Facts, information and articles about Philip Sheridan, a Civil War General during the American Civil War
Philip Sheridan Facts
March 6, 1831 Albany, New York
August 5, 1888 Nonquitt, Massachusetts
Years Of Service
General of the Army of the United States
Army of the Shenandoah
Department of the Missouri
Battle of Perryville
Battle of Stones River
Battle of Chickamauga
Battle of Yellow Tavern
Battle of Trevilian Station
Valley Campaigns of 1864
Third Battle of Winchester
Battle of Cedar Creek
Philip Sheridan Articles
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Philip Sheridan summary: Philip Sheridan was born in New York State in the city of Albany. He was the middle child of Mary Meenagh Sheridan and John Sheridan and eventually the family moved to Somerset, Ohio. His nickname of Little Phil came because of his statue of only 5 feet 5 inches. As a boy he worked in general stores and eventually was made bookkeeper and head clerk. In 1848 he received his appointment to the US Military Academy from Thomas Ritchey who was a congressman and one of his customers. At first he was disqualified because of a bad result in math and what was described as a poor attitude. In his tenure in West Point, Sheridan was involved in a fight with a classmate and was therefore suspended. Eventually he graduated in 1853. Sheridan was assigned to Fort Duncan in Texas in the First US Infantry Regiment.
Philip Sheridan In The Civil War
In 1861, Sheridan went to an assignment with the 13th United States Infantry in Jefferson Barracks, Missouri. By December Philip Sheridan received an appointment as the chief commissary officer for the Army of Southwest Missouri. His first time commanding forces into combat happened at the Battle of Booneville where General James R. Chalmers’ cavalry for the Confederacy was held back. At the Battle of Chattanooga, his division along with George Thomas’s broke the lines of the Confederacy; that way exceeding the expectations and the orders given to them by Ulysses S. Grant. Sheridan was then summoned to the Eastern Theater by Ulysses S. Grant and he was to command the cavalry corps for the Army of the Potomac. He also served in the Army of the Shenandoah and during the Appomattox Campaign.
Philip Sheridan After The War
After the war, Sheridan took the protection of Yellowstone as his personal crusade. At the age of 57, Sheridan had his first heart attack and he died of heart failure in August of 1888 in Dartmouth, Massachusetts. He is buried close to Washington DC in the Arlington Cemetery.
Articles Featuring Philip Sheridan From History Net Magazines
Union General Phil Sheridan’s Scouts
They were loosely called ‘Sheridan’s Scouts,’ a collection of more than 120 brave, versatile and intelligent Union soldiers who operated from August 1864 through war’s end. Those risktakers helped their commander, Major General Philip H. Sheridan, lead his Army of the Shenandoah to victory in 1864 in the Shenandoah Valley and then in both the James River expedition and the Appomattox campaign in 1865. Many of the scouts wore Confederate uniforms and used forged passes and furloughs. Others passed back and forth in all manner of civilian attire.
Their activities included buying information, establishing networks of Union sympathizers, intercepting enemy dispatches, conveying friendly dispatches, hunting down notorious guerrillas and engaging in desperate combat. At least 20 of the volunteer scouts became casualties, and seven earned the Medal of Honor. The youngest was 18, the oldest 40.
Before he launched his Shenandoah Valley campaign against Lt. Gen. Jubal Early’s Army of the Valley in August 1864, Sheridan ordered that several scouts be assigned directly to army headquarters, where they were supervised by Captain B.W. Crowninshield, acting provost marshal-general. Another group of scouts was posted at Maj. Gen. Alfred T.A. Torbert’s Cavalry Corps headquarters.
The first week of campaigning, August 10 to 17, allowed the scouts to get used to their new theater as the army marched up the valley to Cedar Creek and then moved back to its lines outside of Charlestown. For the next four weeks Sheridan kept his cavalry units and scouting detachments active, gathering useful information on the enemy. By mid-September he was frustrated by conflicting information he was receiving from Unionists in Winchester, Confederate prisoners and some scouts about the reinforcements that Early had received in early August.
Union commander Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was prodding Sheridan to act, but Sheridan was unsure what reinforcements had been sent from General Robert E. Lee’s army, and if they had been recalled to Richmond. A pair of scouts helped end the confusion by working with Tom Law, a black produce vendor who sold his vegetables in Winchester, and Rebecca Wright, a young Quaker schoolteacher whose family lived in the town.
Law was brought to Sheridan’s headquarters on September 15 and agreed to take a message written on tissue paper and wrapped in foil to Wright the following day, asking about Early’s numbers. Wright had the information gathered by 3 that afternoon. By 6, Law had turned it over to James Campbell, a scout from the 2nd New York Cavalry, who delivered it to Sheridan’s headquarters an hour later.
According to the message, Brig. Gen. Joseph Kershaw’s Army of Northern Virginia division had departed on the 15th. On September 19, Sheridan used the information to launch the Third Battle of Winchester, a significant Union success. After the war, the general sent a gold watch pendant to Wright to thank her. Without scout James Campbell, however, Law and Wright would never have connected with the Union commander.
During the next two months, Sheridan’s scouting contingents carried dispatches, kept an eye on their elusive counterparts and tried to stem the growing pestilence of Southern irregulars. That problem grew after the September 22 Union victory at Fisher’s Hill, 17 miles south of Winchester, when 2,000 or more Confederate stragglers scattered across the midportion of the Shenandoah Valley. Some of those men became bushwhackers, who fell upon Sheridan’s supply line from Harpers Ferry.
Anyone wearing blue was a target. Confederate irregulars were blamed for killing Lieutenant John Meigs on October 3. Meigs was the son of Union Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs and had served as Sheridan’s topographical engineer.
