Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Firing of Warren

From Morris's Sheridan, The Life and Wars of General Phil Sheridan:

". . . Sheridan reported the enemy buildup to Grant, requesting that he be reinforced by reliable Horatio Wright and the VI Corps, but Wright was too far away. Grant offered him Warren's V Corps instead, which Sheridan declined. For the time being, he and his horsemen would have to fight alone."

"At sundown Pickett made a final attempt to capture Dinwiddie, but was quickly repulsed. The two sides settled down for an uncomfortable night in the rain, their lines less than a hundred yards apart. Sheridan sent two messages to Grant: the first, carried by his brother Michael, indicated Sheridan's line of retreat, should he be driven from Dinwiddie; the second somewhat more hopeful, followed the roundabout return of Devin's men. Now Sheridan proposed to 'hold on to Dinwiddie Court House until I am compelled to leave.' neither message was exactly suffused with the little Irishman's customary fire, and Grant dispatched Warren's V Corps and an additional cavalry division from the Army of the James to reinforce him at Dinwiddie. Sheridan would rather have had Wright's VI Corps than Warren's unfamiliar sloggers, but Grant explained that this was impossible."

". . . If Sheridan were to move quickly -- more to the point, if Warren were to move quickly -- the two Union wings could catch Pickett in a death grip of his own devising. Sheridan always moved quickly.

"Gouverneur Warren was not Phil Sheridan's favorite soldier, even in the best of times, which these clearly were not. Twice before, during Grant's Wilderness campaign, Warren had publicly criticized the 'damned cavalry' for getting in his way, and had displayed noticeable ill will when asked to help Sheridan's horsemen attack the barricaded enemy on the way to Spotsylvania. Most recently, Sheridan had found him sleeping in his tent in the middle of the afternoon, 'rather despondent' about the overall prospects for the army's success. Like Meade, Warren was an engineer-general, careful, methodical, and (in the eyes of such hard-nosed scrappers as Sheridan and Grant) a bit timid. In the charnel house of the Wilderness, he had suffered something like a nervous breakdown, crying out that 'for thirty days it has been one funeral procession past me, and it has been too much!' Grant was concerned that Warren should fail Sheridan in the crunch, and took pains to assure him that he was in command of all forces in the vicinity, with full authority to fire Warren if and when he found him an impediment.

"It would be nearly twelve hours before Sheridan found Warren at all, a long night compounded of anger, anxiety, and teeth-grinding frustration. Grant had told him, unrealistically, that Warren would arrive at Dinwiddie at midnight, a logistical impossibility since Warren did not even receive his marching orders until 11:00 P.M. The roads, inky darkness, and swollen streams further delayed Warren, who, true to form, was not evincing much sense of haste on his own. Sheridan tried his best to speed the dilatory New Yorker along, sending him a painstakingly detailed account of the golden opportunity facing them both and urging him to attack at daylight. No answer came from Warren. 'Restive as a racer,' Sheridan paced in the dark.

". . . At daybreak, meanwhile, the first of Warren's divisions straggled into Dinwiddie. 'Where's Warren?' Sheridan demanded of the first ranking officer he could grab, Brigadier General Romeyn Ayres. Back at the rear, said Ayres. 'That's here I expected to find him,' snapped Sheridan. Finally, at midday, Warren loped in, and Sheridan hurriedly gave him the plan of attack. While Merritt's dismounted cavalry menaced the Rebel front, Custer would simulate an attack on the enemy right. Meanwhile, Warren's sixteen thousand infantry would attack the angle in Pickett's line and attempt to get into his rear. Warren, who was sitting under a tree making a sketch of the area, nodded agreement, but still seemed strangely apathetic. Perhaps he was just tired. When Sheridan pointed out that Lee was less than three miles away, Warren shrugged. 'Bobby Lee is always getting people into trouble,' he allowed."

". . . Despite Sheridan's prodding, it took Warren three more hours to get his men into position. The cavalry had been banging away for at least that long, and Sheridan was worried that they would expend their ammunition before Warren even began his attack. 'This battle must be fought and won before the sun goes down,' Sheridan fumed to his staff. 'All conditions may be changed in the morning; we have but a few hours of daylight left.' Somehow he managed to control his temper -- for a little longer, anyway. Finally, at 4:00 P.M., Warren began his attack. It started badly. Ayres, commanding the lead division, dutifully sent his men crashing against the angle on the Confederate left. Unfortunately the two divisions on his right, commanded by Brigadier Generals Sam Crawford and Charles Griffin, swung too far to the north and came near to marching themselves completely out of the battle. Meanwhile, unsupported, Ayres's men were taking fire from all sides.

"Again Sheridan rose to the challenge. crying 'Where's my battle flag?' He spurred Rienzi toward the threatened infantry. Oblivious to the deadly zing of minie bullets whizzing about his familiar red and white guidon, he dashed from one end of the line to the other, urging Ayres's men to take the breastworks. . . Sheridan was everywhere. 'Come on, men!' he urged. 'Go at 'em with a will. Move on at a clean jump or you'll not catch one of the them! They're all getting ready to run now, and if you don't get on to them in five minutes they'll every one get away.' The omnipresent Horace Porter, of Grant's staff, rode behind Sheridan in the charge, marveling; the little general, he said, was 'the very incarnation of battle.'

"Warren . . . was nowhere to be found. . . Brigadier General Joshua Chamberlain, like Warren a true hero at Gettysburg, smartly led his brigade into the breach caused by the misalignment. 'By God, that's what I want to see: general officers at the front!' cried Sheridan, just then in the act of practicing what he preached. . . brandishing his twin-starred flag [he] leaped Rienzie over the breastworks, dropping down on a group of astonished southerners like the angel of death, or mercy. 'where do you want us all to go?' asked one of the Rebels, throwing up his hands. 'Go right over there' said Sheridan. 'Drop your guns; you'll never need them any more.'

"Abruptly the Confederate stand disintegrated. Rebs by the hundreds surrendered en masse; only the cavalry managed to get away . . ."

". . . Sheridan, true to form, was trying to organize a further advance on the Southside Railroad, three miles away, when a courier rode up to him at sundown, with word from Warren that he was in the Confederate rear.

'By God, sir, tell General Warren he wasn't in that fight!' roared Sheridan. The messenger, startled, asked if he could take it down in writing. 'Take it down, sir!' Sheridan said. 'Tell him by God he was not at the front.' Next Sheridan sought out Griffin, the senior division commander in the V Corps, and brusquely gave him command of the entire corps. A second messenger carried the unhappy news to Warren, who made somewhat better time back to Sheridan's headquarters than he had made coming to his aid or leading his infantry into battle the previous two days. White-faced and shaken, the hero of Little Round Top asked Sheridan to reconsider his order relieving Warren of command. 'Reconsider, hell!' said Sheridan. 'I don't reconsider my decisions. Obey the order.' Like Averell and Torbert before him, Warren had failed Sheridan where it counted most, on the battlefield. Sheridan could forgive the occasional blunder by youngsters such as Custer -- Armstrong fought like hell when the time came. But slowness, timidity, or caution -- unwanted children of the same defeatist father -- these Sheridan could not excuse. Warren rode away, his career in shambles, and Sheridan returned to the task of winning the war, which today's victory at Five Forks had brought a good deal closer."

Comment: I know Warren was a hero at Gettysburg, but he had emotional problems in the Wilderness and so might not have been the same man he was at Gettysburg. A commander like Sheridan (or George Patton) wouldn't have taken on the task of babysitting Warren through any emotional problems he might be having. The battle was going on and Warren wasn't helping. a court of inquiry eventually overturned Warren's firing just as another one overturned Averell's but I doubt that Sheridan or Grant would have cared. Sheridan needed his troops to be at peak efficiency during battles and Grant urged Sheridan to get rid of Averell and Warren if as he feared they would turn out to impede Sheridan's progress.

One can after the battle take Warren out of context and say shame of Sheridan, but in the midst of battle, Sheridan (IMO) did the right thing.

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