Philip H. Sheridan
LIEUTENANT-GENERAL PHILIP H. SHERIDAN.
SINCE General Sheridan became famous, the honor of being his birth-place has been claimed by almost as many places as contended for the same honor in the case of Homer. Enthusiastic Irishmen have insisted that he first saw the light in county Cavan, Ireland; the army register for years credited Massachusetts with being the State in which he was born; the newspaper correspondents, knowing men that they are, have traced him to Albany, New York, where, they say, he was born while his parents were en route for Ohio; while the general himself, who being a party to the transaction should know something about it, and what is still more to the purpose, his parents, testily that he was born in Somerset, Perry county, Ohio, on the 6th of March, 1831. His parents were then recent emigrants from county Cavan, Ireland, but were not of the Scotch-Irish stock so largely predominant in that county, but belonged to one of the original Celtic and Roman Catholic families of the county.
Vain has been the attempt to find any of those incidents which foreshadow greatness, in the boyhood of the future cavalry general. He was a wild, roguish, fun-loving Irish boy, probably fond of horses, though the Rev. P. C. Headley's story about his riding a half broken vicious horse when only five years old is pronounced by the general himself an entire fabrication. He went to school to an Irish schoolmaster for a time, when about ten or twelve years old, one of Goldsmith's sort :
This pedagogue gave the mischievous urchin his full share of the birch, incited thereto, as one of Sheridan's schoolmates affirms, by the recollection of an occurrence in which Phil got the better of him. The story is substantially this : when Sheridan was about eleven or twelve years old, on a cold winter's morning, two of his schoolmates came early to the schoolhouse, and finding the teacher,
McNanly, not yet arrived, prepared a somewhat unpleasant surprise for him, in the shape of a pailful of icy water suspended over the schoolhouse door, in such a way that its contents would descend upon the head of the one who should first open the door. This arranged they withdrew to a neighboring haymow, and waited to see the fun. McNanly soon came, unlocked the door and received the ducking, which naturally aroused his not very placable temper. He sat down to watch, resolved to give the first boy who should come, a terrible thrashing. A little fellow who happened to be first was caught by the neck and shaken fiercely, but being convinced that he knew nothing of it, the teacher dropped him and waited for another. Each boy in turn was throttled and shaken, the two real offenders among the rest, but as all denied it, McNanly still waited for his victims. At length Phil. Sheridan came, somewhat late, as usual, and convinced that he had now the real culprit, McNanly made a dive for him; the boy dodged and
ran, and the teacher after him, bare headed and brandishing his stick. Phil did his best, but his legs were short, and when he
reached his father's yard McNanly was almost upon him, and he bolted through the gate, the teacher following at full speed, when a new ally suddenly came to Phil's relief. This was no other than a large Newfoundland dog, the boy's playmate and pet, who seeing his young master in trouble, sprang upon the teacher, who, frightened sadly, climbed the nearest tree with great agility. " Take away your divilish dog," he cried, " or I'll bate the life out of ye." ".Like to see you," said the boy, as he very coolly brought a bit of old carpet, threw it under the tree and ordered Rover to " watch him." The dog obeyed and Phil mounted the fence and looked, somewhat impudently, we fear, at his teacher, the whole school meantime being gathered close by to see the end. McNanly's clothing was none of the warmest, and his cold bath and violent exercise had thrown hint into a violent perspiration, and he was now shivering with the cold. " What d'ye want to lick me for ?" queried Phil. "What did ye throw the
water on me for?" asked the teacher; "I didn't throw any wather on you," said the boy. " What did ye run so for, thin ?" " Cause I saw ye was going to lick me," said Phil. " Well, call off the dog." " Not till ye promise ye won't lick me. Watch him, Rover." This last order was given as the teacher was trying to get down, and the dog in response seized him by the leg. Mr. Sheridan now came out, and McNanly appealed to him, declaring that he must lick Phil, for the sake of the discipline of the school, for the boys were all
laughing at him now. Mr. Sheridan called to the dog, but he would not move, and doubting perhaps whether Phil deserved a thrashing, he returned into the house. "You'd better promise," said Phil, "for the dog won't mind anybody but me, and I can stay here all day." At length, nearly perished with the cold, McNanly promised that he wouldn't lick him that time, and the boy, calling to Rover, allowed the master to descend. The
subsequent whippings, Phil used to say, had interest added to them, on account of this.
Sheridan was at this time (1848), seventeen years old. Among his classmates were James B. McPherson, Schofield, Sill, Tyler, and the rebel General Hood. His scholarship at West Point was above mediocrity, but his animal spirits were so constantly running over, and his pugnacity was so much in the ascendancy, that he was always receiving demerit marks in the conduct column. One of the cadets insulted him, and he proceeded to redress his own grievances, by giving the offender a severe thrashing. This conduct, some of the officers of the academy believed justifiable, but it was unmilitary, and, as a result, Sheridan was suspended and thrown into the class below, so that he did not graduate till 1853, when he stood thirty-fourth in a class of fifty-two. He was ordered to duty as brevet second lieutenant of infantry, but at first without being assigned to any particular regiment, and after serving in garrison at Newport barracks, Kentucky, for a few months, was sent in the beginning of 1854, to the Texas frontier, where for nearly two years, he served at Fort Duncan, La Pena, and Turkey creek, Texas. He received his commission as full second lieutenant, while in Texas, November 22d, 1854. Returning east, after a short period of garrison duty at Fort Columbus, New York, he was ordered to escort duty from Sacramento, California, to Columbia river, Oregon, and then on a series of expeditions among the Indians, for a year. He was next assigned to the military posts at Forts Haskins and Yamhill, where he endeavored to make peace with the Indians, learned their dialects, and won their regard to such an extent that he could accomplish what be pleased with them. On the 1st of March, 1861, he was promoted to a first lieutenancy in the fourth infantry, and ten weeks later, May 14th, a commission was sent him as captain in the thirteenth infantry, and with it, news of the impending War. He was ready for it, and wrote to a friend in the East: "If they will fight us, let them know we accept the challenge. Who knows? Perhaps I may have a chance to raise a major's commission." A modest ambition, certainly for the man who within four years was to demonstrate his title to be regarded as the ablest living cavalry general. He was ordered to report at Jefferson barracks, Missouri. He arrived in the midst of the confusion that followed the removal of Fremont from command. Nothing could be a more droll illustration of the frequent governmental faculty for getting the wrong men in the right places than the assignment that awaited the young Indian fighter. He was made president of a board to audit claims under the Fremont administration. He did the work satisfactorily, however; and presently the Government, fully satisfied now, that here was a good man for routine and clerical duties, made him quartermaster and commissary for Curtis, at the outset of the Pea Ridge campaign.
All this seemed rapid promotion to Captain Sheridan, and he went to work heartily and earnestly to make a quartermaster of himself. He was sixty-fourth captain on the lists one of the staff officers tells of his reasoning in those days—and with the chances of war in his favor, it needn't be a very great while before he might hope to be a major ! With such modest aspirations he worked away at the wagon-trains ; cut down regimental transportation, gave fewer wagons for camp furniture and more for hard bread and fixed ammunition, established secondary depots for supplies, and with all his labor found that he had not fully estimated the wants of the army. Some orders from General Curtis about this time seemed to him inconsistent with the West Point system of managing quarter-masters' matters, and he said so, officially, with considerable freedom of utterance. The matter was passed over for a few days, but as soon as Pea Ridge was fought, General Curtis found time to attend to smaller affairs. The first was to dispense with the further services of his quartermaster, and send him back to St. Louis in arrest.
But, just then, educated officers were too rare in Missouri to be kept long out of service on punctilios. Presently the affair with Curtis was adjusted, and then the Government had some fresh work for this young man of routine and business. It sent him over into Wisconsin to buy horses! The weeping philosopher himself might have been embarrassed to refrain from laughter! McClellan was at the head of the army; Halleck had chief command in the west; men like McClernand and Banks, Crittenden and McCook, were commanding divisions or corps and for Cavalry Sheridan the best work the Govern.
There was need of a good cavalry force, and chiefly of good cavalry officers, men who understood their duties and could train a cavalry force to act with precision as well as dash, and not to fire once and run away. Our young Indian fighter was thought of; he had (lone good service in Oregon, and indeed everywhere else, and it was possible that he might know how to handle cavalry. So, at a venture, on the 27th, of May, he was commissioned colonel of the second regiment of Michigan volunteer cavalry, and sent immediately on the expedition to cut the railroad south of Corinth. This accomplished, on his return he was immediately sent in pursuit of the rebels, who were retreating from Corinth, and captured and brought o the guns of Powell's rebel battery. On the 6th of June, leading a cavalry reconnoissance below Boonesville, he met and signally defeated a body of rebel cavalry commanded by General For-rest; and on the 8th, started in pursuit of the enemy, drove 'ahem through Baldwin and to Guntown, where, though their force was much larger than his own, he defeated them, but under orders from headquarters fell back to Boonesville and thence to Corinth.
On the 11th of June he was put in command of a cavalry brigade, and on the 26th, ordered to take his position at Booneville, twenty miles in advance of the main army, whose front he was to cover while at the same time he watched the operations of the rebels. His brigade numbered less than two thousand men.
On the 1st of July 1862, he was attacked at Booneville by a rebel force of nine regiments (about six thousand men), under command of General Chalmers. Sheridan slowly retreated toward his camp, which was situated on the edge of a swamp, in an advantageous position, where he could not be flanked, and here he kept up the unequal fight, but finding that Chalmers, with his greatly superior numbers, would in the end surround and overpower him, he had recourse to strategy. Selecting ninety of his best men, armed with revolving carbines and sabres, he sent them around to the rear of the enemy by a detour of about four miles, with orders to attack promptly and vigorously at a certain time, while he would make a simultaneous charge in front. The plan proved a complete success. The ninety men appeared suddenly in the enemy's rear, not having been seen till they were near enough to fire their carbines, and, having emptied these, they rushed with drawn sabres upon the enemy, who, supposing them to be the advance guard of a large force, were thrown into disorder; and, before they had time to recover, Sheridan charged them in front with such fury that they fled from the field in complete disorder, utterly routed. Sheridan pursued, and they continued their flight, utterly panic-stricken, to Knight's mills, twenty miles south from Booneville, throwing away their arms, knapsacks, coats, and every thing which could impede their flight.
General Grant reported this brilliant affair to the War Department, with a recommendation that Colonel Sheridan should be promoted. This recommendation was granted, and his commission of brigadier-general bore date July 1, 1862.
At this time, the rebels in his front had but one stream (Twenty Mile creek) from which to water their live-stock, and from his post at Booneville, General Sheridan frequently made sudden dashes in that direction, and captured large quantities of their stock, often two or three hundred at a time. In August, 1862, he was attacked by a rebel cavalry force, under Colonel Faulkner, near Rienzi, Mississippi, but after a sharp engagement the rebels were defeated, and retreated in haste, Sheridan pursuing them to near Ripley, and, charging upon them before they could reach their main column, dispersed the whole force, and captured a large number of prisoners. Early in September, 1862, General Grant having ascertained that the rebel General Bragg was moving towards Kentucky, detached a portion of his own forces to reinforce the Army of the Ohio, then under command of General Buell. Among these were General Sheridan, and his old command, the second Michigan cavalry. As General Grant expected, General Buell gave Sheridan a larger command, assigning him to the charge of the third division of the Army of the Ohio. He assumed command of this division on the 20th of September, 1862. At this time, General Bragg was approaching Louisville, which was not in a good condition for defence, and General Sheridan was charged with the duty of defending it. In a single night, with the division under his command, he constructed a strong line of rifle-pits from the rail-road depot to the vicinity of Portland, and thus secured the city against the danger of surprise. On the 25th of September.
General Buell arrived at Louisville, and soon commenced a. re-organization of the Army of the Ohio, now largely reinforced. In this re-organization, General Sheridan was placed in command of the eleventh division, and entered upon his duties on the 1st of October.
Buell soon took the offensive again, and began pushing the rebels, who had already commenced a retreat, but were embarrassed by the amount of plunder they had collected. On the 8th of October, the rebels made a stand near Perryville, Kentucky, for the double purpose of checking the pursuit, and allowing their trains to move forward out of harm's way. The battle which followed, though a severe one, was not decisive, owing to some defects in the handling of the forces, and Bragg was allowed to make good his retreat with most of his plunder, and with but moderate loss : but in it, Sheridan played a distinguished part, holding the key of the Union position, and resisting the onsets of the enemy, again and again, with great bravery and skill, driving them at last from the open ground in front, by a bayonet charge. This accomplished, he saw that they were gaining advantage on the left of the Union line, and moving forward his artillery, directed so terrible a fire upon the rebel advance, that he drove them from the open ground on which they had taken position. Enraged at being thus foiled, they charged with great fury upon his lines, determined to carry the point at ail hazards ; but, with the utmost coolness, he opened upon them at short range, with such a murderous fire of grape and canister, that they fell back in great disorder, leaving their dead and wounded in winrows in front of the batteries. The loss in Sheridan's division in killed and wounded, was over four hundred, but his generalship had saved the Union army from defeat. On the 30th of October, General Rosecrans succeeded General Buell as commander of the Army of the Ohio, which, with enlarged territory, was thenceforward to be known as the Army of the Cumberland, and in the re-organization, General Sheridan was assigned to the command of one of the divisions of McCook's corps, which constituted the right wing of that army. He remained for the next seven or eight weeks in the vicinity of Nashville, and then moved with his corps, on the 26th of December, 1862, toward Murfreesboro. During the 26th, his division met the enemy on the Nolensville road, and skirmished with them to Nolensville and Knob gap, occupying at night the latter import-ant position. The next morning a dense fog obscured the horizon ; but as soon as it lifted, Sheridan pressed forward, and drove the enemy from the village of Triune, which he occupied.
The next three days were spent in skirmishing, and in gradually drawing nearer, over the almost impassable roads, to Murfreesboro, the goal of their hopes. At length, on the night of the 30th of December, the army was drawn up in battle array, on the banks of Stone river.
" The men bivouacked in line of battle. They were to wake to great calamity and great glory in the morning.
"In the general plan of the battle of Stone river, the part assigned to the right wing, was to hold the enemy, while the rest of the army swung through Murfreesboro, upon his rear. In this right wing Sheridan held the left. Elsewhere along that ill-formed line were batteries, to which the horses had not been harnessed when the fateful attack burst through the gray dawn upon them. But there was one division commander who, with or without orders thereto, might be trusted for ample vigilance in the face of an enemy. At two in the morning, he was moving some of his regiments to strengthen a portion of his line, on which he thought the enemy was massing. At four he mustered his division under arms, and had every cannoneer at his post. For over two hours they waited. When the onset came, the ready batteries opened at once. The rebels continued to sweep up. At fifty yards' distance the volleys of Sheridan's musketry became too murderous. The enemy, in massed regiments, hesitated, wavered, and finally broke. Sheridan instantly sent Sill's brigade to charge upon. the retreating column. The movement was brilliantly executed, but the life of the gallant brigade commander went out in the charge.
"Presently the enemy rallied and returned. Already the rest of the wing had been hurled back in confusion ; the weight of the victorious foe bore down upon Sheridan's exposed flank and broke it. There was now come upon Sheridan, that same stress of battle under which his companion division commanders had been crushed. But hastily drawing back the broken flank, he changed the front of his line to meet the new danger, and ordered a brigade to charge ; while under cover of this daring onset, the new line was made compact. Here Sheridan felt abundantly able to hold his ground.
