Saturday, August 25, 2012

Sheridan & some of his detractors

I bought 4 books on Sheridan & decided to read the earliest one first (which I just completed), Sheridan in the Shenandoah, 2nd Edition by Edward J. Stackpole. I can't find the date for the original Stackpole publication, but gather it was sometime in the 1950-1960 time frame. D. Scott Hartwig wrote a commentary, included at the end & published in 1992 to make a few corrections based on later scholarship.

One of Hartwig's comments has to do with Crook's criticism of Sheridan published long after the fact. ". . . in General Stackpole's words, 'Sheridan had deliberately withheld proper credit from those to whom it belonged and had assumed for himself undue credit not justified by the circumstances.' To a degree, this was probably true, but did Crook feel this way in 1862, or was his opinion of Sheridan soured as a result of professional jealousies and differences of opinion and philosophy that arose between the two men during the Indian Wars?"

Hartwig sites Paul Hutton's book, Phil Sheridan and His Army with approval. Hartwig invokes Hutton when he writes, "It was Crook's command of the Department of Arizona, which he assumed in 1882, that destroyed the once strong friendship of these men and turned Crook into a bitter enemy of Sheridan. The dispute arose over Crooks' methods, specifically the use of Apache scouts, to bring the Apache Geronimo to bay and the generous terms Crook offered Geronimo when the Apache was at last forced to negotiate a surrender -- one he later managed to back out of. Crook offered to resign and Sheridan accepted. Geronimo was eventually captured and imprisoned in Florida along with many of the Chiricahua Apache scouts who had served Crook so faithfully, but who Sheridan though had been of dubious loyalty. Crook, wrote Hutton, 'never forgave Sheridan, and their long but stormy relationship came to a sad close.' The Ohioan's sharply critical words for Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign, which General Stackpole cites, were all written with the memory of Sheridan's handling of the Apache problem fresh in Crook's mind (Hutton, [p. 368).

"What the stories of Crook, Sheridan, and Gordon illustrate is that while postwar reminiscences have their value, using them solely to support a conclusion is unwise. They must be balanced by the statements of other eyewitnesses and by wartime correspondence and records."

While I have, but have not yet read Wittenberg's book on Sheridan, I did notice in an assessment on Wittenberg's site that he argues that Sheridan took credit for the achievements of his men, the implication being that perhaps he deserved little credit of his own. On page 397 Stackpole writes, "In comparing the quality and effectiveness of several corps and division commanders serving with the respective armies, generalization is dangerous, but in the aggregate it appears that Early was more fortunate than Sheridan. Some of the best and most distinguished Confederate generals served under Early -- Gordon, Breckinridge, Ramseur, and Rodes for example. Neither Wright nor Emory on the Union side were considered top-flight commanders, and Crook certainly did not increase his stature at Cedar Creek.

"On the score of military judgment, Sheridan was clearly superior. Early was criticized by Lee for fighting his army by divisions. Sheridan made no such mistake. After being defeated and put to rout at Winchester by being outflanked, Early failed to profit by the lesson and was again outflanked in a similar manner at Fisher's Hill because he neglected to secure his vulnerable left flank. At Cedar Creek, in Sheridan's absence, Early sprang a complete surprise on the Union army under Wright and should by all the rules of war have exploited his initial success to achieve a complete victory. But he hesitated too long and was overwhelmed by a determined adversary who reached the battlefield in time to restore the fortunes of his own confused and discomfited army. In retrospect, weighing the factors that contributed to Union victories and Confederate defeats, Early's gross underestimate of the capabilities of his opponent was perhaps his most egregious error, a cardinal military sin that he compounded by persisting in his opinion even after being badly defeated three times in a row."

"Stubborn in defense, aggressive in attack, Sheridan possessed the will to win in far greater measure than most Union generals, and was never willing to admit defeat, regardless of the odds. He never lost a battle, a unique distinction in itself. More importantly, he took such pains in advance to assure the best possible chance of victory by his deliberate, meticulous preparation for battle, logistically and tactically, committing his troops only when he was satisfied that all was ready, that on the record he seems to have earned the smiles with which Fortune favored him. When he struck, it was with his full force. Finally, because the world loves a winner, whatever errors of omission or commission may be charged to Phil Sheridan pale into insignificance when contrasted with his accomplishments. Without question he was a tenacious bulldog with a dynamic personality and a fighting heart, and deserved the plaudits and gratitude of the Nation which he had done so much to deserve."

No comments: