Confederate Cavalry

Dr. John Wyeth, who documented the exploits of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry in the latter portion of the Civil War, started out as a private in the 4th Alabama Cavalry of Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler’s corps. Wyeth was present at the June 27, 1863 Battle of Shelbyville, Tennessee, during the Tullahoma Campaign. Shelbyville was an overwhelming Union victory, where Col. Robert H. G. Minty’s single brigade, augmented by two additional regiments, shattered Wheeler’s command, routed it, and sent Wheeler himself flying headlong into the deep, rushing waters of the Duck River to escape capture.

Pvt. John A. Wyeth, 4th Alabama Cavalry.

Writing in 1898, Wyeth left this vivid description of the mounted fighting at Shelbyville. It’s too good of a description not to share:

A cavalry fight well sustained on both sides is lively enough when one takes part in it, but it seems exceedingly tame on paper. This one did not lack in spirit. About a score of such “scraps,” some of which, of larger growth, have passed to place on the bloodiest pages of history, the writer does not recall a contest which, for downright pluck in giving and taking hard and heavy knocks through several hours, surpasses this Shelbyville “affair.” The carbines and rifles were flashing and banging away, at times in scattering shots, when the game was at a long range, and then when a charge came on, and the work grew hot, the spiteful, sharp explosions swelled into a crackling roar, like that of a canebrake on fire, when in a single minute hundreds of the boilerlike joints have burst asunder. Add to all of this the whizzing, angry whir of countless leaden missiles which split the air about you; the hoarse unnatural shouts of command–for in battle all sounds of the human voice seem out of pitch and tone; the wild, defiant yells and the answering huzzahs of the opposing lines; the plunging and rearing of the frightened horses; the the charges here and there of companies or squadrons, or more than these which seem to be shot from the main body, as flames shoot out of a house on fire; here and there the sharp, quick cry from some unfortunate trooper who did not hear one leaden messenger–for only those are heard which have passed by; the heavy, soggy striking of the helpless body against the ground; the scurrying runaway of the frightened horse, as often into danger as out of it, whose empty saddle tells the foe that there is one less rifle to fear–all these sights and sounds go to make up the confusing medley of a battlefield. And then there was the artillery, not thundering away–for artillery never thunders when one is near it. Two or three miles away the reverberations of the atmosphere convey to the ear the sound of distant thunder, but when, on the field, one faces or stands behind the battery which is engaged, the noise seems more like the sudden throb or impulse of some huge pump than the prolonged muffled sounds which are akin to thunder. So, for nearly three hours, passed this little fight.

That vivid description could have been of any cavalry battle, not just Shelbyville–it would be just as applicable to the Battle of Brandy Station, as just one example. It’s one of the finest descriptions of mounted combat I’ve yet found.

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200px-Jeb_stuartThe Buckland Races
A song by J.E.B. Stuart

Come listen to me, ladies,
A story I’ll relate.
Which happened in the eastern part
Of the Old Dominion State
Away down at New Baltimore,
On a day of Autumn bright.
The Yankee braggadocio
Was whipped clear out of sight.

CHORUS: Hurrah for Kil!
Who ran with such a will!
He distanced every nag that day
In the race at Buckland Mill.

It was the “Buckland races,”
Far famed through old Fauqu’er,
With Stuart before their faces,
Fitz Lee came in their rear;
And such another stampede
Has never yet been seen.
Poor Kil led off at top speed,
And many a Wolverine.

CHORUS: Hurrah for Kil!
Who ran with such a will!
He distanced every nag that day
In the race at Buckland Mill.

Old Michigan saw sights that day
Which “Harpers” will never know,
When the Southern boys went on their way
And thrashed Kilpatrick so.
Past Buckland sped they, great and small,
Some drowned them in Broad Run.
We never yet made such a haul,
And never had such fun.

CHORUS: Hurrah for Kil!
Who ran with such a will!
He distanced every nag that day
In the race at Buckland Mill.

Come, ladies all, a hearty cheer,
Give three times three hurrah
For Southern lads, who never fear
To meet the foe in war.
A heart as true as any blade,
Is carried in each hand.
They’ll never forget the darling maid
They met at old Buckland.

