Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sheridan at Appomattox

Bruce Catton in his A Stillness at Appomattox describes Sheridan as being everywhere, taking his cavalry ahead to block, Lee, blocking him again, confronting his forces to slow them down, sending back to Grant urging him to send up infantry to stop Lee for good and then when the infantry arrived urging them forward. But Catton has in mind the stillness at the end. There was no cheering on the part of the Union forces who watched the Confederates stop fighting and stack arms. They knew Lee was going off to surrender to Grant. They were exhausted from being driven to march so far. They hadn't eaten in more than a day. They had enough energy to bring Lee to this standstill at the end, but there was no jubilation -- only the stillness that Catton refers to.

But Horace Porter, who arrived with Grant has something different to say about Sheridan at Appomattox [from his Campaigning with Grant, pages 468-9]: "We saw a group of officers who had dismounted and were standing at the edge of the town, and at their head we soon recognized the features of Sheridan. No one could look at Sheridan at such a moment without a sentiment of undisguised admiration. In this campaign, as in others, he had shown himself possessed of military traits of the highest order. Bold in conception, self-reliant, demonstrating by his acts that 'much danger makes great hearts resolute,' fertile in resources, combining the restlessness of a Hotspur with the patience of a Fabius, it is no wonder that he should have been looked upon as the wizard of the battle-field. Generous of his life, gifted with the ingenuity of a Hannibal, the dash of a Murat, the courage of a Ney, the magnetism of his presence roused his troops to deeds of individual heroism, and his unconquerable columns rushed to victory with all the confidence of Caesar's Tenth Legion. Wherever blows fell thickest, there was his crest. Despite the valor of the defenses, opposing ranks went down before the fierceness of his onsets, never to rise again, and he would not pause till the folds of his banners waved above the strongholds he had wrested from the foe. Brave Sheridan! I can almost see him now, his silent clay again quickened into life, once more riding 'Rienzi' through a fire of hell, leaping opposing earthworks at a single bound, and leaving nothing of those who barred his way except the fragments scattered in his path. As long as manly courage is talked of, or heroic deeds are honored, the hearts of a grateful people will beat responsive to the mention of the talismanic name of Sheridan."

Comment: It is almost sacrilegious to add anything to what Porter has written; so I won't. Porter was secretary to General Grant, President Grant, and later to Sherman, and he was a warrior in his own right receiving the Medal of Honor at Chickamauga; so he was qualified, if not uniquely so in the midst of so many others heroes, to speak about Sheridan. Meade was a competent first-class general and a good subordinate, but Sheridan was in a class by himself. There was no one like him in the Union Army -- and Grant and Sherman, if not Meade, would have agreed with him.

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