Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Sheridan and Averell per Morris

The following is from Sheridan, The Life and Wars of General Phil Sheridan by Roy Morris, 1992:

Page 185-6: "In addition to three infantry corps and twelve attached artillery batteries, approximately 35,000 troops in all, Sheridan was to have three divisions of cavalry at his disposal. He had already told Halleck at their meeting in Washington that 'for operations in the open country of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Northern Virginia, cavalry is much better than infantry.' Two of the divisions were his own, enroute from Army of the Potomac and commanded by brigadier Generals Alfred T. A. Torbert and James Harrison Wilson. The third, already on the scene in the Shenandoah Valley was headed by Brigadier General William W. Averell.

"Organizing the cavalry into an unofficial corps, Sheridan surprised everyone by naming Torbert to be its chief. His reasons for bypassing Averell, who was senior to Torbert and, many though, his superior as a soldier, were never spelled out. It may have been a desire on Sheridan's part to entrust the corps to an officer who had already served under him, as Averell had not. Or he may have intended it as a message to his new command that things were going to be different now, with Sheridan at the helm. It is also possible that he might have heard from Crook or others that Averell had performed badly at Kernstown, refusing to commit his horsemen to fight and thus allowing the Rebels to turn Crook's flank. Whatever the case, Torbert was duly installed as cavalry chief, and the disappointed Averell was brusquely told to follow orders."

Page 203-5: "Later that morning, his celebrated temper already frayed by Torbert's inexplicable conduct, Sheridan received a second bit of bad news from William Woods Averell, the ranking cavalryman on the scene and thus the unwitting target of his commanding general's self-nourishing wrath. Sheridan had assumed that Averell was somewhere south of the army, pursuing Early's 'perfect mob' of fugitives. Instead, Averell sauntered into camp from the north, having scorned further pursuit of the enemy and blithely bedded down for the night while Sheridan and the infantry continued harrowing the worsted Rebels. Hot words ensued between the two, and Sheridan sent Averell away with the pointed injunction that he find some Rebels to fight -- and soon. Incredibly, Averell ignored both that direct order and a follow-up note from Sheridan calling for 'actual fighting, with necessary casualties,' choosing instead to go into camp before dark that afternoon. Sheridan quickly learned of the insubordinate behavior, and by midnight Averell was en route to Wheeling, West Virginia, out of Sheridan's army, and sight, for good.

"The total breakdown of cavalry pursuit enabled the enemy to get safely away and left Sheridan in the unusual position of being about the only man in his army -- Averell excepted -- who was at all disappointed by the twin victories at Winchester and Fisher's Hill. At Petersburg, Grant greeted the news with another of his patented live-ammunition salutes; other commanders across the country followed suit. Sheridan's showing, Grant told him, 'wipes out much of the stain upon our arms by previous disasters in that locality.' Keep on, he added, 'and your good work will cause the fall of Richmond.'

"Sheridan, for his part was not so sure. 'Our success,' he noted, 'was very great, yet I had anticipated results still more pregnant.' Early's army, although twice beaten and no doubt downhearted, nevertheless remained undestroyed, sheltering in the Blue Rudge Mountains and awaiting more reinforcements from the indomitable Lee. . . ."

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