CHORUS: Hurrah for Kil!
Who ran with such a will!
He distanced every nag that day
In the race at Buckland Mill.

The source for these lyrics is an article that appeared in the May 1, 1864 edition of the Alexandria Gazette and Virginia Advertiser newspaper. The article indicates that Stuart composed this little ditty just after he defeated Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick’s Third Cavalry Division in the October 19, 1863 Battle of Buckland Mills, which is often called the Buckland Races, for the rapid pursuit of Kilpatrick’s badly routed troopers. The article also indicates that the song was dedicated to a Miss Annie H. of Buckland, married to the colonel of the 17th Virginia Infantry. Little did the newspaper editor realize that Stuart had just 11 days left to live.

It’s easy to take JEB Stuart lightly when you see things like this–the man loved music and singing, there is no doubt of that–but as I often say, this was one very serious, very capable, very professional soldier. They broke the mold when he was made.

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The following inquiry appeared on some forum boards:

What is the reasoning behind most historians today not willing to accept that Stuart’s attack was in cooperation with Pickett’s attack ? Now I have heard that one reason was because neither Stuart nor Lee made mention of it in their Gettysburg Battle reports. They also did not make mention of the signal shots but most historians think they happened, but not as signal shots.

The reason I am bringing this up again is due to the more research I do the more sources I find that state that Stuart was acting in cooperation with Pickett’s attack. Even the Union General in charge in the East Cavalry fighting, General D.McM.Gregg in an article states that it was. I have so far found 10 different sources that back’s this claim up. I just can’t accept it when historians say there is no evidence that Stuart was in cooperation with the frontal attack on Cemetery Ridge on July 3rd, 1863. As I have stated I have 10 different sources so far.

There actually is a rather simple explanation to all of this.

Let’s remember that late in the day on July 2, 1863, there were two separate but simultaneous engagements involving two separate divisions of Union cavalry on or near the far left flank of the Army of Northern Virginia’s position. David M. Gregg’s Second Division was engaged with Confederate infantry of the Stonewall Brigade of Maj. Gen. Edward “Alleghany” Johnson’s Division on Brinkerhoff’s Ridge, while Judson Kilpatrick’s Third Division tangled with troopers of Brig. Gen. Wade Hampton’s Brigade at Hunterstown.

Brinkerhoff’s Ridge is squarely on the far left flank of the Army of Northern Virginia’s infantry position. The Stonewall Brigade ended up performing flank duty because of the breakdown of command after Brig. Gen. Albert G. Jenkins was severely wounded that morning, and nobody thought to tell Col. Milton J. Ferguson, Jenkins’ senior colonel, that he was now in command of the brigade. Because of that inexplicable breakdown, Jenkins’ men failed to perform the flank duty. That forced the Stonewall Brigade to do so, keeping it tied up for most of the day and leaving it unavailable to assault Culp’s Hill. Stuart himself sat on Brinkerhoff’s Ridge and watched the climax of that fight. He knew that the Stonewall Brigade was fighting dismounted Union cavalry there. He could see Gregg’s guidons.

Just a few miles away at Hunterstown, Kilpatrick’s division tangled with the rearguard of Hampton’s Brigade, which was escorting the tail-end of the infamous wagon train captured by Stuart during his ride to the Gettysburg battlefield. A short but very spirited fight occurred there before both sides broke off.

Therefore, as the sun set late in the afternoon of July 2, there were a total of four brigades of veteran Union cavalry operating in the vicinity of Lee’s flank and rear, well positioned for a possible dash around the flank and into Lee’s rear, where they could make immense trouble.

Hence, on the night of July 2, Robert E. Lee knew that two of the three divisions of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps were operating on or near his far right flank. He was legitimately concerned that the Federals might try to dash around that flank and make mischief in his rear. He was so concerned, in fact, that he called Brig. Gen. John D. Imboden’s Northwestern Brigade–a command that Lee did not know or particularly trust, largely because it was untried–to the battlefield. The following are Imboden’s own words, from an 1871 article that appeared in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War: “on arriving near Gettysburg about noon, when the conflict was raging in all its fury, I reported directly to General Lee for orders, and was assigned a position to aid in repelling any cavalry demonstration that might occur on his flanks or rear. None being made, my little force took no part in the battle. I then had only about 2,100 effective mounted men and a six-gun battery.” (emphasis added by me)

Lee was concerned enough about this situation that he placed Imboden’s command in a position where it could quickly and readily deal with a thrust at the flank or into his rear.

