Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sheridan's excellent beginning

Sheridan was brilliant at logistics; so much so that Halleck wished to keep him always with him, but Sheridan ached to have a field command and eventually Halleck relented and let him have one. Morris on pages 67-74 describes his first battle as a brigade commander: The cautious and fearful Rosecrans sent Sheridan's small brigade (consisting of 827 soldiers) off to be a "trip wire. Sheridan was instructed to retreat "in good order" after encountering the enemy.

Bragg meanwhile sent Chalmers to "feint an attack on Sheridan's brigade." Chalmers with a much larger force saw no reason not to turn his "feint" into the destruction of Sheridan's small brigade.

Picking up the battle as it commences . . .

". . . Two Rebel regiments deployed on either side of the road; it soon became apparent, Sheridan said, that Chalmers 'meant business.' So too did Sheridan. He directed Campbell to hold where he was; if forced to retreat, he was to do so as slowly as possible. Rosecrans, from headquarters, sent much the same order to Sheridan himself. But Sheridan's stubborn fighting spirit, until now more directed at his superiors than at the enemy, had been aroused. In a dispatch to Brigadier General Alexander S. Asboth at nearby Rienzi, he flatly declared, 'I will not give up my camp without a fight.'"

". . . While Chalmer's Confederates deployed on either side of the road for a frontal assault on Campbell's position, Sheridan brought up the Second Iowa to act as reserve. Attacking across an open field, the Rebels were met by withering fire at a distance of less than thirty yards. The shower of bullets from the Colt revolvers staggered the attackers, allowing the Yankees to fall back toward Booneville. Chalmers had foreseen the difficulties of attacking head-on; double columns of mounted men were left on either flank. After a second frontal attack was beaten back -- literally -- by Campbell's defenders, Chalmers commenced a flanking movement, attempting to intersperse his cavalry between the Union defensive line and Sheridan's camp. A more panicky commander might have wilted under pressure. Sheridan did not. Instead . . . he 'determined to take the offensive.'"

Sheridan sent Captain Russell Alger with his 90-man regiment to circle around behind Chalmers to attack him from the rear in about an hour. While Sheridan waited a two-car supply train steamed into Booneville with grain for Sheridan's horses. The men in ranks knew that Sheridan had called earlier for reinforcements and thought they had arrived. They sent up a cheer. "Cannily, Sheridan augmented the noise by having the engineer blow his whistle to let the enemy know that a train had arrived. The combined cacophony of train whistles, enemy yells, rapid-fire rifles, and, presently, the ominous swish of sabers at their backs produced in the Rebels a profound sense of disquiet. In 'the utmost disorder,' they broke and ran. Throwing aside rifles, knapsacks, coats, and anything else that could slow them down, they hastened west down the Blackland Road."

"Disdaining Rosecrans's panicky order to retreat, [Sheridan] had demonstrated in his first independent command a coolness and resolve that were rare commodities in any officer, let alone one so new to the job."

Chalmers aide-de-camp made light of what had happened, calling it an "insignificant skirmish," but "there was no gainsaying the totality of his triumph, especially as viewed by his immediate superiors. The day after the battle, Rosecrans issued a general order praising 'the coolness, determination, and fearless gallantry displayed by Colonel Sheridan and the officers and men of his command.' . . . More to the point, Rosecrans recommended to Halleck . . . that his erstwhile quartermaster-commissary be made a brigadier general . . . Halleck wasted little time in passing along a similar recommendation to Secretary of war Edwin Stanton . . . on July 6. . . ."

After the campaign for Corinth was over "Sheridan's pickets roamed from Jacinto, nine miles east of Rienzi, to the Hatchie River, eleven miles west. Not much was going on militarily . . . still Sheridan kept busy, regularly sending his troops out on scout. . . Late in July his activity paid off. Colonel Hatch, at the head of a four-hundred-man force, raided the town of Ripley, where the 26th Alabama Regiment was . . . staying."

The Rebels got away but they left behind a "cache of their letters" which Sheridan read through and discovered that "the Confederates were moving large numbers of troops to intercept Buell at Chattanooga." He immediately forward this information up his chain of command. "The day after he alerted his superiors . . . five of them, Generals Rosecrans, Granger, Elliott, Asboth, and Jeremiah C. Sullivan, telegraphed Halleck in Washington: 'Brigadiers scarce. Good ones scarcer. . . . The undersigned respectfully beg that you will obtain the promotion of Sheridan. He is worth his weight in gold. His Ripley expedition has brought us captured letters of immense value.' The wheels of preferment were turning faster. And at army headquarters U. S. Grant, who forgot very little, had been given good cause to remember Phil Sheridan.

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