"But his flank _____ ? The routed divisions, which should have formed upon it, were still in hasty retreat. He dashed among them—threatened, begged, swore. All was in vain; they would not re-form. Sheridan was isolated, and his right once more turned. Moving then by the left, he rapidly advanced, driving the enemy from his front, and maintaining his line unbroken till he secured a connection on the left with Negley. Here he was instantly and tremendously assailed. The attack was repulsed. Again Cheatham's rebel division at tacked, and again it was driven back. Once again the baffled enemy swept up to the onset, till his batteries were planted within two hundred yards of Sheridan's lines. The men stood firm. Another of the brigade commanders fell but the enemy was once more driven. Thus heroically did Sheridan strive to beat back the swift disaster that had befallen the right.
"But now came the crowning misfortune. When the rest of McCook's wing had been swept out of the contest, the ammunition train had fallen into the hands of the enemy. With the overwhelming force on his front, with the batteries playing at short range, with the third rebel onslaught just repulsed, and the men momentarily growing more confident of themselves and of their fiery commander, there suddenly came the startling cry that the ammunition was exhausted ! ' Fix bayonets, then !' was the ringing command. Under cover of the bristling lines of steel on the front, the brigades were rapidly withdrawn. Presently a couple of regiments fell upon an abandoned ammu- nition wagon. For a moment they swarmed around it—then back on the double quick to the front, to aid in the retreat of the artillery. One battery was lost, the rest, with only a missing piece or two, were brought off. Thus riddled and depleted, with fifteen hundred from the little division left dead or wound- ed in the dark cedars, but with compact ranks and a steady front, the heroic column came out on the Murfreesboro turn-pike. `Here is all that is left of us,' said Sheridan, riding up to Rosecrans to report. 'Our cartridge-boxes are empty, and so are our muskets!'
"Thus the right, on which the battle was to have hinged, had disappeared from the struggle. Already the enemy, pressing his advantage to the utmost, seemed about to break through the centre ; and Sheridan, supplied with ammunition, was ordered in to its relief. He checked the rebel advance, charged at one point, and captured guns and prisoners, held his line steady throughout, and bivouacked upon it at nightfall. This final struggle cost him his last brigade commander !"* (* Mr. Whitelaw Reid's sketch of Sheridan in his Ohio in the War.")
General Rosecrans, in his report of this battle, pays the following high compliment to Sheridan's generalship : " Sheridan,
after sustaining four successive attacks, gradually swung his right round southeasterly to a northwestern direction, repulsing the enemy four times, losing the gallant General Sill of his right, and Colonel Roberts of his left brigade; when, having exhausted his ammunition, Negley's division being in the same predicament, and heavily pressed, after desperate fighting they fell back from the position held at the commencement, through the cedar woods, in which Rousseau's division, with a portion of Negley's and Sheridan's, met the advancing enemy 'and checked his movements."
In the months that followed the battle of Stone river, months of watching and waiting, Sheridan kept himself busy, and enjoying the confidence of the commanding general, who did not, however, fully appreciate his talents, he and his division found constant employment. The country about Murfreesboro was thoroughly scoured, and all its strategic points carefully mapped in the mind of the cavalry general. On the 3d of march, he flung himself and his division upon the rebel General Van Dorn, who had penetrated as far as Shelbyville, Tennessee, in an advance upon the Union lines, hurled him back, pursued him to Columbia and Franklin, and near Eagleville, Tennessee, captured his train and a large number of prisoners. In the advance on Tullahoma, June 24 to July 4, 1863, he drove the rebels out of Liberty Gap, a strong mountain pass, which was one of the keys of their position, occupied Shelbyville, pushed forward to, and took possession of Winchester, Tennessee, which by a flank movement, he had compelled the enemy to abandon, and saved the great bridge over the Tennessee at Bridgeport, his infantry outstripping Stanley's cavalry, which they were ordered to support.
The Tennessee crossed, Chattanooga flanked by Rosecrans, and evacuated by Bragg, General Sheridan was sent to reconnoitre the enemy's force and position, and found him largely reinforced and determined to push Rosecrans to the wall and recover Chattanooga. Then came Chickamauga, the severe bat wholly indecisive battle of the first day, in which, however, Sheridan, by his promptness and activity, did good service, and the disastrous fight of the second day, which yet, thanks to General Thomas's firmness and superb generalship, was not wholly a defeat. In this severe action, McCook's and Crittenden's corps and the general commanding the army were, by the fatal misunderstanding of an order, cut off from the remainder of the army, and compelled to fall back upon Rossville, and Chattanooga. Sheridan, whose division was still a part of McCook's corps, though involved in this disaster, succeeded, by the utmost effort, in rallying the greater part of his command and bringing it through by-roads from Rossville to join General Thomas. who had fought and repulsed the enemy. He was not in season, much to his mortification, to participate in the closing hours of the fight, but he nevertheless strengthened materially the hands of the general.
The corps of McCook and Crittenden were now consolidated into one (the fourth) corps, and the command of it given to Gordon Granger, an officer only less incompetent than those whom he succeeded. Then came a change of commanders to the Army of the Cumberland ; General G. H. Thomas succeeded General Rosecrans, and the army of the Tennessee, and two corps from the Army of the Potomac, being added to the force, General Grant took charge of the whole. The battles of the Wauhatchie, Lookout Mountain, and Mission Ridge, and the expulsion of the rebels from the valleys of Chattanooga and Chickamauga followed. In the capture of Orchard Knob, and in that most brilliant episode of the war, the ascent of Mission Ridge, Sheridan bore a conspicuous part. The fourth corps (Granger's) were the charging column, and stung by the recollection of that sad day at Chickamauga, as the six guns gave the signal for advance, Sheridan rode along his column, and called in thunder tones to his division, "Show the fourth corps that the men of the old twentieth are still alive, and can fight. Remember Chickamauga!"
