Friday, June 7, 2013

Why Sheridan retreated from Todd Tavern

Someone asked, "Okay, so where are the sources that Rhea is wrong in this instance? Every account I've ever read of Spotsylvania agrees that Sheridan's abandonment of Todd's Tavern was a critical mistake, and there's no doubting the fact that Fitz Lee's cavalry cost Grant far too much precious time on the Brock Road, throwing off his entire schedule for the advance on Spotsylvania. So again, it seems like this doesn't actually address the central point"

Trudeau's Bloody Roads South, pages 113-4: "While the Union horsemen chattered in nervous release, their chief, Phil Sheridan, fumed. His fighting today had been loud, fluid, and indecisive. The daylong scrap had taken place across the rolling fields around Todd's Tavern as Sheridan's riders had fanned out in an attempt to intercept Longstreet's column. What they had found instead was Confederate cavalry spoiling for a fight. Charge had been followed by countercharge, and then the combat had continued dismounted as the cavalrymen battled on foot.

"The racket of gunfire had been audible to John Gibbon's men, guarding Hancock's left flank only a few miles to the north. Given the lack of any clear intelligence from Sheridan until late in the day that he was fighting Confederate cavalry and not infantry, it had remained easy for Gibbon to believe that a portion of Longstreet's corps was threatening from the south.

"The Army of the Potomac's headquarters had grown increasingly apprehensive about the security of its left flank. In the early afternoon Sheridan had received a dispatch from Andrew Humphreys, reporting that "General Hancock has been heavily pressed, and his left turned.' Then had come the bitter orders: 'The major-general commanding thinks that you had better draw in your cavalry so as to secure the protection of the trains.'

"As Sheridan later noted in his official report, 'I obeyed this order, and the enemy took possession of the Furnaces, Todd's Tavern and Piney Branch Church.' With this withdrawal, the Federal army had relinquished its hold on the crossroads at Todd's Tavern, cutting off its main route of advance to the south. Sheridan, who knew Grant well, believed that the lieutenant general would never retreat, and he realized that in order for the army to resume its advance, the Union cavalry would have to fight all over again for the ground it had been told to give up."

If what Trudeau has written is true then Sheridan was ordered to abandon Todd Tavern by the "major general commanding." But notice that Sheridan didn't want to do it and thought it would be a costly mistake. Now, turning back to Rhea, look at his wording on page 36, "Sheridan's decision to withdraw was a costly mistake."

I assumed that Trudeau was right and Rhea was wrong based upon my checking Trudeau's references on several occasions (not everything because I don't have all his references, but several of them). Whereas when I checked Rhea's references they seemed weak, inappropriate or nonexistent. 

Andre Trudeau wrote Bloody Roads South in 1989. Rhea wrote his book in 1997. How is that he didn't know about Trudeau's mention that Meade had ordered Sheridan to leave Todd's Tavern and come back and protect the wagon trains? If one looks at Rhea's bibliography one finds the answer. He doesn't reference any modern sources. He apparently didn't read Trudeau or any other modern historian on his subject.

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