During the next week, the Federal army moved back down the Shenandoah Valley destroying crops. By October 10 the Federal army was in position on the north bank of Cedar Creek. A few days later, Sheridan was called away to Washington, and was not with his army when Early launched his surprise attack at Cedar Creek on the 19th. The Federals managed to carry the day, but just barely.
Sheridan was disturbed that his scouts had not provided him with better intelligence. Even though the scouts redeemed themselves by the precise information that they gave Sheridan as his army moved back to its winter line near Kernstown, he informally appointed Major Henry H. Young to his staff to serve as chief of scouts and answer directly to him.
Sheridan became concerned by a rise in Confederate partisan activity, most notably by Mosby’s Rangers, led by John S. Mosby, who wiped out their primary Union antagonists, Blazer’s Independent Scouts, on November 18. Captain John Mobberly’s Confederate band was also causing trouble, and Major Harry Gilmor, Lieutenant Jesse McNeill, Captain George Stump and Charles Seibert were leading their irregular bands in West Virginia.
Major Young, Sergeant Joseph McCabe of the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry and 40 scouts, guided by a local black man named Bob, surprised Seibert’s bushwhackers near Capon Springs on October 30. A series of running fights during the next few days resulted in the capture of Seibert and 17 of his followers.
Sheridan was so impressed with Young and McCabe’s venture that he had them reorganize the scouts. After the war, McCabe recalled: ‘I was ordered to take charge over the old men and organize as many men as I wanted. I picked out good men from different companies until I had about 60 men.’ Some scouts were left with the Cavalry Corps headquarters to work with that unit while others were assigned to different regiments, brigades and divisions. Confederate uniforms and suitable papers were part of the scouts’ day-to-day gear. Throughout the harsh winter of 1864-65, General Sheridan noted, ‘Not only did they bring me almost everyday intelligence from within Early’s lines but they also operated efficiently against the guerrillas infesting West Virginia.’
Some problems, however, developed among the scouts. When McCabe took a short furlough, Major Young assembled his largest detachment yet, 50 men including 15 scouts, to capture the Rebel picket line strung out from Edinburg, on the Valley Pike, seven miles to the west along Stony Creek to Columbia Furnace.
Without McCabe to assist him, Young made some mistakes–most of the troopers were inexperienced soldiers, and the expedition was launched in bitter cold weather on January 21, 1865. At sunup the next morning, Captain George Granstaff of the 12th Virginia Cavalry watched as Major Young and a few of his men brought forth a soldier’s corpse under a flag of truce, claiming they were bringing the body to a family in New Market. Granstaff accepted the body, gave Young a meal and then watched him leave. Shortly after, the scouts burst upon the line and captured 42 men, but Granstaff and many of his troopers managed to escape.
Young then led his force five miles north to Woodstock, where he unaccountably sat himself down to a leisurely breakfast. Meanwhile, a Woodstock resident saw Granstaff’s band, about 200 strong, approaching the village. The resident alerted scout Archibald Rowand Jr., but Rowand could not budge Young from his meal until shots and Rebel yells were ringing in the air.
Young’s men mounted and tried to flee, but outside the town the Union column was stampeded and a melee ensued. Young’s horse was shot out from under him, and the Rebels swarmed toward the dismounted major.
Scouts Rowand, Henry ‘Pony’ Chrisman and James Campbell rushed back to help. Campbell hoisted Young up behind him, and the four rode all the way to Fisher’s Hill before the Confederate pursuit halted. In a letter home, the shaken Rowand wrote: ‘We lost all of our prisoners. Eight scouts are gone, one known to be killed, three wounded, two mortally, and four captured, only one of the captured being dressed in full gray. Have heard he was shot after being taken.’ One of the captured, John Riley, broke free at Fisher’s Hill. In the 1890s, Rowand helped see that Campbell was awarded a Medal of Honor for saving Young.
Shortly afterward scout James White made his way back after ‘deserting’ from Harry Gilmor’s Southern command, where he had been gathering information on the guerrillas. By this time, Mosby had been seriously wounded and Sheridan was concerned that Gilmor would take his place.
Young’s scouts made intelligence sweeps through the region, turning up information that Gilmor would soon be holding a recruiting meeting in Moorefield, W.Va. Sheridan ordered 20 of Young’s scouts to lead 300 men commanded by Lt. Col. Edward Whitaker to capture the brazen Rebel.
On February 5, the Union soldiers entered Moorefield before daybreak during a snow squall. The scouts, as usual, posed as Rebels and located the Confederate headquarters three miles south of town. After dashing over fields, the Federals came to the home suspected to be the headquarters. Young knocked on the front door, and when it was opened by a black woman who worked there, he asked what soldiers were in the house. She at once replied, ‘Major Gilmor is upstairs.’
Gilmor later recalled that his bedroom door’suddenly opened, and five men entered with drawn pistols, and, although dressed as Confederates, I saw at a glance what they were . . . . My attention was arrested by feeling the muzzle of a pistol against my head . . . . ‘ In a few moments the scouts were hustling their captives northward.
The scouts’ success continued that day when they snared Rebel irregular leader Captain George Stump at his brother’s nearby home. Stump tried to pass himself off as his brother, but he was found out and tersely told he was going to be killed then and there. Instead of a rope or a knife, which Stump had been known to use on helpless prisoners, they would give him a 50-yard lead across the field. A scout recalled: ‘Captain Stump smiled, rode out, and we gave him the word `Go.’ We allowed him about ten rods start, then our pistols cracked, and he fell forward dead.’
The next major actions the scouts participated in were in the James River, Petersburg and Appomattox campaigns between February and April 1865. Grant ordered the James River expedition, wanting Sheridan to sever all major communication and supply links connecting the besieged Confederate army at Richmond and Petersburg with the Shenandoah Valley and points south.
