Grits and Tamales

Life in the Deep South, by Gabriel Aguilera

Meet General Philip H. Sheridan: “I intend to make the cavalry an arm of the services.”

Philip H. Sheridan is one of my favorite Union generals during the war. Perhaps only Sherman was more colorful. Perhaps only Forrest was tougher.

What follows is from Volume 3 of Foote’s The Civil War: A Narrative (pages 135-136):


In conference with Lincoln and Halleck, soon after his return from Tennessee and before he established headquarters in the field, he [Grant] had expressed his dissatisfaction with cavalry operations in the eastern theater. What was needed, he said, was “a thorough leader.”… Halleck came up with the answer. “How would Sheridan do?” he asked. This was Major General Philip H. Sheridan, then in command of an infantry under Thomas near Chattanooga. His only experience with cavalry had been a five-week term as colonel of a Michigan regiment after Shiloh, nearly two years ago, and he had not only never served in Virginia, he had never even been over the ground in peacetime, so great was his dislike of all things southern. But Grant said that he would do just fine in command of the eastern army’s three divisions of 13,000 troopers. “The very man I want,” he said, and Sheridan was sent for. He arrived in early April, checked into Willard’s, and went at once to the White House, much as Grant had done the month before. The interview was marred, however, when [Lincoln] brought up the familiar jest: “Who ever saw a dead cavalryman?” Sheridan was not amused. If he had his way, there were going to be a great many dead cavalrymen lying around, Union as well as Confederate. Back at Willard’s with friends, he said as much and more. “I’m going to take the cavalry away from the bobtailed brigadier generals,” he vowed. “They must do without their escorts. I intend to make the cavalry an arm of the services.”

Sheridan was different, and he brought something different and hard into the army he now joined. “Smash ’em up, smash ’em up!” he would say as he toured the camps, smacking the palm with his fist for emphasis, and then ride off on his big galloping horse, a bullet-headed little man with close-cropped hair and a black mustache and imperial, bandy-legged, long in the arms, all Irish but with a Mongol look to his face and form, as if something had gone strangely wrong somewhere down the line in Ireland. Just turned thirty-three, he was five feet five inches tall and he weighed 115 pounds with his spurs on; “one of those long-armed fellows with short legs,” Lincoln remarked of him, “that can scratch his shins without having to stoop over.” Mounted, he looked about as tall and burly as the next man, so that when he got down from his horse his slightness came as a shock.” The officer you brought on from the West is a rather little fellow to handle your cavalry,” someone observed at headquarters, soon after Sheridan reported for duty. Grant took a pull from his cigar, perhaps remembering Missionary Ridge. “You’ll find him big enough for the purpose before we get through with him,” he said. And in point of fact, the under-sized, Ohio-raised West Pointer held much the same views on the war as his chief, who was Ohio born and had finished West Point ten years earlier, also standing about two thirds of the way down in his class. Those views, complementing Sheridan’s even more succinct “Smash ’em up, smash ’em up!” could be stated quite briefly, a staff physician found out about this time. They were sitting around idle after a hard day’s work and the doctor asked the general-in-chief for a definition of the art of war. Grant turned the matter over in his mind — no doubt preparing to quote Jomini or some other highly regarded authority, his listeners thought — and then replied, as if in confirmation of what his friend Longstreet was telling Lee’s staff about now, across the way: “Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can, and strike him as hard as you can. And keep moving on.”

That was to be the method…





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