See H. Montgomery, Howell Cobb's Confederate Career (1959).
(Thomas) Howell Cobb (September 7, 1815 – October 9, 1868) was an American political figure. A Southern Democrat, Cobb was a five-term member of the United States House of Representatives and Speaker of the House from 1849 to 1851. He also served as a Secretary of Treasury under President James Buchanan (1857-1860) and Governor of Georgia (1851-1853).
He is, however, probably best known as one of the founders of the Confederate States of America, having served as the Speaker of the Provisional Confederate Congress, when delegates of the secessionist states issued creation of the Confederacy.
Cobb served for two weeks between the foundation of the Confederacy and the election of Jefferson Davis as first President. This made him, as the Speaker of the Congress, provisional Head of State at this time. Because of this he is sometime called , even if mistakenly, first President of the Confederacy, although never held title of President nor Acting President.
He sided with President Andrew Jackson on the question of nullification; was an efficient supporter of President James K. Polk's administration during the Mexican-American War; and was an ardent advocate of slavery extension into the territories, but when the Compromise of 1850 had been agreed upon, he became its staunch supporter as a Union Democrat. He joined Georgia Whigs Alexander Stephens and Robert Toombs in a statewide campaign to elect delegates to a state convention that overwhelmingly affirmed, in the Georgia Platform, that the state accepted the Compromise as the final resolution to the outstanding slavery issues. On that issue, Cobb was elected governor of Georgia by a large majority.
Cobb saw combat during the Peninsula Campaign and the Seven Days Battles. Cobb's brigade played a key role in the fighting at Crampton's Gap during the Battle of South Mountain, where it arrived at a critical time to delay a Union advance through the gap. His men also fought at the subsequent Battle of Antietam.
In October 1862, Cobb was detached from the Army of Northern Virginia and sent to the District of Middle Florida. He was promoted to major general on September 9, 1863, and placed in command of the District of Georgia and Florida. He suggested the construction of a prisoner-of-war camp in southern Georgia, a location thought to be safe from Union invaders. This idea led to the creation of Andersonville prison. When William T. Sherman's armies entered Georgia during the 1864 Atlanta Campaign and subsequent March to the Sea, General Cobb commanded the Georgia reserve corps. In the spring of 1865, with the Confederacy clearly waning, he and his troops were sent to neighboring Alabama to help oppose Wilson's Raid.
In the closing days of the war, Cobb fruitlessly opposed General Robert E. Lee's eleventh hour proposal of enlisting slaves into the army. Fearing this move would completely discredit the fundamental justification of slavery that blacks were inferior people, he said, "You cannot make soldiers of slaves, or slaves of soldiers. The day you make a soldier of them is the beginning of the end of the Revolution. And if slaves seem good soldiers, then our whole theory of slavery is wrong.
Taking a break from his schedule of political speeches, Cobb decided to vacation in New York City in the autumn. He died of a heart attack in that city. His body was returned to Athens, Georgia, for burial in Oconee Hill Cemetery.
Thomas Willis Cobb was a cousin and Thomas Reade Rootes Cobb a younger brother of Howell Cobb. His great uncle and namesake, Howell Cobb, had been a U.S. Congressman from 1807–1812, and then served as an officer in the War of 1812.