Before Sheridan and the companion divisions stretched an open space of a mile and an eighth to the enemy's first line of rifle-pits. Above this frowned a steep ascent of five hundred yards, up which it scarcely seemed possible that unresisted troops could clamber. At the summit were fresh rifle-pits. As Sheridan rode along his front and reconnoitered the rebel pits at the base of the ridge, it seemed to him that, even if captured, they could scarcely he tenable under the plunging fire that might then be directed from the summit. He accordingly sent back a staff-officer to inquire if the order was to take the rifle-pits or to take the ridge. But before there was time for an answer, the six guns thundered out their stormy signal, and the whole line rose up and leaped forward. The plain was swept by a tornado of shot and shell, but the men rushed on at the double-quick, swarmed over the rifle-pits, and flung themselves down on the face of the mountain. Just then the answer to Sheridan's message came. It was only this first line of rifle-pits that was to be carried. Some of the men were accordingly retired to it by their brigade commander, under the heavy fire of grape, canister, and musketry. "But," said Sheridan, "believing that the attack had assumed a new phase, and that I could carry the ridge, I could not order those officers and men who were so gallantly ascending the hill, step by step, to return.' As the twelve regimental colors slowly went up, one advancing a little, the rest pushing forward, emulous to be even with it, till all were planted midway up the ascent on a partial line of rifle-pits that nearly covered Sheridan's front, an order came from Granger : " If in your judgment the ridge can be taken, do so." An eye-witness shall tell us how he received it.* (* B. F. Taylor, of the Chicago Journal. 9) "An aid rides up with the order; ' Avery, that flask,' said the general. Quietly filling the pewter cup, Sheridan looks up at the battery that frowned above him, by Bragg's headquarters, shakes his cap amid that storm of every thing that kills, where you could hardly hold your hand without catching a bullet in it, and, with a ' How are you ?' tosses off the cup. The blue battle-flag of the rebels fluttered a response to the cool salute, and the next instant the battery let fly its six guns, showering Sheridan with earth. The general said in his quiet way, ' I thought it d d ungenerous I' The recording angel will drop a tear upon the word for the part he played that day. Wheeling toward the men he cheered them to the charge, and made at the hill like a bold-riding hunter. They were out of the rifle-pits and into the tempest, and struggling up the steep before you could get breath to tell it."
Then came what the same writer has called the torrid zone of the battle. Rocks were rolled down from above on the advancing line; shells with lighted fuses were rolled down; guns were loaded with handfuls of cartridges and fired down,. but the line struggled on : still fluttered the twelve regimental' flags in the advance. At last, with a leap and a rush, over they went—all twelve fluttered on the crest—the rebels were bayoneted out of their rifle-pits—the guns were turned—the ridge was won. In this last spasm of the struggle Sheridan's horse was shot under him. He sprang upon a captured gun, to raise his short person high enough to be visible in the half-crazy throng, and ordered a pursuit ! It harassed the enemy for some miles, and brought back eleven guns as proofs of its vigor.
Signal as had been Sheridan's previous services, he had never before been so brilliantly conspicuous. In other battles he had approved himself a good officer in the eyes of his superiors; on the deathly front of Mission Ridge he flamed out the incarnation of soldierly valor and vigor in the eyes of the whole American people. His entire losses were thirteen hundred and four, and he took seventeen hundred and sixty-two prisoners. But these figures give no adequate idea of the conflict. It may be better understood from the simple statement that in that brief contest, in a part of a winter afternoon, he lost one hundred and twenty-three officers from that single division—a number greater than the whole French army lost at Solferino! Through his own clothes five minie balls had passed; his horse had been shot under him ; and yet he had come out without a scratch.
For a short time longer he was employed in East Tennessee in driving out the rebels who still found a lodgment there, but when General Grant was advanced to the lieutenant general-ship, one of his first acts was to apply to the War Department for the transfer of General Philip H. Sheridan to the eastern army, and when he was arrived, to make him the commander of the cavalry corps of the Army of the Potomac. Here he was in the sphere for which he had longed, and for which he was undoubtedly best fitted. But the cavalry of the Army of the Potomac was far from being in a model condition. The days of the old service of cavalry, the heavy and light horse, the grand cavalry charges, and the chivalry of mounted troops under perfect drill were gone; minie muskets and rifled cannon had changed all that. But with this there had gone also in great measure the esprit du corps of the service. The squadrons were detailed for picket service, for guarding trains, for duties which could better be performed by infantry, and when they fought, they charged upon infantry, and were shy of any attack upon the enemy's cavalry. Against all this Sheridan protested, and with good effect. He procured their release from picket and train duty, he trained his men to care tenderly for their horses, which up to this time had been broken down with frightful rapidity, in consequence of the ignorance, heedlessness and indifference of their riders; he drilled them in all the service of cavalry and infused into them a portion of his own fiery spirit, and that joy in the fight, which marks the true cavalry soldier.
From the 5th of May, 1864, to the 9th of April, 1865, Sheridan's command were, engaged in seventy-six distinct battles, all but thirteen of them under his own eye and order. At the close of the campaign he could say, with a commendable pride in the achievements of his men, though always modest in regard to his own deeds, " We sent to the War Department (between the dates above specified) two hundred and five battle flags, captured in open field fighting—nearly as many as all the armies of the United States combined sent there during the rebellion. The number of field pieces captured in the same period was between one hundred and sixty and one hundred and seventy, all in open field fighting.* * *We led the advance of the army to the Wilderness ; on the Richmond raid we marked out its line of march to the North Anna, where we found it on our return we again led its advance to Hanovertown, and then to Cold Harbor ; we removed the enemy's cavalry from the south side of the Chickahominy by the 'Pre, villian raid, and thereby materially assisted the army in its successful march to the James river and Petersburg, where it remained until we made the campaign in the valley ; we marched back to Petersburg, again took the advance and led the army to victory. In all these operations, the percentage of cavalry casualties was as great as that of the infantry, and the question which had existed—` who ever saw a dead cavalry-man?' was set at rest."
Of the many remarkable actions hinted at in these pregnant sentences, we have space only to allude to two or three. His first raid toward Richmond was one of the most daring and successful of the war. He penetrated the outer line of defences of that city; bewildered and confounded the rebels by his audacity, fought two battles to extricate himself from his apparently critical position, in one of which General J. E. B. Stuart, the ablest cavalry officer of the rebels, was slain ; defeated the enemy in both battles, built a bridge across the Chickahominy under fire, and finally returned to the Army of the Potomac after sixteen days with but slight loss, after inflicting serious and permanent injury upon the enemy. His second raid, under-taken to co-operate with Hunter in the valley of Virginia was less successful, owing to the utter failure of that officer's plans, but it kept the rebel cavalry out of the way of the Union army in crossing the James. On his return, he guarded the vast train of the Army of the Potomac (an irksome task to him), to and across the James, not without some sharp battles; made some raids south of the James, and took an active part in the feint at the north side of the James, in the last days of July. Appointed to the command of the Army of the Shenandoah, in August, he exhibited such ability in handling his troops, such alternate caution and daring in his manoeuvring with Early, that the confidence of the nation was soon reposed in him. That that confidence was not misplaced, he speedily gave decisive evidence.
On the 19th of September, after a fierce and stubborn fight at Opequan creek, he had defeated and routed Early, and as he expressed it, " sent him whirling through Winchester," following him relentlessly to his defences at Fisher's Hill, thirty miles below, killing in the battle and retreat, three, and wounding severely four more of his ablest generals, among the latter Fitzhugh Lee, the commander of the rebel cavalry of the army of Virginia. With his usual celerity, and a strategic skill of which, hitherto, he had not displayed the possession, he proceeded to attack Early's stronghold, Fisher's Hill, which that general had believed perfectly impregnable, and, on the 22d, carried it by storm, attacking in front, in rear, and on the flank ; drove the rebels out and chased them without mercy till the 25th, driving them below Port Republic, at the extreme head of the valley.
For this splendid series of victories, he was made a brigadier-general in the regular army in place of the lamented McPherson. Twice more before the 13th of October he had driven back Early or his lieutenants, who, loth to give up the valley of the Shenandoah, the garden of Virginia, had obtained reinforcements and again essayed encounters with this western rough rider. At length, believing Early sufficiently punished to remain in obscurity for a time, Sheridan made a flying visit to Washington, on matters connected with his department. Early was quickly apprised of his departure, and resolved to profit by it. Collecting further reinforcements, and creeping stealthily up to the camp of the Union army at Cedar creek, eighteen or twenty miles below Winchester, the rebel soldiers being required to lay aside their canteens, lest the click of their bayonets against them should apprize the. Union troops of their approach, they reached and flanked Crooks' corps, which was in advance, at about day dawn. The Union troops were unpardonably careless, having no suspicion that the rebels were within twenty miles of them. They were consequently taken at unawares, and many of them bayonetted before they were fairly awake; in a very few minutes they were forced back, disorganized, upon the nineteenth corps, who were en echelon beyond them ; they at first made a stand, but in a short time were forced back, though not completely disorganized ; and the sixth corps in turn were compelled to stand against heavy odds. In the end all were driven back three or four miles, to the Middletown plains, and the fugitives were carrying the news of a total defeat and rout at full speed toward Winchester. But deliverance was nearer than they thought. They had lost twenty-four guns and twelve hundred prisoners, but they were beginning to recover from their fright, and were re-organizing, while the rebels, hungry and thirsty, wayworn and in rags, were stopping to plunder the camp. Still they would hardly have regained any portion of their lost territory and might have fallen back to Winchester, had not Sheridan, just at this juncture, appeared riding at full speed among them. He had heard the firing at Winchester, where he arrived late the night before, and at first was not alarmed by it, but, coming out of Winches-ter, he was met by some of the foremost of the fugitives, a mile from the town.
"He instantly gave orders to park the retreating trains on either side of the road, directed the greater part of his escort to follow as best they could ; then, with only twenty cavalrymen accompanying him, he struck out in a swinging gallop for the scene of danger. As he dashed up the pike, the crowds of stragglers grew thicker. Ile reproached none; only, swinginghis cap, with a cheery smile for all, he shouted : ' Face the other way, boys, face the other way. We are going back to our camps. We are going to lick them out of their boots.' Less classic, doubtless, than Napoleon's My children, we will camp on the battle-field, as usual;' but the wounded raised their hoarse voices to cheer as he passed, and the masses of fugitives turned and followed him to the front. As he rode into the forming lines, the men quickened their pace back to the ranks, and everywhere glad cheers went up. `Boys, this never should have happened if I had been here,' he exclaimed to one and another regiment. 'I tell you it never should have happened. And now we are going back to our camps. We are going to get a twist on them ; well get the tightest twist on them yet that ever you saw. We'll have all those camps and cannon back again !' 'Thus he rode along the lines, rectified the formation, cheered and animated the soldiers. Presently there grew up across that pike as compact a body of infantry and cavalry as that which, a month before, had sent the enemy 'whirling through Winchester.' His men had full faith in 'the twist' he was ' going to get' on the victorious foe; his presence was inspiration, his commands were victory.
While the line was thus re-established, he was in momentary expectation of attack. Wright's sixth corps was some distance in the rear. One staff officer after another was sent after it. Finally, Sheridan himself dashed down to hurry it up : then back to watch it going into position. As he thus stood, looking off from the left, he saw the enemy's columns once more moving up. Hurried warning was sent to the nineteenth corps, on which it was evident the attack would fall. By this time it was after three o'clock.
"The nineteenth corps, no longer taken by surprise, repulsed the enemy's onset. 'Thank God for that,' said Sheridan, gaily.
Now tell General Emory, if they attack him again, to go after them, and to follow them up. We'll get the tightest twist on them pretty soon they ever saw.' The men heard and believed him; the demoralization of the defeat was gone. But lie still waited. Word had been sent in from the cavalry, of danger from a heavy body moving on his flank. He doubted it, and at last determined to run the risk. At four o'clock the orders went out : 'The whole line will advance. The nineteenth corps will move in connection with the sixth. The right of the nineteenth will swing toward the left.'
"The enemy lay behind stone fences, and where these failed, breastworks of rails eked out his line. For a little, he held his position firmly. His left overlapped Sheridan's right, and seeing this advantage, he bent it down to renew the attack in flank. At this critical moment, Sheridan ordered a charge of General McWilliams' brigade against the angle thus caused in the rebel line. It forced its way through, and the rebel flanking party was cut off. Custer's cavalry was sent swooping down upon it—it broke, and fled, or surrendered, according to the agility of the individuals. Simultaneously the whole line charged along the front ; the rebel line was crowded back to the creek; the difficulties of the crossing embarrassed it, and as the victorious ranks swept up, it broke in utter confusion.
"Custer charged down in the fast gathering darkness, to the west of the pike; Devin to the east of it; and on either flank of the fleeing rout they flung themselves. Nearly all the rebel transportation was captured, the camps and artillery were re-gained ; up to Fisher's Hill the road was jammed with artillery, caissons, and ambulances; prisoners came streaming back faster than the provost marshal could provide for them. It was the end of Early's army ; the end of campaigning in the beautiful valley of the Shenandoah."
The twenty-four cannon lost in the morning were retaken, and besides them, twenty-eight more of Early's. Beside these, there were fifty wagons, sixty-five ambulances, sixteen hundred small arms, several battle flags, fifteen hundred prisoners, and two thousand killed and wounded left on the field. The Union losses were about thirty-eight hundred, of whom eight hundred were prisoners.
In all the records of modern history, there are but three examples of such a battle, lost and won on the same field, and in the same conflict—Marengo, Shiloh, and Stone River; and in the two former the retrieval was due mainly to reinforcements brought up at the critical time, while the third was not so immediately decisive; but here, the only reinforcement which the army of the Shenandoah received or needed to recover its, lost field of battle, camps, intrenchments, and cannon, was one man—SHERIDAN.
General Grant, on the receipt of the news of the battle, telegraphed to Secretary Stanton : " I had a salute of one hundred guns fired from each of the armies here, in honor of Sheridan's last victory. Turning what bid fair to be a disaster into a glorious victory, stamps Sheridan, what I have always thought him, one of the ablest of generals." General Sheridan also received an autograph letter of thanks from the President, and on the 14th of November, he was promoted to the major-generalship in the regular army, vacated by General McClellan's resignation.
For six weeks following, there were occasional skirmishes with small bands of regular cavalry, the debris of Early's army, but this was all. In December, the sixth army corps returned to the Army of the Potomac, and Sheridan, for two months, recruited and rested his cavalry, using it only as an army of observation. About the first of March, with a force of about 9,000 men, well mounted and disciplined, he moved forward under instructions from General Grant, to destroy the Virginia Central railroad, and the James River canal, the two arteries of supply for the rebels at Richmond and Petersburg, and then strike at, and if possible, capture Lynchburg, and either join Sherman at Goldsboro, or returning to Winchester, descend thence to City Point. The destruction of the railroad and canal were thoroughly performed, but, delayed by heavy rains, he found that Lynchburg was probably too strong to be attacked, and as every route of communication between that city and Richmond was broken, its garrison could not render any assistance either to Lee or Johnston. He had captured Early's remaining force of 1,600 men at Waynesboro; and now, instead of returning to Winchester, or going on to join Sherman, he resolved to march past Richmond, to join the Army of the Potomac. The resolve. was a bold one, for he knew Longstreet was on the watch for him, and would show him no mercy, if he could have a fair opportunity of attacking him. Nevertheless, he made the march, fooled Longstreet, and arrived safely at City Point, having completely desolated the country through which he passed, and destroyed property, estimated by the rebels themselves, at over $50,000,000.
