Monday, June 3, 2013

Was Sheridan inept at the start of his Shenandoah campaign?

Was Sheridan inept at the start of his Shenandoah campaign?  Not according to Grant’s “Final Report of Operations, March 1864-May 1865" [as quoted on page 202 of Trudeau’s The Last Citadel]: 

“[General Sheridan’s] operations during the month of August and the fore part of September were both of an offensive and defensive character . . . but no general engagement took place. . . . Defeat to us would lay open to the enemy the States of Maryland and Pennsylvania for long distances before another army could be interposed to check him.  Under these circumstances I hesitated about allowing the initiative to be taken.  Finally, the use of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, which were both obstructed by the enemy, became so indispensably necessary to us . . . that I determined the risk should be taken. . . .  I left City Point on the 15th of September to visit [Sheridan] . . . at his headquarters, to decide . . . what should be done.  I met him at Charleston, and he pointed out so distinctly how each army lay, what he could do the moment he was authorized, and expressed such confidence of success that I saw there were but two words of instruction necessary – Go in! . . . Early on the morning of the 19th General Sheridan attacked General Early at the crossing on the Opequon Creek, and . . . defeated him, with heavy loss. . . .  The enemy rallied and made a stand in a strong position at Fisher’s Hill, where he was attacked and again defeated with heavy loss on the [22]d. . . .  Sheridan pursued him with great energy through Harrisonburg, Staunton, and the gaps of the Blue Ridge.  After stripping the upper Valley of most of the supplies and provisions for the rebel army, he returned to Strasburg and took position on the north side of Cedar Creek.”

Comment: I don’t see any ineptness on Sheridan’s part.  Instead I see Grant’s worrying that maybe the Washington critics were right, maybe Sheridan was too inexperienced to take on Lee’s Bad Old Man.  If Sheridan were to lose it would be a disaster for the Union cause; so Grant kept him somewhat in check.  Then after meeting with Sheridan and seeing his boundless energy, knowledge of the terrain and supreme confidence he turned him lose with the result that we can all see.

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