Lynchburg, more than 100 miles west of Richmond and about 150 road miles south of Winchester, was the first strategic point that Grant directed Sheridan to seize. The railroads that intersected there, the James River Canal and regional military depots were to be destroyed. The Union valley commander’s scouts kept him well posted on every aspect of Early’s dispositions in the upper valley all winter long. The Confederate leader had several cantonments scattered in that region, with Staunton serving as a central connecting point.
During this time, Sheridan’s force was reorganized and he was put in overall command of Grant’s cavalry. On February 28, Sheridan’s men broke camp, and the scouts were soon in a fight outside New Market with Maj. Gen. Thomas Rosser’s Confederate cavalry. Years later, Rowand remembered that ‘at New Market we went after General Rosser and his escort, and Campbell was so reckless at that fight I asked him if he thought he could whip the whole Southern Confederacy himself.’ Camp was made at Lacey Spring, just north of Harrisonburg, and the march was resumed in the rainy weather, with small groups of irregulars pestering the Union flanks.
On March 1, the Federals passed through Harrisonburg, following the Valley Turnpike. The Rebels tried to use the swollen condition of the major watercourses to their advantage when Rosser’s few hundred cavalry attempted to obstruct and burn the bridge over the North Fork of the Shenandoah River at Mount Crawford. The scouts aggressively engaged the Confederates and alerted the nearest brigade commander to the blocked bridge. Two Union cavalry regiments swam across the river, outflanked the dismounted opposition and drove them pell-mell toward Staunton, which the Federals occupied on March 2. Then Sheridan decided to change course and momentarily forgo capturing Lynchburg to go after the remnants of Early’s Army of the Valley at Waynesboro, 12 miles to the southeast.
The Battle of Waynesboro was a Federal victory on the scale of Cedar Creek, and four scouts were sent north to Winchester so the news could be wired to Washington and to Grant at City Point, Va. Scout Michael Dunn led the detachment. Outside of Staunton, now reoccupied by the enemy, the scouts were recognized by some of Gilmor’s men, arrested and placed in jail. The intrepid quartet escaped that same night, captured four mounts and managed to reach Winchester in time for their report to reach City Point by March 5.
Over the next few days, while several raids destroyed tracks and bridges leading to Charlottesville, an in-cident half a day’s ride west of Staunton involved the scouts attached to army headquarters.
At Swoope’s Depot on the Virginia Central Railroad, Union Major Robert Douglass of the 1st Division reported he had been preceded by ‘a party of 15 men, clad in Rebel uniform’ known to be Federal scouts. Douglass subsequently heard from a local farmer that he ‘had been bribed…to spare his barn, containing a large amount of stores . . . . ‘ That questionable behavior, along with other similar acts committed by the scouts, led to the March 5 Field Order No. 2: ‘No division, brigade, or regimental commander in this command will be allowed to have men of their commands clothed in gray or Rebel uniform and acting as scouts. All such will be returned to duty with their regiments and must wear the uniforms of the U.S. Army. All scouts at these headquarters will, after today, have passes or papers, signed by the commanding general, to show that they are authorized to act in that capacity.’
Because the army was moving so quickly, however, that order was not immediately put into effect, and by March 10 Sheridan’s forces had reached Columbia, on the James River. The Yankee horsemen were worn and needed resupply, and the general realized he had to reach the supply base at White House Landing on the Pamunkey River before his men could press on with the Army of the Potomac.
Sheridan sent four of Major Young’s headquarters scouts to travel in pairs and alert Grant. Rowand and Campbell were chosen to ride around the northern perimeter of Richmond, while James White and Dominick Fannon had the dangerous job of slipping into the enemy works at Petersburg, ‘deserting’ at their first opportunity, then making their way into the Union lines.
Rowand remembered that he and Campbell ‘entered the enemy’s lines and passed within eight miles of Richmond…passing ourselves off for General Rosser’s scouts . . . . ‘ The pair made it close to the Chickahominy River before they were discovered and chased.
Upon reaching the James River, Rowand swam his horse out to a small boat and let the beast swim back to shore while he got in the vessel, picked up Campbell and made for a point north of Harrison’s Landing. They beached their skiff and walked 10 miles through the swampy forests until they came upon the Union picket line. They were then taken to City Point, where their appearance caused a considerable stir. General Grant soon had the message and quickly made arrangements to have the requisite supplies sent to White House Landing. White and Fannon also survived their risky journey, but did not make it to City Point until some days later.
On March 12 at Frederick’s Hall, 35 miles northwest of Richmond, scouts gave Sheridan extremely valuable intelligence about Rebel preparations being made to thwart his eastward advance. Using that knowledge, Sheridan was able to maneuver to miss his opponents and arrive at White House Landing on March 19, where his men remained for 10 days before joining the direct efforts to break Lee’s Petersburg lines.
On March 27, the field order requiring the scouts attached to specified contingents to wear their regulation Federal uniforms was finally implemented, and around the same time some scouts were sent back to their units. Major Young had about 30 headquarters scouts at the time, and his men continued to wear Confederate uniforms in which they posed as men of the 9th Virginia Cavalry in Maj. Gen. W.H.F. ‘Rooney’ Lee’s division. Telegraph key sets were provided to a few select men, and all their genuine Union passes and counterfeit Rebel papers were reissued to suit their new work against Lee’s army.
General Grant’s finishing strategy was for Sheridan’s Cavalry Corps to gain Five Forks, then cut the South Side Railroad beyond Lee’s right flank. Grant reasoned that once Lee caved in under the Union offensive, his next move would be west and then south. It was thought he would try to unite with General Joseph Johnston’s army in North Carolina via the Richmond & Danville Railroad.
