George R. Cowan's Confederate Military Record

George R. Cowan (1837–1904)

George R. Cowan represented Russell and Buchanan counties at the Convention of 1867–1868. The son of a General Assembly member, Cowan served with Confederate forces during the American Civil War (1861–1865) until wounds led to an 1862 furlough. On the first day of 1863 he was elected Russell County's clerk and held the position until 1869. In 1867 he earned one of three spots as a delegate for the convention that would write a new state constitution. Described as "unreconstructed," he voted with the Conservatives on key issues, such as opposing the racial integration of public schools and challenging efforts to disfranchise white Virginians who had supported secession or the Confederacy. Cowan did not vote to adopt the new constitution, but along with other Conservatives did sign a public address protesting most of its provisions. By 1894 he had moved to the Oklahoma Territory and by 1904 was living in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he died. MORE...

 

George Rutledge Cowan was born on September 22, 1837, in Lebanon, Russell County, and was the son of Mary Gilmore Cowan and George Cowan, a prosperous farmer who served several terms in the House of Delegates and the Senate of Virginia. Little is known of Cowan's early life. He probably attended local schools.

On May 2, 1861, Cowan enlisted as a private in the New Garden Fearnots, later organized as Company I of the 37th Regiment Virginia Infantry. Four of his brothers also served in the unit, one as captain. In June the regiment departed for northwestern Virginia to join Brigadier General Robert S. Garnett's command. While skirmishing at Laurel Hill, Cowan's company learned of the defeat of Confederate forces at Rich Mountain and joined in the general retreat. By July 20 his unit had escaped to safety at Monterey. The regiment fought in Robert E. Lee's failed Cheat Mountain campaign in September. The 37th Regiment was then attached to Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's command, and late in March 1862 Cowan was wounded in the hip in the fighting at Winchester. During the Shenandoah Valley Campaign he fought at Kernstown, where one of his brothers was mortally wounded. After receiving a severe wound at Cedar Mountain on August 9, 1862, Cowan was placed on furlough and returned home.

On January 1, 1863, Cowan won election as clerk of Russell County and served in that capacity until 1869. In his application for a special presidential pardon in August 1865, he cited both his work as county clerk and a very brief stint as tax assessor but made no mention of his service in the Confederate army. Cowan married Sarah E. Fuller on June 12, 1866. They had seven daughters and three sons before her death from consumption (probably tuberculosis) on August 16, 1888.

In a referendum held on October 22, 1867, Russell County by a large majority and Buchanan County by a narrow margin approved holding a convention to draft a new state constitution. Cowan placed second in a field of five candidates in Russell County, and in Buchanan County he easily led a three-candidate field to win an overall majority and the convention seat representing the two counties. Appointed to the Committee on Taxation and Finance and to the Committee on Prisons and the Prevention and Punishment of Crime, he did not speak formally on the floor of the convention that met in Richmond from December 3, 1867 to April 17, 1868.

Characterized by the commander of Military District Number One as an "unreconstructed" "Original Secessionist," Cowan aligned consistently with Conservatives on key roll-call votes. He did not support John C. Underwood for convention president and voted with a minority who sought an investigation of his conduct in that office. Cowan opposed racial integration of public schools and voted against efforts to disfranchise white Virginians who had supported secession or the Confederacy and also against the so-called test oath that would have prevented all such men from holding office. He did not vote on the adoption of the new constitution but with twenty-eight other Conservatives signed a public address protesting most of its provisions.

During and after the Civil War, Cowan acquired several tracts of land, and when he returned home from the convention he resumed buying and selling various properties. In 1888 he paid taxes on 968 acres that he owned outright, and by 1891 he had added another 105 acres to his holdings. Cowan was still residing in Russell County in July 1893, but by the next year he had sold all but 143 acres and moved west. In April 1894 he was living in Orlando, Logan County, Oklahoma Territory, where he resumed farming. Cowan remained in that county until at least August 24, 1898, and probably until August 1903, when he traveled to Colorado Springs, Colorado, to arrange for the burial of his youngest daughter. By 1904 Cowan had moved to Colorado Springs. He lived with another daughter, a schoolteacher, before moving into his own residence. Cowan died of recurrent skin cancer on October 14, 1904. He was buried beside his youngest daughter in Evergreen Cemetery in Colorado Springs.

