Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Sheridan's Trevilian Mission

I think Sheridan accomplished this mission even to the winning of the "battle" of Trevilian Station, but some think otherwise. Let's see what the person who ordered that mission, General Grant, has to say about it.

From the Library of America edition of Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, Chapter LVII, pages 603-605:

"On the 7th of June, while at Cold Harbor, I . . . sent Sheridan with two divisions of cavalry to destroy as much as he could of the Virginia Central Railroad. General Hunter had been operating up the Shenandoah Valley with some success, having fought a battle near Staunton where he captured a great many prisoners, besides killing and wounding a good many men. After the battle he formed a junction at Staunton with Averell and Crook, who had come up from Kanawha, or Gauley River. It was supposed, therefore that General Hunter would be about Charlottesville, Virginia, by the time Sheridan could get there, doing on the way the damage that he was sent to do.

"I gave Sheridan instructions to have Hunter, in case he should meet him about Charlottesville, join and return with him to the Army of the Potomac. Lee, hearing of Hunter's success in the valley, started Breckinridge out for its defence at once. Learning later of Sheridan's going with two divisions, he also sent Hampton with two divisions of cavalry, his own and Fitz-Hugh Lee's.
"Sheridan moved to the north side of the North Anna to get out west, and learned of the movement of these troops to the south side of the same stream almost as soon as they had started. He pushed on to get to Trevilian Station to commence his destruction at that point. On the night of the 10th he bivouacked some six or seven miles east of Trevilian, while Fitz-Hugh Lee was the same night at Trevilian Station and Hampton but a few miles away.

"During the night Hampton ordered an advance on Sheridan, hoping, no doubt, to surprise and very badly cripple him. Sheridan, however, by a counter move sent Custer on a rapid march to get between the two divisions of the enemy and into their rear. This he did successfully, so that at daylight, when the assault was made, the enemy found himself at the same time resisted in front and attacked in rear, and broke in some confusion. The losses were probably very light on both sides in killed and wounded, but Sheridan got away with some five hundred prisoners and sent them to City Point.

"During that day, the 11th, Sheridan moved into Trevilian Station, and the following day proceeded to tear up the road east and west. There was considerable fighting during the whole of the day, but the work of destruction went on. In the meantime, at night, the enemy had taken possession of the crossing which Sheridan had proposed to take to go north when he left Trevilian. Sheridan learned, however from some of the prisoners he had captured here, that General Hunter was about Lynchburg, and therefore that there was no use of his going on to Charlottesville with a view to meet him.

"Sheridan started back during the night of the 12th, and made his way north and farther east, coming around by the north side of White House, and arriving there on the 21st. Here he found an abundance of forage for his animals, food for his men, and security while resting. He had been obliged to leave about ninety of his own men in the field-hospital which he had established near Trevilian, and these necessarily fell into the hands of the enemy.

"White House up to this time had been a depot; but now that our troops were all on the James River, it was no longer wanted as a store of supplies. Sheridan was, therefore, directed to break it up; which he did on the 22d of June, bringing the garrison and an immense wagon train with him. All these were over the James River by the 26th of the month, and Sheridan ready to follow."

Comment: Grant's account of the Trevilian raid supports the minor point I've been asserting, namely that Sheridan won this relatively inconsequential battle, but it doesn't support my major belief, namely that the raid was primarily a diversion to allow Grant to get his army safely across the James. Not wishing to abandon my theory without a fight , I wonder whether Grant could have had reason to avoid mentioning the trick he had played on Lee. Might it not have seemed to demean Lee and those who fought with him, many of whom would read his Memoirs?

Of course someone could use my reasoning to assert that Grant made Sheridan seem more successful than he really was so as not to offend him. But that seems less plausible than his not wishing to denigrate the memory of Lee. Trevilian Station was a small battle that occurred during a raid because Lee heard what Sheridan was up to and sent Hampton to stop him. Hampton did stop him and probably didn't care that he had lost the battle at the Station. He pulled back and was ready to interfere again depending upon what Sheridan did next. This wasn't like Shiloh where the South won on the first day and then sat on its hands allowing the North to achieve a greater victory on day two. There was no "day two" at Trevilian. Sheridan did as much as he could, which is basically the terminology of Grant's order, and returned home to the Army of the Potomac.

Could Sheridan have done more if Hampton hadn't interfered? Without doubt, but I fail to see how Sheridan can be faulted for not tearing up more track once Hampton showed up to fight.
Grant said casualties were light on both sides. He said that Sheridan tore up as much track as he was able to; which is what Grant asked him to do. As to not hooking up with Hunter at Charlottesville, Sheridan learned that Hunter was not at Charlottesville & so he didn't go there.
Grant provides no indication that he was disappointed with Sheridan's efforts.

No comments: