Robert F. Hoke was born in Lincolnton, North Carolina on May 27, 1837. His father, a lawyer, businessman, and aspiring politician, died when young Robert was seven years old. He first attended Lincolnton Academy, and in 1854 he graduated from the Kentucky Military Institute. He returned home and took over management of a number of the family's businesses, including a cotton mill and an iron works.
When North Carolina seceded, Hoke enlisted in Company K, 1st North Carolina Infantry and was commissioned second lieutenant. Shortly thereafter, he was promoted to captain and, eventually, major. In January 1862, he was appointed lieutenant colonel of the 33rd North Carolina and was cited for gallantry at the Battle of New Bern in March. Following the battle, he was promoted to colonel and commanded the 33rd at the Second Battle of Manassas and the Battle of Antietam.
Following the Maryland Campaign, Hoke was assigned to command the 21st Virginia, and he subsequently commanded a brigade at the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862. He was promoted to brigadier general on January 17, 1863, but was severely wounded at the Battle of Chancellorsville in May and was sent home to recuperate.
Hoke resumed command in January 1864 and found himself back in North Carolina. After a failed attempt to recapture New Bern in late January and early February, Hoke led a successful attack on the Union garrison at Plymouth, North Carolina on April 17, capturing over 2,000 Federal troops. He was promoted to major general only a few days later and was given command of an army division. He served with distinction at the Battle of Cold Harbor in June 1864.
By the end of 1864, Hoke found himself back in his home state. During the Second Battle of Fort Fisher (January 13-15, 1865), Hoke's men formed a defensive line to the rear of the attacking Federal forces and awaited orders from Gen. Braxton Bragg to attack. Those orders never came, and Fort Fisher fell. Hoke's troops were involved in the defense of the Cape Fear region in January and February 1865, but evacuated Wilmington on orders from General Bragg. Hoke's Division moved to Lenoir County and fought in the Battle of Wyse Fork (March 8-10, 1865) in an effort to check Federal forces under Gen. Jacob D. Cox, who were marching west from New Bern to unite with Gen. William T. Sherman. After evacuating Kinston, Hoke's men retreated to the west and joined with Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's forces from the Army of Tennessee. The whole army was engaged at the largest land battle fought in North Carolina, the Battle of Bentonville (March 19-21, 1865). Hoke stayed with Johnston's army until its surrender in late April at the Bennett farm near Durham.
Hoke was paroled on May 1, 1865 and received a pardon from the Federal government on June 14. He returned to his home and his business interests after the war. He was involved in insurance, gold mining, and owned several iron mines. He also owned a resort and a bottled water company. On January 7, 1869, he married Lydia Van Wyck, who was from a powerful New York City political family. The couple had six children. Hoke died on July 3, 1912 and was buried in Raleigh. Before his death, Hoke County was named in his honor.