Time Line

  • September 22, 1837 - George R. Cowan is born in Lebanon, Russell County. He is the son of Mary Gilmore Cowan and George Cowan.
  • May 2, 1861 - George R. Cowan enlists as a private in the New Garden Fearnots, which will later be organized as Company I of the 37th Virginia Infantry Regiment and will serve under Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson.
  • June 1861 - George R. Cowan, with the New Garden Fearnots, departs for northwestern Virginia to join Confederate general Robert S. Garnett's command.
  • July 20, 1861 - By this date George R. Cowan's unit of the 37th Virginia Infantry Regiment escapes to safety at Monterey after skirmishing at Laurel Hill.
  • September 1861 - George R. Cowan, with the 37th Virginia Infantry Regiment, fights in Confederate general Robert E. Lee's Cheat Mountain campaign.
  • Late March 1862 - George R. Cowan is wounded in the hip during the fighting at Winchester while serving under Confederate general Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson.
  • August 9, 1862 - George R. Cowan, fighting with the 37th Virginia Infantry Regiment, receives a severe wound at the Battle of Cedar Mountain and is placed on furlough.
  • January 1, 1863 - George R. Cowan wins election as clerk of Russell County and will serve in that capacity until 1869.
  • August 1865 - George R. Cowan applies for a special presidential pardon and cites both his work as Russell County clerk and a very brief stint as tax assessor but makes no mention of his service in the Confederate army.
  • June 12, 1866 - George R. Cowan marries Sarah E. Fuller. They will have seven daughters and three sons.
  • October 22, 1867 - Russell and Buchanan counties approve holding a convention to draft a new state constitution.
  • December 3, 1867–April 17, 1868 - George R. Cowan, a representative from Russell and Buchanan counties to the constitutional convention, serves on the Committee on Taxation and Finance and the Committee on Prisons and the Prevention and Punishment of Crime. He does not speak formally on the floor of the convention but aligns consistently with Conservatives on key roll-call votes.
  • 1869 - George R. Cowan ends his service as clerk of Russell County.
  • 1888 - George R. Cowan pays taxes on 968 acres in Russell County that he owns outright.
  • August 16, 1888 - Sarah E. Fuller, wife of George R. Cowan, dies from consumption (probably tuberculosis).
  • 1891 - By this year George R. Cowan has added 105 acres to the 968 acres that he paid taxes on in 1888.
  • 1894 - By this year George R. Cowan has left Russell County and moved west.
  • April 1894 - By this time George R. Cowan is living in Orlando, Logan County, Oklahoma Territory, where he has resumed farming. He will remain there until at least August 24, 1898.
  • August 1903 - George R. Cowan travels to Colorado Springs, Colorado, to arrange for the burial of his youngest daughter.
  • 1904 - By this year George R. Cowan has moved to Colorado Springs, where he lives with a daughter and will later move into his own residence.
  • October 14, 1904 - George R. Cowan dies of recurrent skin cancer. He is buried beside his youngest daughter in Evergreen Cemetery in Colorado Springs.

References

Further Reading
Hume, Richard L. "The Membership of Convention of 1867–1868: A Study of the Beginnings of Congressional Reconstruction in the Upper South." Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 86, no. 4 (October 1978), 461–484.
Lowe, Richard G. "Virginia's Reconstruction Convention: General Schofield Rates the Delegates." Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 80 (July 1972), 341–360.
Maddex, Jack P. Jr. The Virginia Conservatives, 1867–1879: A Study in Reconstruction Politics. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1970.
Ruffner, Kevin Conley. "George Rutledge Cowan." Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Vol. 3, edited by Sara B. Bearss, et al., 488–489. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2006.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Ruffner, K. C., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. George R. Cowan (1837–1904). (2016, January 12). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Cowan_George_R_1837-1904.

  • MLA Citation:

    Ruffner, Kevin Conley and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "George R. Cowan (1837–1904)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 12 Jan. 2016. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: August 22, 2014 | Last modified: January 12, 2016


Contributed by Kevin Conley Ruffner and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography