Leaders of the American Civil War: A Biographical and Historiographical Dictionary

By Charles F. Ritter; Jon L. Wakelyn | Go to book overview

THOMAS STANLEY BOCOCK (May 18, 1815–August 5, 1891)

Jon L. Wakelyn

Former antebellum U.S. congressman from Virginia, Thomas Stanley Bocock served as Speaker of the Confederate States Congress throughout the Civil War. A proud and committed Virginian, Bocock stands out as a major facilitator of wartime legislation and thus one of the Confederacy’s most important congressional leaders. Wilfred B. Yearns, the most thorough historian of the Confederate Congress, says that Bocock eventually turned against President Jefferson Davis (q.v.) and led the Confederate Congress in opposition to executive policies. How he rose to such political prominence and why he turned against his leader require examination in order to assess that congressman’s contributions to the Confederacy. Since Bocock has had no major biographer and no substantive study has been made of his wartime activities, his life’s work will have to be reconstructed from local historical accounts, those around him who commented on his duties, and what little he left about his own thoughts and deeds.

Bocock was born in Buckingham County, Virginia, on May 18, 1815. His father, John W. Bocock, variously farmed, kept a school, and practiced law. The elder Bocock married Mary Brooke from Buckingham, a relative of the powerful Smith and Brooke families of that part of the Virginia southside. Given an early education in his cousin John T. Bocock’s school on Burt Creek near Appomattox Court House, young Bocock was brought up in an upwardly mobile family that had extended connections throughout the region. His brother, Henry F. Bocock, became a successful lawyer, a Presbyterian lay leader, and a trustee of the small Hampden-Sidney College. No doubt under the influence of Henry and the locally powerful William Cabell family, young Thomas Bocock matriculated at Hampden-Sidney in 1837. His closest friend in school, Robert L. Dabney, later became an eminent Presbyterian divine and educator and a staff officer with Thomas J. Jackson (q.v.). Bocock and Dabney vied for first honors in the class of 1838. Another brother, John H. Bocock, who also attended HampdenSidney, later also became an important Presbyterian minister. Their older

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