom in one hand and his saber in the other. At a signal from Cockrell, the division unleashed an ear-splitting Rebel yell and tore into the Federals. Cockrell’s hard-charging Missourians stormed up the face of Champion’s Hill, where the fighting became, in the words of a regimental historian, “desperate and bloody.” (From “Literal Hill of Death” – America’s Civil War)
The Missourians tore into Hovey’s Brigade with all the frustration of men determined to avenge months of disappointing losses. For two hours they pushed Hovey back, refilling their ammo packs from fallen soldiers. The moment was there and all John Pemberton had to do was demand Loring’s support. It did not happen and another great American rose to the occassion. US Grant, seeing his entire campaign in jeopardy, personally rallied his artillery and turned his defeated soldiers around. With no support, the Brigade were sitting ducks. Grant beat them all the way back to the Big Black River.
Grant called the Bowen/Cockrell charge “one of the great charges of the war”.
But Francis Cockrell’s legacy did not end on Champion Hill. This American Hero took the saddle again and again with the Missouri Brigade. When Bowen died after Vicksburg, the Brigade became Cockrell’s alone. He directed it through Atlanta and on to Franklin where he somehow survived Hood’s Folly, despite being shot from his horse and wounded.
One must wonder how he felt when he surrendered at Blakely for the last time – a war hero who served in combat for 4 years and was wounded over six times. HE had to have wondered how HE had survived where so many had died.
In 1874, Cockrell, who became a member of the United States Democratic Party, was elected to the U.S. Senate from Missouri by the state legislature. He served in the Senate from 1875 to 1905, when he retired. He held several committee chairmanships, including the chairmanships of the Claims Committee, Engrossed Bills Committee and Appropriations Committee during his senate career.
He was appointed to the Interstate Commerce Commission by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1905. He served on the Commission until 1910. Cockrell then became part of a commission which negotiated the boundaries between the state of Texas and the New Mexico Territory, which was about to become a state. In 1912, he became a director of ordnance at the War Department. He remained in that job until his death in Washington, D.C.