Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sheridan and General Curtis

Wittenburg (on page 4 of his Little Phil) writes, "After Pea Ridge, Sheridan had a falling out with Curtis, who wanted to replace Sheridan with a crony. Curtis prevailed, and a forlorn Sheridan reported to Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, looking for work."

Here is the more detailed, and I believe accurate account provided in pages 52-55 of Morris's biography of Sheridan:

". . . some of Sheridan's subordinates had been stealing horses from local farmers and selling them back to the army at a profit. Sheridan, in his position as quartermaster, controlled the army's purse strings, and immediately put a stop to their sport by declaring such horses captured property, branding 'US' on their flanks, and refusing to pay the thieves a penny. 'Misled by the representations that had been made, and without fully knowing the circumstances,' Curtis ordered Sheridan, in essence, to shut up and pay the men. In a letter to Major Thomas J. McKinney, Curtis's adjutant, Sheridan pointedly refused, adding somewhat injudiciously that 'I will not jayhawk or steal on any order, nor will I acknowledge the right of any person under my supervision in this district to do so.' Quartermasters did not ordinarily use such language to their commanding generals, particularly one who had just preserved the entire state of Missouri for the Union. Curtis came back from the front in high feather, immediately had Sheridan placed under arrest, and drew up a lengthy and self-justifying bill of particulars, charging among other things that Sheridan had disobeyed a standing order to provide horses and supplies for the army, had remained behind 'where he was not needed,' and -- this was the real bone in Curtis's craw -- had been disrespectful.

"although in later years he sought to downplay the incident as 'the culmination of a little difference that had arisen between General Curtis and me,' Sheridan at the time was mortified and furious. . ."

"Curtis went to some pains to explain to Halleck why his young protégé, who had so noticeably distinguished himself in the four months he had been in Missouri, had suddenly and culpably become a drag on the service. With tortured logic he blamed the jayhawking on Sheridan himself, noting to Halleck's assistant adjutant general that if quartermasters would only furnish adequate supplies, such extracurricular stealing could be controlled. Sheridan, he said, had left his troops the unpalatable choice of stealing or starving.

"Grenville Dodge and other concerned officers went to Curtis in Sheridan's behalf, a move that gained Sheridan nothing and won for his defenders the unsubtle warning that they, too, 'might possibly go the the rear with the over nice Quartermaster who must be learned what war was.' . . Sheridan asked Halleck for a transfer. It was rather hastily granted, as much perhaps to preserve the semblance of departmental unity as to placate Sheridan, and he returned to St. Louis 'somewhat forlorn and disheartened at the turn affairs had taken,' but nonetheless relieved to be away from Curtis."

Halleck "more to get him away from Curtis's reach than for any pressing administrative need . . . sent Sheridan -- with no apparent awareness of the irony involved -- on a horse-buying swing through Wisconsin and Illinois. . . He was still in Chicago, having made it the center of his horse-buying activities, when the first reports arrived of the terrible battle at Shiloh . . . Inflamed by reports from the battlefield, Sheridan hastened back to St. Louis, intent on asking Halleck for yet another favor . . . he rushed into army headquarters, only to discover he was five days late. Halleck had steamboated downriver to Pittsburg landing immediately after the battle to personally take command of the still-shaken Union forces . . . Sheridan importuned Halleck's assistant adjutant general, Colonel John C. Kelton, to send him to the front, and Kelton, who had been at West Point with him for three years consented. On April 15 he issued an order directing Sheridan to report in person to Halleck in Tennessee. That comradely bit of circumvention Sheridan would always consider the turning point in his military career, which is to say, his life."

Comment: Morris notes the irony involved in Halleck sending Sheridan on a horse-buying job after Curtis accused him of misdeeds in regard to horse-buying. Another bit of irony can be seen in what happened to Curtis after his Pea-Ridge victory " For his achievement, he was promoted to major general. After receiving his promotion, Curtis moved his army further into Arkansas and captured the city of Helena in July. In September of 1862, he was given command of the Department of Missouri; however, President Abraham Lincoln removed Curtis after Curtis stated abolitionist remarks, offending the governor of Missouri, William Gamble." [from ]

One might be tempted to use the modern saying "whatever goes around comes around. Sheridan got into trouble for saying the wrong things to General Curtis. General Curtis in turn got into trouble for saying the wrong thing to the Governor of Missouri. It is not enough, he and Sheridan may or may not have learned, to have the truth; one must dish it up as an attractive and sweet smelling meal.

No comments: