A Captured Santa

Watercolor by the well-known turn of the century illustrator William Leroy Jacobs showing an old soldier bending over sleeping children by firelight with parents in the background, a cavalry saber at his side. It appears the older man is wearing a blue uniform while the younger’s is grey, with the 3-button pattern on his frock coat typical of a Confederate major general. Published in: A Captured Santa Claus by Thomas Nelson Page. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1902.

While I am not sure of the story behind the image’s depiction, it makes me recall the tale of the “Father of the U.S. Cavalry,” Virginia-born Brig. Gen. Philip St. George Cooke, who penned the country’s then-modern horse cavalry tactics manual in 1858 after being an observer during the Crimean War, where cavalry was famously ill-used. Cooke, who commanded a brigade of federal horse soldiers early in the conflict, was perhaps best known during the Civil War for being the father-in-law of Maj. Gen. J. E. B. Stuart, Lee’s flamboyant cavalry commander.

Flora, the good General Cooke’s daughter, wore black the rest of her life after Stuart was killed at Yellow Tavern in 1864. The couple had two children, in 1856 and 1857, respectively, only one of whom lived to adulthood, and Cooke was unable to see them during the conflict.

A family divided, indeed.

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