Jacob Dolson Cox, (Jr.) (October 27, 1828 – August 4, 1900) was a lawyer, a Union Army general during the American Civil War, and later a Republican politician from Ohio. He served as the 28th Governor of Ohio and as United States Secretary of the Interior.
Cox was born in Montreal, Canada, to American parents, Jacob Dolson Cox and Thedia Redelia Kenyon Cox. The elder Cox was a well-known contractor in New York City, living temporarily in Montreal while he superintended the roof construction of the Church of Notre Dame. He returned with his parents to New York City a year later. His early education included private readings with a Columbia College student. His practical education began at the age of 14 as he worked in a law office as a clerk, and at 16 learned bookkeeping at a brokerage firm. Although as a youth he considered a career at sea, his parents joined the Congregational Church and he decided to study for the ministry. He was influenced by the Reverends Samuel D. Cochran and Charles Grandison Finney, graduates of Oberlin College, which he attended and with which he maintained a lifelong association, including service as a trustee from 1876 to 1900.
At Oberlin, Cox married the eldest daughter of college president Finney in 1849; at age 19, Helen Clarissa Finney was a widow with a small son. The couple lived with the president, but Cox and his father-in-law became estranged due to theological disputes. He graduated from Oberlin with a degree in theology in 1850 or 1851. He became superintendent of the Warren, Ohio, school system as he studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1853. As a strong abolitionist, in 1855 he helped to organize the Republican Party in Ohio and stumped for its candidates in counties surrounding Warren. He entered the Ohio State Senate in 1860 and formed a political alliance with Senator and future President James A. Garfield, and with Governor Salmon P. Chase. While in the legislature, he accepted a commission with the Ohio Militia as a brigadier general and spent much of the winter of 1860–61 studying military science.
At the start of the war, Cox was in poor health and was the father of six children (of the eight he and Helen eventually had), but he chose to enter Federal service as an Ohio volunteer. His first assignment was to command a recruiting camp near Columbus, and then the Kanawha Brigade of the Department of the Ohio. His brigade joined the Department of Western Virginia and fought successfully in the early Kanawha Valley campaign under Major General George B. McClellan. In 1862 the brigade moved to Washington, D.C., and was attached to John Pope's Army of Virginia, but did not see action at the Second Battle of Bull Run with the rest of the army. At the beginning of the Maryland Campaign, Cox's brigade became the Kanawha Division of the IX Corps of the Army of the Potomac. When corps commander Maj. Gen. Jesse L. Reno was killed at the Battle of South Mountain, Cox assumed command of the IX Corps. He suggested to Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside, formally the commander of IX Corps, but who was commanding a two-corps "wing" of the Army, that he be allowed to return to division command, which was more in keeping with his level of military expertise. Burnside refused the suggestion, but at the Battle of Antietam, kept Cox under his supervision. The poor showing of the corps around "Burnside Bridge" at Antietam is generally credited to Burnside, not Cox.
After Antietam, Cox was appointed major general to rank from October 6, 1862, but this appointment expired the following March when the United States Senate felt that there were too many generals of this rank already serving. He was later renominated and confirmed on December 7, 1864. Most of 1863 was quiet for Cox, who was assigned to command the District of Ohio, and later the District of Michigan, in the Department of the Ohio.
During the Atlanta, Franklin-Nashville, and Carolinas campaigns of 1864–65, Cox commanded the 3rd Division of the XXIII Corps of the Army of the Ohio, under Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield. In the final days of the war he commanded the corps and then the Department of North Carolina.
Before mustering out of the Army on January 1, 1866, Cox was elected governor of Ohio. He served from 1866 to 1867, but his moderate views on African-American suffrage and his endorsement of President Andrew Johnson's Reconstruction policy caused the Ohio Republicans to reject him for renomination. He moved to Cincinnati to practice law.
Cox was appointed Secretary of the Interior by Ulysses S. Grant upon his inauguration in March 1869, serving until November 1870. He was an effective advocate of civil service reform and introduced a merit system for appointees. However, after President Grant failed to back him up against party politicians, who thrived on the corrupt patronage system then rampant in the Interior Department, Cox resigned. Grant remarked afterwards, "The trouble was that General Cox thought the Interior Department was the whole government, and that Cox was the Interior Department."
After leaving the Interior Department, Cox was considered as a U.S. Senate candidate in the 1872 election, but the Ohio legislature selected a less conservative candidate. From 1873 to 1878 he served as president and as receiver of the Toledo and Wabash Railroad. He was elected as a reform Republican to the United States House of Representatives from Toledo in 1876. He served a single term from 1877 to 1879 and declined to be renominated. He then returned to Cincinnati, serving as Dean of the Cincinnati Law School from 1881 to 1897 and as President of the University of Cincinnati from 1885 to 1889. After retiring from his position as dean, President William McKinley urged him to accept the position of U.S. ambassador to Spain, but Cox declined.
During his later years, Cox was a prolific author. His works include Atlanta (published in 1882); The March to the Sea: Franklin and Nashville (1882); The Second Battle of Bull Run (1882); The Battle of Franklin, Tennessee (1897); and Military Reminiscences of the Civil War (1900).
Cox died on summer vacation at Gloucester, Massachusetts. He is buried in Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati.