Saturday, August 25, 2012

Sheridan's mission near Trevilian

I quoted Stackpole to say, ". . . and [Sheridan] was never willing to admit defeat, regardless of the odds."

Viperlord responded with "Would this refer to Sheridan's deceitful report on the Battle of Trevilian Station, where despite numerical and technological superiority, he was firmly halted and failed to accomplish any of his objectives, was pursued and nearly run down by Confederate cavalry, and tried to sacrifice Gregg's division to enable Torbert and his supply train to get away without a fight?"

The goal posts have been moved a bit. Stackpole said Sheridan was never willing to admit defeat, regardless of odds." That was the original point in question. The Battle of Trevilian occured, Sheridan won it, but perhaps Sheridan was "defeated' in regard to the orders he received from Grant. Let's check:

According to Morris (p 175 of Sheridan, The Life and Wars of General Phil Sheridan) the following describes Grant's orders to Sheridan:

"Despairing of winning a decisive victory north of Richmond, Grant now began shifting his forces south of the city, intending to besiege the critical railroad junction at Petersburg, thirty miles below Richmond. To deny supplies and reinforcements to Lee, he determined to send Sheridan's cavalry on another raid around Lee's army, this time in the direction of Charlottesville, with orders to tear up as much of the Virginia Central Railroad as possible. Besides disrupting Rebel supplies from the verdant Shenandoah Valley, the raid would have the effect of drawing off the enemy cavalry while Grant's army completed its crossing of the James River east of Richmond.

After that Morris describes the Battle of Trevilian Station quoted at some length in one of my previous notes. On page 177, Morris tells us that "The next morning Sheridan had his troopers out tearing up track between Trevilian and Lousia Court House, while Torbert's division felt for a way back across the North Anna River. At Mallory's Cross Roads, near the river crossing of the same name, Torbert's men attempted to budge the entrenched Rebels from their breastworks behind a railroad embankment, but instead left the ground littered with several hundred of their own. Low on ammunition and fearing an influx of enemy infantry, Sheridan grudgingly decided to leave the same way he had come, by way of Carpenter's Ford farther east. The resultant retreat took twice as long to accomplish -- eight days back, as opposed to four days forward -- and was further complicated by the nearly eight hundred Rebel prisoners and Union wounded he was forced to take with him. . . ."

"Finally, on June 21, Sheridan reached the Union supply base at White House. Grant had already transferred the bulk of his supplies to City Point, across the James, and Sheridan's dog-tired troops were left the unpalatable task of escorting the remaining nine hundred supply wagons across the river to the new base. . . ."

Comment: Even if we speculate about how well Sheridan fulfilled Grant's orders (and it is doubtful Stackpole had them in mind when he made his statement), it seems that Sheridan fulfilled Grant's orders pretty well. Grant didn't describe the impediments the Confederates might put in Sheridan's way, and Sheridan wasn't ordered to avoid them. Those details were left to his own discretion. He defeated the Confederate force at Trevilian, tore up some track and fought his way home again. Sheridan had stalled the Confederates long enough for Grant to get most of his supplies across the James.

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