And now came the end of the war, and in its closing scenes, so far as the rebel army of Northern Virginia was concerned, Sheridan had the most conspicuous part. Arriving at City Point on the 25th of March, 1865, he was directed by General Grant to move, on the 29th, southwestward by way of Reams' station to Dinwiddie Court-house, and from thence either strike the Southside railroad at Burkesville station, some forty miles distant; or, if it should seem best, support the infantry, one or two corps of which should, in that ease, be put under his command, in an attempt, by way of Halifax road, to cross Hatcher's run at he point which had been held since February. Hechose, after reconnoissance, the latter plan, and pushed on toward Dinwiddie, and connected with the left of the fifth corps, on the Boydton road. The enemy were found strongly intrenched at Five Forks, about six miles west of the Boydton plank-road, and also held in some force the White Oak road, by which the Five Forks were approached from the east. On the 31st of March there was heavy fighting all along the line. The fifth corps, or rather two divisions of it, were driven back in some disorder on the White Oak road, and a part of Sheridan's cavalry were separated from the main body, and his whole force imperilled. By dismounting his cavalry in front of Dinwiddie Court-house, and fighting desperately till late at night, he succeeded in holding his position, and the two contending forces lay on their arms through the night. The next morning, April 1st, the fifth corps, now under his command, did not advance as he expected, and his enemy of the night before having retreated to Five Forks, he followed, and finding the fifth corps, directed them to assault when he gave the order, and completed his arrangements for carrying Five Forks by a simultaneous assault in front and on both flanks. In this assault the fifth corps participated. It was successful, after some hard fighting, and the rebel troops who were not either slain, wounded or prisoners, were driven off westward so far as to be unable to return to aid in the defence of Petersburg. Being dissatisfied, perhaps with-out quite sufficient cause, with the management of General G. K. Warren, the commander of the fifth corps, during the day, General Sheridan relieved him of his command, and ordered General Griffin to take his place. The two men were so unlike in their temperament and modes of thought, though both brave and patriotic officers, that they could hardly have been expected to work well together.
Sheridan followed up his successes the following day, by ham. leering the enemy's line along the Southside railroad, and an assault being made at the same time on the defences of Petersburg, that city and Richmond were evacuated, and the rebel army fled along the route of the Southside railroad and the Appomattox river toward Appomattox Court-house, pursued relentlessly by Sheridan, who acted on the Donnybrook Fair principle, and whenever he saw a rebel head, hit it. There were some sharp actions, for the rebels were fighting in sheer despair; but finding their trains captured and themselves brought to bay, without hope, at Appomattox Court-house, they surrendered, and the war in Virginia was over.
But not yet was our cavalry general to find rest. He was ordered at once to Texas, with a large force, to bring the rebels there, who still held out, to terms. E. Kirby Smith, the rebel commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department, surrendered about the time of his arrival, and, with his surrender, the war closed. On the 27th of June, 1865, General Sheridan was appointed commander of the military Division of the Gulf, embracing the departments of Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.
To preserve order in this division, so recently in rebellion, was a difficult task, the more difficult because the acting President was not true to his pledges, but encouraged the rebels, who at first were disposed to yield, to raise their heads again in defiance. But General Sheridan proved himself the man for the occasion. He was unfortunately absent in Texas when the riot and massacre occurred in New Orleans, but his prompt and decided action in regard to it, his denunciation of the course of the mayor and police, even when he knew that they were in favor with the President, his removal of them from office, and with then- of others who obstructed reconstruction, and the
thorough loyalty he manifested all the way through, endeared him greatly to the nation. In Texas, too, he had his troubles: a disloyal governor was placed in power by the abortive reconstruction plan of Mr. Johnson, and when Congress armed Sheridan with the needed power, he removed him as promptly as he had done the rebel mayor and treacherous governor of Louisiana.
That Andrew Johnson should not be pleased with so straight. forward and loyal a commander was to be expected; and not withstanding the earnest protest of General Grant, he removed him in August, 1867, from the command of the Fifth District, and ordered him to command on the plains, where be would have only Indians to contend with. Before proceeding to his new command, however, Major-General Sheridan, by permission of General Grant, visited the East, and was everywhere received with ovations and honor by the people, who were duly mindful of his great services in war and peace.
Returning in the summer of 1868 to his new command, one for which, from his thorough knowledge of the Indian ways and Indian languages, he was well adapted, General Sheridan was successful in averting a threatened Indian war, and in pacifying the wily Sioux chiefs. Soon after the inauguration of President Grant, he was promoted to the Lieutenant-Generalship, at the same time that General Sherman succeeded to the Generalship. Ile was assigned to the command of the Military Division of the Missouri, embracing the Military Departments of Dakota, the Missouri, the Platte, and Texas, and having its headquarters first at St. Louis, and afterward at Chicago. Soon after the commencement of the Franco-German War, Lieutenant-General Sheridan visited Europe, and was an interested spectator of several of the great battles of that war. On his return he resumed his command of the Military Division of the Missouri, and at the great fire in Chicago, October 7th and 8th, and subsequently, he rendered invaluable service in subduing the progress of the destruction, in aiding, protecting and sheltering the tens of thousands of sufferers from the great conflagration. Since General Sherman's absence in Europe, General Sheridan has been acting General-in-Chief of the United States Army, a most decided advance to have been made in ten years, from a lieutenant of a company to the highest military command in the nation.
In person Lieutenant-General Sheridan is small, being barely five feet six inches in height. His body is stout, his limbs rather
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