Orders were passed to Sheridan to move to Dinwiddie Court House a few miles south of Five Forks on March 29, with strong infantry support to follow. Sergeant McCabe wrote that the scouts were ‘ordered to go to Din-waedy Cot House som 18 mile from Petersburgh. We got thair and it Rained all that Night and the General got up with his troops and the Scouts was kept going all Night in the Rain trying to cut the wires and Locate the Rebel lines. We found a Big force of the Rebels at 5 foks and the Scouts was kept Buesy watching Waid Hampton, Fitsu Lee, and Wm Harry Lee.’
Young’s detachments preceded the mounted thrust westerly across the Weldon Railroad to the courthouse road junction. Things went well for the Union. On April 1, Sheridan routed the Rebels at Five Forks, and the blue-coated infantry had cracked the Petersburg front by the evening of April 2.
Lee’s army was soon retreating westward on the north side of the Appomattox River, with the exception of one wing to the south of it that was hurrying along the Namozine Road. Their collective goal was Amelia Court House, where rations and ammunition would be issued prior to the march down the Richmond & Danville line through Jetersville, eight miles distant, and thence through Burkeville, the same distance, by the night of the 4th.
Notwithstanding their obvious predicament, the Confederate wing south of the river made good time, with W.H.F. Lee’s division serving as the rear guard. On the 3rd, Maj. Gen. George Custer’s cavalry caught up with Lee at Namozine Church, and it took only half an hour for him to defeat a North Carolina brigade. Southern Brig. Gen. Rufus Barringer tried to escape through a patch of woods, but later recalled, ‘I found it picketed…I was taken prisoner…Maj. Young and party especially Sgt. McCabe, treated us well. Taken to Sheridan’s H. Qtrs.’
McCabe and his party of five men had presented themselves as being from the 9th Virginia Cavalry. When McCabe saw Barringer, he rode ‘out and Met him and Shook hands with him and We Road Back into the Squad and after geting all the information from them…we asked him to Surrender . . . . They handed over their armes and we tooke them to Head Quats . . . . I got my Medal of Honor for capturing the General.’
On April 4, while one group of Young’s men caught up on their sleep, others fanned out ahead of the Federal cavalry columns. The Federal troopers secured Jetersville in the afternoon, and one staff officer, Lt. Col. Frederic Newhall, witnessed Major Young in a ‘little thicket by the side of the railroad, his horses tied to the trees, and a score of his men with cocked carbines imposing silence on a regiment of prisoners, and bagging unsuspecting game which his mounted decoys were leading in.’
On April 5, some of the scouts from Brig. Gen. Henry Davies’ brigade crashed into Rebel wagon trains that had just crossed over the river at Clementown Bridge. The blue thunderclap drove away a mounted escort and captured a battery of cannons. Scout James Campbell took two flags. As a reward, he was selected to take an urgent dispatch to General Grant that afternoon to urge the Army of the Potomac to move more quickly.
Campbell delivered the message to Grant at his headquarters 10 miles east of Burkeville, and the scouts then led him north that night to meet and deliberate with Maj. Gen. George G. Meade. Two sets of scouts set out from the meeting a little past 10 p.m., heading for Maj. Gen. Edward O.C. Ord’s XVIII Corps headquarters to order him to advance across the rail line and cut roads leading southward. One pair was captured, though they were spared execution.
On April 6, Sheridan’s men were to strike at Deatonville to disrupt the enemy wagon trains as Lee’s army marched to Farmville and promised rations. Any scouts not’serving’ with the Confederates accompanied the incessant raids all up and down the extent of the retreat. As fate would have it, scouts captured General Barringer’s replacement, Colonel C.H. Cheek.
April 7 was another day of prolonged marching by both armies. To keep good communications between Sheridan and Grant, at least a third of Young’s scouts were detailed as couriers between the two generals.
In the dark hours before dawn on April 8, while some of the scouts rode with Major Young to seek out the Army of Northern Virginia’s flank, Sergeants McCabe and White led a small detachment to Appomattox Station in advance of the main cavalry column. Within a few miles of the station, the alert scouts learned that at least two trains were already stopped in the station, getting ready for the commissary wagons to take their rations to Lee’s army coming in from the east, and that another train was slowly coming up the tracks from Lynchburg.
White took a group of men along the tracks until they saw two engines, one pulling its cars and the other pushing them. He persuaded the engineer to head on into the station, for no time was to be lost unloading their supplies for the nearing army. White then rode back to meet the advancing Federals and tell them of their ruse. Custer’s division was sent to capture the trains.
The leading regiment in Custer’s division was the 2nd New York Cavalry, led by Colonel Alanson Randall, who recalled, ‘As we neared the station the whistles became more and more distinct, and a scout reported the trains rapidly unloading, and that the advance of the Rebel army was passing through Appomattox Courthouse.’ Four and a half hours of fighting led to the capture of the trains, more than 1,000 prisoners, at least 200 wagons and 28 artillery pieces. Grant received the message and was convinced the next day’s push would end things once and for all.
‘The Scouts was over in the Rebel lines, staid until after midnight,’ remembered McCabe years later, ‘and when we came out we Brote some of thair Pickets with us. Then the Scouts rested until daylight and…went into the Rebel Lines and got all the information we could.’ One daring scout, Private Abram Adkins, had even spent a day very near General Lee’s headquarters.
The next day, Palm Sunday, April 9, the Army of Northern Virginia surrendered at Appomattox. General Joseph Johnston’s Army of Tennessee, however, had not done so. On the night of April 26, the scouts performed their last wartime duty by helping to erect a bridge over the Staunton River. Johnston surrendered before any fighting between his men and any Army of the Potomac units occurred.
In Sheridan’s two final campaign reports, he expressed gratitude for the ‘invaluable information’ Major Young’s scouts brought in and requested that Young be given a brevet to lieutenant colonel. Most of the scouts returned to their original units and marched to Washington to participate in the Grand Review of the Army of the Potomac on May 23-24. For them the war was over. Such was not the case, however, with Sheridan, due to the touchy situation in Mexico, where hundreds of disgruntled ex-Confederates were involved in the fighting between Mexican nationalists and men under the foreign influence of France and its puppet ruler, Archduke Maximilian of Austria.
Young and several of his men accompanied their general to New Orleans, from where he commanded the U.S. forces along the border. By summer’s end most of the scouts had gone home. Young was mustered out of the Army but stayed in the Southwest. In the winter of 1866-67, his luck ran out while leading his own contingent of scouts fighting against Maximilian’s puppet regime. He was killed under mysterious circumstances along the Rio Grande.
James Campbell also stayed in the Army and served as a scout and guide out West during the Indian wars. He was among the first men to come upon his fallen comrades on the Little Bighorn battlefield in 1876 and helped mark their graves with temporary wooden headboards. His 1904 obituary stated: ‘He served as a volunteer scout with General Sheridan during the Civil War and is said to have furnished the general with information which led to the winning of the battle at Winchester.’
Campbell’s partner, Archibald Rowand Jr., practiced law in Pittsburgh, Pa., and the two kept in touch as they aged. Rowand also communicated with other scouts, such as McCabe, Chrisman and John Riley. In 1909 those four had their own reunion at Henry Chrisman’s home in Middletown, Va., in the Shenandoah Valley, taking the time to explore some of the sites of their wartime exploits. Two years later they participated in the commemorative exercises for the unveiling in Providence, R.I., of The Scout, a statue in honor of hometown hero Lt. Col. Henry Young.
This article was written by Allan L. Tischler and originally appeared in the November 2003 issue of America’s Civil War.
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America’s Civil War: Philip Sheridan
In late spring and early summer of 1862, the fighting in northern Mississippi centered on the small town of Booneville. Besides being a station on the Mobile & Ohio Railroad, Booneville became, after the Confederate withdrawal from Corinth, the advance outpost of the Union army in the Magnolia State. It was there that ‘Little Phil’ Sheridan won his brigadier’s star.
On May 27, 1862, Captain Philip Sheridan’s fortunes took a sudden leap forward. For five months he had toiled as a supply officer in one rear-echelon capacity or another. In one eventful day he moved from being an inconspicuous staff officer to commanding his own regiment. It was the beginning of a legendary career.
When the U.S. War Department promoted Colonel Gordon Granger to brigadier general, the 2nd Michigan Cavalry needed a new commanding officer. Governor Austin Blair of Michigan, hoping to avoid having to make the choice himself, wanted the new commander to be a professional soldier, as Granger was. Blair was traveling with the Union armies besieging Corinth, and learned about Sheridan from Captain Russell A. Alger and Lieutenant Frank Walbridge, a regimental quartermaster who knew Sheridan well.
On the 27th, Alger and Walbridge rode all night to hand-deliver a telegram to Sheridan issued by the Michigan adjutant general: ‘Captain Philip H. Sheridan is hereby appointed Colonel of the Second Regiment Michigan Cavalry to rank from this date.’ Sheridan had been seeking just such a combat position for several months, but his commander, Maj. Gen. Henry Halleck, found him more valuable as a supply officer. The Ohio-bred Sheridan was with the army at that time only because he had persuaded Halleck’s assistant adjutant general — an old friend — to order him to join the army in the field near Shiloh, Tenn. Halleck, in fact, thought Sheridan was still in Illinois buying horses.
With the telegram in hand, Sheridan eagerly went to see his commanding general. War Department policy prohibited Regular Army officers from commanding volunteer units without Department approval, because Regulars were believed to be too strict for volunteer soldiers to abide. Citing that policy, Halleck refused to authorize Sheridan’s promotion.
The dejected Sheridan returned to his quarters with the news. Alger and Walbridge convinced him to try again. ‘Enlarging on my desire for active service with troops, and urging the utter lack of such opportunity where I was, I pleaded my cause until General Halleck finally resolved to take the responsibility of letting me go without consulting the War Department,’ Sheridan wrote in his memoirs. When Sheridan thanked him, the general told him to hurry to join the 2nd Michigan because the regiment was about to go on a raid behind the Confederate lines.
During the six weeks since the Battle of Shiloh, three Union armies had closed in on the strategic rail center of Corinth, Miss. Major General John Pope, the commander of the Army of the Mississippi on the Union left, expected the Confederates to withdraw at any time. Granger, now commanding Pope’s cavalry division, ordered Colonel Washington Elliott to take his 2nd Cavalry Brigade around Corinth to strike the Mobile & Ohio Railroad about 22 miles below Corinth at Booneville.
Sheridan arrived at the 2nd Michigan Cavalry’s bivouac near Farmington around 8 p.m. He immediately summoned the regiment’s officers to introduce himself. Between midnight and 1 o’clock, the bugles signaled that it was time to ride. Sheridan rode to war wearing an infantry captain’s uniform with a pair of ‘well-worn’ colonel’s eagles given him by Granger.
The 2nd Cavalry Brigade consisted of the 2nd Iowa and the 2nd Michigan. With Elliott commanding the brigade, Lt. Col. Edward Hatch commanded his old regiment.
The hilly countryside around Corinth was not well-suited to cavalry operations. Accordingly, the cavalry found itself restricted to roads or railroad tracks. Elliott’s brigade rode southeast through very rough country toward Yellow Creek. Crossing at the main ford, the brigade reached the Memphis & Charleston Railroad two miles west of Iuka late the next evening.
