Thursday, August 30, 2012

Findings of the Warren Court of Inquiry

I downloaded and read the 60-page Findings of the Court of Inquiry and Reviews of the Judge-Advocate-general and of the General of the Army in the case of Major-General G. K. Warren, 1883.

There is nothing in them that indicate Warren should be "exonerated" so the exoneration must have occurred afterward, perhaps by President Hayes. I'll quote a few of the courts findings that seem representative:

In one case the court (or the Judge-Advocate General speaking for the court) found, ". . . It is believed that General Warren's failure to march during the night of March 31, as instructed, tended to defeat the expectations of the Lieutenant-General, and that General Sheridan was justified in remarking thereon, in his report, as he was charged with the direction and command of all the forces operating against the enemy between Dinwiddie Court-House and Five Forks at the time, and every incident connected with that service was a legitimate subject for remark in his official report of operations."

At another point the court found " . . . But the plain meaning of the order to Warren was not that he should go down to Dinwiddie to Sheridan, but that he should press the enemy in the rear . . . cut of their retreat, and capture or destroy them in the morning, in conjunction with Sheridan's command."

On page 49, the Court found, "It is evident that General Sheridan was seriously impressed by the behavior of General Warren in not making some personal exertion to hurry up the marching of his corps to the place of formation for the attack, and his apathy, or apparent apathy, in this respect led, no doubt, to the inference that he 'wished the sun might go down before the dispositions for the attack could be completed,' and although 'Warren remained near Gravelly Run Church directing the formation, explaining the mode of attack to the division and brigade commanders, with sketches prepared for the purpose,' yet Sheridan with his staff was also present and engaged in doing the same labor, and Warren, being well known to his brigade and division commanders, would have done far more to expedite the movement if he had ridden back with his staff and personally urged forward the divisions. It is believed that the Fifth Corps in this instance, numbering about 10,000 effective men, should have marched up to the place of formation within two hours at the most, from the time the order was given at 1 o'clock, and that the formation should, at all events, have been effected at a much earlier hour than 4 o'clock."

On page 51 the court finds, ". . . yet it may be stated as being undeniably true that General Sheridan deemed the confusion of a serious character, for he actually sent an officer of his staff to General Merritt, commanding the cavalry corps, to suspend the attack of the cavalry for the reason that the infantry was not coming up to its work, and General Merritt so testified, p. 846), General Sheridan testified, and the court reports, that General Warren was observant of the confusion in Ayres's division, but he made no personal exertion to remedy this confusion."

General Sheridan is quoted as saying, "There are certain conditions that I always adhered to during the war, in reference to the commanding officers of troops -- and that was in reference to their taking risk -- that I never wanted them to put themselves in danger except if confusion existed among their troops which might result in defeating those troops; then I held that the commanding officer should go out there and take his chances the same as the men."

In response to Sheridan's quote, the Judge-Advocate General said, "I think that this is quite a reasonable rule in such cases, and the rule by which the conduct of commanding officers should be determined; is not severe nor exacting too much from them; and that General Sheridan had a right to expect some personal exertion on the part of General Warren towards remedying the confusion."

At the end, Judge-Advocate-General writes, "I think it will be seen from the evidence that reasonable grounds existed justifying the statements contained in the reports of Generals Grant and Sheridan affecting General Warren, and that the act of General Sheridan in relieving General Warren from command as he did was the exercise of a discretion with which he was clothed, and in so doing there is nothing to show that he was actuated by other than patriotic and justifiable motives." it is signed,
D. G. Swaim,

The Findings are accompanied by a two-page "Report of the General of the Army." The last two paragraphs of this report read, "My conclusion is that General Sheridan was perfectly justified in his action in this case, and he must be fully and entirely sustained if the United States expects great victories by her armies in the future.

"All the other branches settled by this court belong to the domain of history rather than military inquiry."
This report is signed,
W. T. Sherman,

Comment: I will be very interested in finding out what happened between the publishing of these "Findings" in 1883 and the "exoneration of Warren" that is referred to in a number of places and is undoubtedly the accepted fact.

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