Sunday, July 13, 2008

CWL---Sheridan's Lieutenants And The Birth Of The Modern Army

Sheridan's Lieutenants: Phil Sheridan, His Generals, and the Final Year of the Civil War, David Coffey, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 168 pages, maps, illustrations, notes, bibliographic essay, index, hardcover, $22.95.

In a clear and concise manner, David Coffey describes and explains the career of Phil Sheridan, who was brash, arrogant, connected to Grant, lucky and someone who could recognize talent. Best known of his victory at Cedar Creek, Virginia in October 1864 and for relieving Gouvernor Warren from command of the Fifth Corps at the Battle of Five Forks in March 1865, Sheridan is usually stereotyped as scrappy Irishman whom U.S. Grant pulled from staff service and put in command of troops.

Coffey details how Sheridan's division and brigade commanders created his luck. Custer, Crook, Merrit, Mackenzie, Devin, Miles, Wilson, Torbert and Lowell served Sheridan in 1864 and 1865. In twelve months, troops commanded by Sheridan wore out the Army of Northern Virginia's cavalry, killed J.E.B. Stuart, defeated Early at Winchester and Fisher's Hill, broke Lee's right flank at Five Forks and cornered him at Appomattox. Coffey also details the success of Wright and Getty at halting the retreating Union force and initiating an counter-attack Cedar Creek before Sheridan's ride makes it close to the battlefield. In detailing the Burning of the Shenandoah Valley, Coffey allows for some doubt regarding the actual amount of destruction reported by Custer and Sheridan.

In a footnote, Coffey suggests that the reader consult The Shenandoah Valley, 1861-1865: The Destruction of the Granary of the Confederacy by Michael G. Mahon. Though acknowledging the immense destruction in the valley during 1861-1865, Mahon refutes stereotypes regarding the volume of destruction in the fall of 1864 and its impact on the Army of Northern Virginia, which was drawing supplies more from the deep South than it was from the Shenandoah Valley. Also, CWL has found in
Virgina 1861, edited by Davis and Robertson, an essay that describes the amount of seizures of food stuffs and farm stock by Confederate authorities in the first summer, fall and winter of the war. These 1861 seizures limited the future production of crops and livestock later in the war.

The author finds the roots of Sheridan's success in his commanders, who time and again made Sheridan look better than he was. In the epilogue, Coffey describes the careers of Sheridan's lieutenants after the war and convincingly explains that the lessons they learned during the war made a significant impact on the next fifty years of U.S. army history. The Plains Wars, the Spanish-American War's Pacific Theatre, the administration of West Point, and the institutional growth of the army itself were heavily marked by officers under Sheridan during the last twelve months of the war.

Though sponsored by Grant, Sheridan on several occasions after the Battle of Cedar Creek refused to consent to Grant's pleas for a forward movement to Lynchburg in order to break the railroad before winter. Ironically, it is the railroad at Lynchburg to which the Army of Northern Virginia marches toward after its withdrawal from Petersburg and at which Sheridan's cavalry division corners Lee's army. Treading on his relationship with Grant, Sheridan dismissed Warren from command of the Fifth Corps at Five Forks. Grants allowed it and alienated Meade and the corps commanders of the Army of the Potomac, though payback came from Grant within two months.

Immediately after Lee's surrender, Grant ordered Sheridan to take the cavalry to North Carolina and aid Sherman. Sheridan had resisted that order twice before but he began to march toward North Carolina this time. Johnson surrendered before Sheridan's force arrived; Grant quickly removed Sheridan from command and sent him to Texas with orders to force the surrender of Confederates in that region and to intimidate Maximilian of Mexico who was France's puppet. Sheridan missed the Grand Review in Washington, D.C. Meade and his corps commanders rode at the head of the Army of the Potomac with out Sheridan, though his cavalry commanders were there in the parade. Later as a remembrance and for Plains War duty, President Grant advanced Sheridan to full general though Halleck and Meade had seniority. It was a tremendous slight, if not insult, to them.

Among the accolades given Sheridan at his death, Coffey offers this quote from Crook, who delivered victories at Winchester and Fisher's Hill to Sheridan: ". . . the adulations heaped upon him by a grateful Nation for his supposed genius turned his head, which added to his natural disposition, caused him to bloat his little carcass with debauchery and dissipation, which carried him off prematurely."

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