By then the Confederates knew that the Union cavalry was on the move. Colonel William R. Bradfute commanded a cavalry outpost at Jacinto, midway between Iuka and Booneville. In the evening, a company arrived from Iuka with news of Elliott’s column. Bradfute deployed the few cavalry units under his command at Booneville. He placed Lt. Col. Robert McCulloch’s Arkansas cavalry and one company of Brig. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest’s regiment in Booneville on the west side of the railroad so that it commanded the road by which the enemy would approach. He put Lt. Col. Charles McNairy’s Tennessee Battalion 1 1/2 miles below Booneville on the east side of the railroad. All told, he had about 400 men to defend the town.
At dawn on the 29th, Elliott’s brigade started forward again, this time riding southwest through country filled with swamps. About 3 o’clock the next morning, the Union cavalry arrived at the outskirts of Booneville.
While Bradfute thought he had enough men to defend the town, most of the defenders had already left. He confronted McCulloch about the disappearance of his battalion the next day. ‘I asked him why he did not remain in his position overnight,’ Bradfute said. ‘He reported that Colonel Orr had ordered him to move his command to the railroad bridge by order of General [P.G.T.] Beauregard.’
Booneville was more than just another place on the railroad. Stranded there was a fully loaded supply train bulging with artillery, arms and ammunition. The train had been scheduled to leave 48 hours earlier, but had been delayed by what General Beauregard, Johnston’s second in command, termed ‘mismanagement.’
Because the main Confederate force lay behind them, Hatch tried to cut communications between Booneville and Corinth. Upon arrival, he sent a lieutenant with a six-man detail to cut the telegraph line. They tried twice to destroy the wire, but both times they were run off by alert Confederate cavalry.
At dawn on the 30th Elliott deployed his two regiments about a quarter mile from the Confederate camp. Hatch’s regiment was on the right, with Sheridan’s to the left and a little behind the 2nd Iowa.
Elliott advanced his regiments in two columns, after leaving part of each regiment behind as a reserve. Hatch was directed to take half the 2nd Iowa straight into Booneville, while Sheridan took half the 2nd Michigan to burn a bridge on the Mobile & Ohio Railroad south of town.
Hatch cut the telegraph wire and tore up the railroad with one squadron while another advanced over the railroad. The few healthy Confederate troops remaining in town immediately surrendered. Also captured were 2,000 sick and wounded Confederates.
Hatch reported later that his men had also destroyed ‘13,000 stand of arms, equipments for 10,000 men, and an immense amount of stores and ammunition.’ He also noted, ‘Some of our men, going too far from us in their zeal to destroy, were attacked — killed, wounded, or taken prisoners.’
Beauregard told a different story, writing to his superiors in Richmond: ‘I regret to add that the enemy also burned the railroad depot, in which were at the moment a number of dead bodies and at least four sick soldiers of this army, who were consumed — an act of barbarism scarcely credible and without a precedent to my knowledge in civilized warfare.’
Sheridan’s men rode rapidly to the railroad, then down it 1 1/2 miles without discovering any bridges or culverts to destroy. The nearest bridge was at Baldwin, nine miles farther down the track, but a report said that three Confederate regiments and a battery guarded it. Sheridan gave orders to destroy the railroad at four different places. ‘I concluded that I could best accomplish the purpose for which I had been detached — crippling the road — by tearing up the tracks, bending the rails, and burning the cross-ties,’ he reported. ‘This was begun with alacrity at four different points, officers and men vieing [sic] with one another in the laborious work of destruction.’ Since they had few tools, they accomplished this destruction by lifting the track from its bed, turning it over, and subjecting it to heat from burning fence rails.
By then, Bradfute knew of the Union attack. Pickets arrived at McNairy’s bivouac with word that Union cavalry was in Booneville, something the Confederate colonel did not understand, since he thought that McCulloch still held the town. Alarmed, Bradfute led McNairy’s battalion toward Booneville. En route, he came across a column of sick Confederates being marched to Iuka under guard. He routed the Federals and followed them as they retreated toward the railroad.
The Confederate troopers soon stumbled upon the Union reserve. Captain Archibald Campbell had dismounted part of the 2nd Michigan Cavalry, and Bradfute believed that about 300 troopers faced him in line of battle, while another 1,000 mounted men waited in reserve behind them. He decided that the best course of action was to fall back about 200 yards to the rear. The Union cavalry subsequently made one attack on his lines before withdrawing to its original position.
Elliott now began to worry about a Confederate counterattack. He heard reports that the Confederate cavalry was massing south of Booneville. To make matters worse, Halleck’s methodical advance on Corinth had finally succeeded. Beauregard had evacuated the town during the night. The entire Confederate army was now between the Union raiders and the main Union forces at Corinth. Elliott felt that he had to move quickly if his command was to escape the rapidly closing trap.
Elliot remained in Booneville until he was sure the Confederates could not put out the fires that Hatch’s men had started. For two or three hours after leaving, he could hear the sound of ammunition exploding inside Booneville. The brigade returned to Farmington to rest.
After the Union victory at Corinth, Pope sought to capture part of Beauregard’s rear guard with a quick, concerted movement. After one day’s rest, Elliott’s brigade was back at Booneville, passing through it toward Blackland on June 4. Besides the two regiments, they had four pieces of artillery. Eight miles from Booneville, they crossed a narrow bridge over Twenty Mile Creek. On the high ground on the far bank, Sheridan’s cavalrymen came upon an enemy in force. Campbell dismounted one battalion of the regiment to hold the enemy in place while the rest of the men crossed the creek. In the small skirmish that followed, Sheridan suffered his first casualties, three men killed and nine wounded. The regiment fell back to Booneville.
On May 27, Sheridan had been a supply captain. Less than two weeks later, he commanded his own cavalry brigade. Elliott was promoted to brigadier general on June 11, and Pope immediately appointed him as his chief of staff. As the ranking officer in the brigade, Sheridan took command of the 2nd Cavalry Brigade. His good luck was holding steady.
The 2nd Cavalry Brigade had been part of Pope’s Army of the Mississippi when it captured Island No. 10, and the troopers had been in the saddle daily since their arrival near Pittsburg Landing at the end of April. In mid-June they again returned to Farmington to rest, but on June 26 Sheridan received orders to take the brigade back to Booneville for a third time.
The Union armies were still in Corinth. Sheridan’s brigade would serve as an outpost if the Confederates tried to make a sudden sortie against them. Sheridan quickly realized that his exposed position was vulnerable to Confederate cavalry. As soon as he arrived there, he surveyed the surrounding countryside to make his own maps. ‘I must confess that my crude sketch did not evidence much artistic merit, but it was an improvement on what we already possessed,’ he said, ‘for it was of the first importance that in our exposed condition we should be equipped with a thorough knowledge of the section in which we were operating.’
Changes had occurred in the Confederate Army, as well. With Beauregard ill, General Braxton Bragg became commander. Bragg appointed Brig. Gen. James R. Chalmers to command the army’s cavalry. On June 30, Bragg set in motion a series of operations that would result in another skirmish at Booneville. The results of the fighting would be many times greater than the fight itself.
With Southern forces now concentrated at Tupelo, Bragg ordered Brig. Gen. John M. Withers’ division, designated the reserve corps, to march on Ripley, Miss., about 20 miles northwest of Booneville. He told Chalmers to screen the infantry advance and ‘make a corresponding move with the cavalry, say 1,200 or 1,500, via Blackland, striking any enemy there and brushing him away, and by a feint create the impression that you are after Rienzi; then suddenly make for Ripley, but in rear of the enemy, so that he cannot retreat.’ Bragg hoped the cavalry could continue on to the Memphis & Charleston Railroad, where they could tear up track and burn bridges.
A train of empty wagons was in the area, and Bragg ordered Chalmers to bring them along to salvage any military supplies they might capture. Chalmers’ immediate objective, however, was Sheridan’s exposed brigade at Booneville.
Both of Sheridan’s regiments were armed with modern rifles. The 2nd Michigan had Colt revolving rifles, while each trooper of the 2nd Iowa carried a Sharp’s carbine. Lieutenant Leonidas Scranton of the 2nd Michigan commanded a company at the bridge over Kings Creek on the road toward Blackland. The Union picket line was 3 1/2 miles from Booneville.
The Union pickets were nervous. They had heard about a Confederate raid at dawn on June 28, when about 70 Rebel cavalrymen had attacked the 3rd Michigan’s picket line to the west near Blackland, capturing one man and wounding another.
Chalmers divided his force, giving Mississippi Cavalry Colonel Wirt Adams command of the 1st Division. Adams had under his command the 6th Confederate Cavalry Regiment of Colonel John Lay and the 8th Confederate Regiment of Colonel William B. Wade, as well as four companies of his own regiment. His entire division consisted of only 750 men.
Chalmers ordered Adams to have his men carry three days’ cooked rations. The Mississippi Cavalry left Saltillo at 6 a.m. on the 30th and rode to Brice’s Store, 12 miles to the north. There they waited until the other four companies of his regiment arrived before riding toward Blackland at 5 p.m. Two miles from town, Adams had his command bivouac for the night.
At 3 a.m., Chalmers ordered Adams to advance on Booneville. Lay led the advance, with Wade in the middle and Adams’ regiment bringing up the rear. Adams reported that ‘the purpose of the expedition, and plan of the same, was to attack the central one of three cavalry encampments of the enemy, reported to be situated [at] Wolf Creek and Osborne’s Creek.’
Lay deployed one company in front, with more men as flankers on each side. Following the main road, they passed through Blackland toward Booneville. When his advance struck the Union picket line, Adams ordered the lieutenant in command to try to cut off the retreat of the Union troopers. Because of fields on both sides of the road, the Confederates could not approach without being seen. They would have to charge down the road.
Although Adams had field command, Chalmers meddled in operations. Without Adams’ knowledge, he ordered Captain Isaac F. Harrison to take two companies to the right to try to cut off the retreat of the Union troopers.
Scranton immediately realized that the Confederates were trying to turn his flanks. After his men fired a few volleys, he had them fall back to a new position. Later he had them retreat to the junction of two roads. By the time Harrison’s forces arrived on the road beyond the bridge, Scranton’s men had already retreated beyond them.
The Confederate cavalry advanced down the road, but soon stumbled into the Union troopers ‘in stronger force’ than expected, Adams reported. As soon as he heard about the attack, Sheridan ordered Captain Campbell to take a squadron out to see what was going on. When Campbell arrived at the intersection, he found Scranton’s dismounted men firing at the Confederates from cover. Campbell took command of the defense. Sheridan soon sent him another squadron of the 2nd Michigan with orders to hold the enemy until reinforced. If necessary, he was to fall back slowly.
Sheridan ordered Hatch to leave one company behind to guard the town. The rest of the 2nd Iowa — less its two saber companies — was to form in a mounted line behind the 2nd Michigan to cover the flanks and support it by a counterattack if the enemy broke through.
During the Civil War, Union cavalry regiments had a degree of specialization. Most of the troopers of a regiment were trained to fight on foot, but two or more companies — designated saber companies — were kept as a mounted reserve. Sheridan placed two saber companies from each regiment under the command of Captain Alger. Using his hard-won knowledge of the terrain, Sheridan sent Alger on a hidden route through a densely wooded area that would bring him into the Confederate rear on the Blackland Road. Led by a guide, the 90 Federals set out.
Until the fighting reached the junction of the roads, the Confederates had attacked on horseback. As they approached the Federal line, they dismounted and advanced through fields on both sides of the road. Adams was unaware that Sheridan had reinforced the Union pickets. He ordered Lay to try to capture the entire force. Two dismounted companies would advance down the road while two more attempted to move around behind the Union position to cut the enemy soldiers off.
As the Confederates advanced, they were hit by heavy fire from the hidden Union troopers. Chalmers sent word for him ‘to push them hard.’ By then, Adams had concluded he faced an entire regiment instead of just a picket force.
Chalmers continued to interfere with Adams’ plan. Unknown to the colonel, Chalmers had detached Wade’s 8th Cavalry Regiment and sent it down the road to the left. Coming down the Blackland Road, Wade struck the right of the Union line.
With the Union fire becoming heavier, Adams ordered the two flanking companies to rejoin the column. All four companies would attack down the road. As his troops moved into position, another message came from Chalmers. Adams reported that Chalmers told him ‘to push on down the road to Booneville, and if I would not do so, to give way to Colonel [James Holt] Clanton’s command.’ Adams could see no use in attacking down the road on horseback in a column of twos or fours. The column would be wracked by Union fire, and the Confederates troopers would have no opportunity to return fire. Instead, Adams ordered his dismounted regiment to deploy on the right side of the road while Lay’s regiment deployed on the left. As the two regiments advanced on foot, the 1st Alabama Cavalry charged down the road past them in columns of four. Adams reported that he had no idea whether this charge had any success, but the Union line still held.
Adams continued to attack until he thought he had driven the Union troopers from their position. The Confederates were still far from capturing the Union camp when the attacks stopped.
Collecting his regiment, Adams moved to the left to report to Chalmers on the Blackland Road at Mount Ratcliffe. Part of Lay’s regiment joined them there, where they rested for an hour or two. Perhaps Chalmers thought that by protecting the advance of the reserve corps he had accomplished his mission. Still, it is inexplicable why he chose to wait within striking range of the enemy.
After sending Alger on his way, Sheridan ordered Hatch to move part of his regiment to the left flank. If the opportunity occurred, they were to make a mounted charge. Hatch put part of his regiment on the left under Major Datus E. Coon.
When he heard about Alger’s column maneuvering in behind them, Adams ordered his regiment to form a mounted line facing to the rear. Lay’s regiment was 75 to 100 yards ahead of Adams, on the left.
As the Union cavalry appeared in sight, it formed in a line. Yelling and firing their revolvers, the blue-clad troopers attacked Lay’s regiment, which then fell back in confusion on Adams’ line. Wanting to give his men a chance to use their shotguns, Adams ordered an advance at a walk. As his line struck Alger’s force, Coon’s battalion of the 2nd Iowa Cavalry came at them from behind.
In an effort to escape the closing vise, the Confederate cavalry charged down the road toward Alger’s men. Alger immediately ordered a retreat, and while engaged in a running gunfight with a Confederate trooper, he collided with a tree and was sent crashing to the ground. Most of Alger’s force turned onto a side road and lost the Confederate pursuers. Adams called a halt to the chase after 10 miles because his horses were exhausted. When he encountered a swamp, Coon likewise halted his battalion.
The next day Sheridan informed Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans that he had driven off a force of 5,000 men. This was generous. While that might be a reasonable number of men for seven regular regiments, the Confederate regiments were greatly understrength. If anything, the force Chalmers used to attack Sheridan was probably little larger than the Union force of 900.
For years there was disagreement about the exact number of casualties. ‘Our loss in this affair was: Killed, 1; wounded, 24; missing, 16. Total casualties, 41,’ Sheridan reported. ‘The loss of the enemy must have been severe, as we were occupying good positions all the time and well covered, while they used the open ground for their deployment. They have taken a number of wagons from the people to carry off their dead and wounded. Among the wounded that fell into our hands are two lieutenants, who will die.’ Adams, however, claimed he had only four men wounded, but that was just in his regiment.
Until his death in 1916, Lieutenant William Richards claimed that he was the only Confederate casualty of the battle at Booneville. When he read Sheridan’s report years after the war, he asked Chalmers to make an accurate statement about the number of casualties his force had suffered. The former Confederate general by then was a Republican politician. Not wanting to offend his former Union supporters, he refused to say anything.
Although the engagement was minor, it had two important results. The Union Army continued to expand, continually creating new positions. To protect Washington during the Peninsula campaign, the Army of Virginia was created, and John Pope was sent to command it. Rosecrans took command of the Army of the Mississippi. Henry Halleck arrived in Washington to command all the Union armies.
The brief fight at Booneville solidified Sheridan’s chances of becoming a general. On July 30, Rosecrans and four other brigadier generals — Granger, Elliott, Jeremiah Sullivan and Alexander Asboth — sent a message to Halleck. ‘Brigadiers scarce; good ones scarcer…the undersigned respectfully beg that you will obtain the promotion of Sheridan. He is worth his weight in gold.’ When Sheridan’s promotion to brigadier general came through in September, Halleck saw that it was backdated to July 1 — the date of the fight at Booneville.
The second consequence occurred a year and a half later. By then, Ulysses S. Grant had become the commander of all the Union armies, with Halleck as his chief of staff. During the winter, Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton made himself politically unacceptable to command the cavalry corps of the Army of the Potomac by virtue of his intemperate attacks on Maj. Gen. George Meade before Congress’ Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. That merely sealed his fate, however, as Grant wanted someone more energetic to command the cavalry.
In late March, Grant met with Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to discuss the situation regarding Pleasonton’s replacement. Grant wanted Maj. Gen. William Franklin, but Franklin’s lackluster performance at the Battle of Fredericksburg had made him unacceptable to Stanton.
Halleck was at the meeting, and he may have been thinking about Booneville. During a pause in the discussion, Halleck suggested, ‘What about Sheridan?’
This article was written by Robert C. Suhr and originally appeared in the May 2000 issue of America’s Civil War. For more great articles be sure to pick up your copy of America’s Civil War.
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