Friday, May 31, 2013

The Sheridan-Meade dispute

In regard to Sheridan’s dispute with Meade, Horace Porter, Grant’s aide, provides a narration of the event in his Memoirs. I can’t quite tell whether he witnessed the event itself or merely heard Meade’s recitation of it to Grant, but here is what he says on page 83 of his Campaigning with Grant.

“Sheridan had been sent for by Meade to come to his headquarters, and when he arrived, between eleven and twelve o’clock that morning, a very acrimonious dispute took place between the two generals. Meade was possessed of an excitable temper which under irritating circumstances became almost ungovernable. He had worked himself into a towering passion regarding the delays encountered in the forward movement, and when Sheridan appeared went at him hammer and tongs, accusing him of blunders, and charging him with not making a proper disposition of his troops, and letting the cavalry block the advance of the infantry. Sheridan was equally fiery, and, smarting under the belief that he was unjustly treated, all the hotspur in his nature was aroused. He insisted that Meade had created the trouble by countermanding his (Sheridan’s) orders, and that it was this act which had resulted in mixing up his troops with the infantry, exposing to great danger Wilson’s division, which had advanced as far as Spottsylvania Court-house, and rendered ineffectual all his combinations regard the movements of the cavalry corps. Sheridan declared with great warmth that he would not command the cavalry any longer under such conditions, and said if he could have matters his own way he would concentrate all the cavalry, move out in force against Stuart’s command, and whip it. His language throughout was highly spiced and conspicuously italicized with expletives. General Meade came over to General Grant’s tent immediately after, and related the interview to him. The excitement of the one was in singular contrast with the calmness of the other. When Meade repeated the remarks made by Sheridan, that he could move out with his cavalry and whip Stuart, General Grant quietly observed, ‘Did Sheridan say that? Well, he generally knows what he is talking about. Let him do it.’ By one o’clock Sheridan had received his orders in writing from Meade for the movement. Early the next morning he started upon his famous raid to the vicinity of Richmond in rear of the enemy’s army, and made good his word.”


Was this a case of insubordination? Grant’s aide clearly doesn’t think so and, apparently, neither did Grant. Sure, Meade was angry, but Porter implies that this wasn’t an isolated case, Meade had a pattern of getting so angry he nearly lost control of himself.

Did Sheridan’s “Raid” do any “good”? Porter and apparently Grant were impressed by it. Sheridan said he could “whip Stuart,” Grant put him to that test, and Sheridan succeeded.

Meade on the other hand was not highly thought of back in Washington. After Early’s raid against Washington it was decided to create a new command to prevent a recurrence. Grant deemed “it absolutely necessary that the Departments of Susquehanna, West Virginian and Washington be merged into one department and one head, who shall absolutely control the whole. . .” This proposal wasn’t acted upon until after George Crook’s defeat at Kernstown. Grant proposed Meade for the job, but Lincoln declined because he had been “resisting calls for Meade’s removal as commander of the Army of the Potomac and did not want to be seen as capitulating to those demands; so General Hunter was left in charge. Hunter didn’t do well; so on “August 1, Grant informed Halleck:

“I am sending General Sheridan for temporary duty whilst the enemy is being expelled from the border. Unless General Hunter is in the field in person, I want General Sheridan put in command of all the troops in the field, with instructions to put himself south of the enemy and follow him to the death. Wherever the enemy goes let our troops go also. Once started up the Valley they ought to be followed until we get possession of the Virginia Central Railroad. If General Hunter is in the field, give Sheridan direct command of the Sixth Corps and cavalry division.” This is from Scott Patchan’s Shanandoah Summer, the 1864 Valley Campaign (published in 2007). Patchen comments, “Sheridan’s appointment to command the Union forces assigned to the Shenandoah Valley would bring about the largest, bloodiest, and most decisive battles ever fought in that region.”

In the period between July when Grant proposed Meade to August when he appointed Sheridan he may have thought the two about equal as generals, but after that, after Sheridan began doing the job, I suspected he realized that Sheridan was the more effective general (IMHO).

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