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General Robert F. Hoke: Lee's Modest Warrior

Daniel W. Barefoot

John F. Blair, Publisher
$17.95 paperback
6 x 9     
452 pages
black-and-white photos throughout
Published in 1996

Neglected by modern historians, Robert F. Hoke was a towering figure in his time. Mustered into Confederate service as a second lieutenant in April 1861, he was a major within five months, a lieutenant colonel within nine months, a colonel within sixteen months, a brigadier general within two years, and a major general within three years—becoming, at age twenty-six, the youngest Southern officer of that rank in the Civil War.

Of the 125,000 men his state contributed to the Confederate cause, it was Hoke who was called "the North Carolina Lee" and "the most distinguished soldier in North Carolina." In a face-to-face meeting after the war, U. S. Grant admitted that Hoke had administered "the worst drubbing I ever got," at Cold Harbor.

He fought in nearly every significant battle in the Eastern theater—Gaines' Mill, Malvern Hill, Second Manassas, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Plymouth, Petersburg, Richmond, Cold Harbor, Fort Fisher, Bentonville. He witnessed the first Confederate casualty at Bethel and provided the rear guard as Joseph E. Johnston met Sherman at Bennett Farm to arrange the surrender.

Back home, Hoke hitched his war-horse to a plow and quietly set about rebuilding the South, a cause that later inspired him to leadership positions in industry. A private man, he declined every major honor offered him by North Carolinians, including the governorship. He rarely spoke about the war—-especially about his most notorious claim to fame, the still-disputed rumor that he was picked as Lee's successor should anything ever happen to the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia.

The personification of reserve, Hoke was once described thus: "Get you a hero, and I give you General Robert F. Hoke . . . as an ideal in peace and war."




“A biography that stresses its subject's modesty may be implying that he or she has a good deal to be modest about. Perhaps it was his modesty that made Robert F. Hoke (1837-1912) the last major Confederate general to warrant a full-length biography, but the fact is that Hoke established himself as one of the finest subordinate commanders in the Confederacy's eastern theater. Though not a professional soldier—he'd managed his family's manufacturing businesses before the war—Hoke served admirably with the Army of Northern Virginia as a regimental and brigade commander. Transferred to his home state of North Carolina after Gettysburg, he mounted a series of small but successful operations against Union forces. When he returned to Virginia in 1864 as a division commander, he came into his own, handling his command with skill and success in the siege of Petersburg. In the war's last months, Hoke made a final stand against Sherman's army. Barefoot's (Touring the Backroads of North Carolina's Lower Coast) account of this latter campaign is among the best from a Confederate perspective. . . . Barefoot establishes Hoke as a general who improved with increased responsibilities, even in desperate circumstances. This quality, unusual in any war, justifies this near-hagiographic but exhaustively researched and informative study.” —Publishers Weekly