By contrast, there was no known force of Union cavalry operating on Lee’s far right. In fact, Brig. Gen. John Buford’s First Division had left the field about 11:15 on the morning of July 2, and no cavalry troops (other than a single regiment of Gregg’s division) had been sent to take its place. Thus, as morning broke on July 3, there was absolutely no cavalry threatening Lee’s far right, as neither Wesley Merritt’s Reserve Brigade nor Elon J. Farnsworth’s brigade of Kilpatrick’s division arrived in the vicinity of the Confederate far right flank until about 11:00 in the morning of July 3. Consequently, the small force of 100 or so troopers of the 1st South Carolina Cavalry, with a single piece of horse artillery, was more than sufficient, as there was no known threat.

As J. D. Petruzzi and I have documented extensively in our book Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg, both Stuart’s men and horses had just finished a grueling eight day expedition around the Army of the Potomac that took a tremendous toll on both men and horses. Indeed, both men and mounts were at the limits of their endurance when they arrived on the battlefield very late in the afternoon of July 2, and neither men nor animals were in condition to undertake or engage in aggressive offensive activity, something that is well-documented. Therefore, the only mission for these troopers that makes any sense, given their worn-out condition, is a purely defensive one.

Given those circumstances, does it make nothing but sense for Lee to send Stuart and his three and a half brigades (about half of Jenkins’ brigade went with Stuart) to hold and protect that flank? So that there would be a significant force under his trusted and beloved cavalry commander, should that two-division threat to the flank and rear develop?

When analyzing all of these factors, and given Stuart’s dispositions and deployments on what became East Cavalry Field, it seems quite obvious to me that Stuart’s primary mission was to guard the flank. He deployed in an ambush formation, intended to draw David M. Gregg’s troopers in and engage them, thereby keeping them tied up and unable to make that dash around the flank. Stuart, always the opportunist, was looking for opportunities, and should he be able to defeat and scatter Gregg’s troopers, then, and ONLY then, would he attempt to make his own dash down the Low Dutch Road and into the rear of the Army of the Potomac’s position.

Finally, neither Lee nor Stuart EVER said anything about Stuart’s activities that day being somehow coordinated with the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble assault on the Union center. That, to me, is proof positive that neither officer contemplated anything other than what they both said in the official reports.

If you have studied the engagement on East Cavalry Field, and you know both the terrain and the condition of Stuart’s command, the battle plan that I have laid out above is ONLY explanation of Stuart’s mission on July 3 that makes any sense.

This essay is a synopsis of a small part of the 5500 word essay that I have written to rebut the ridiculous and implausible theory of Tom Carhart for the new edition of my book Protecting the Flank that will be published by Savas-Beatie in the early spring of 2012.

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It’s been quite a while since I last profiled a forgotten cavalryman. In many instances, the soldiers that I profile were heroic in their own but were nevertheless forgotten by history. In this instance, we celebrate a soldier whose incompetence and inefficiency make him worthy of remembrance. I learned of the inefficient career of William L. “Mudwall” Jackson while working on my White Sulphur Springs book, and realized that he’s one of those forgotten horse soldiers who deserves to be remembered, if for no other reason than his magnificent nickname.

Jackson, a second cousin of the lamented Confederate hero, Lt. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, was born on February 3, 1825 in Clarksburg in what later became West Virginia. He was a descendant of John Jackson, a member of a landed Irish family who settled in Maryland about 1748, and twenty years later removed to the Buckhannon River region of western Virginia. His son Edward was the grandfather of both William L. Jackson and Thomas J. Jackson. One of John Jackson’s sons served as a Congressman from Virginia, and one of his grandsons later served as governor of West Virginia.

Young William’s father died in 1836, when William was only 11, leaving the family with serious financial problems. The boy ended up with the responsibility of the bulk of the chores on the family farm. In 1838, his mother remarried. His new stepfather, although a minister, harbored political aspirations, which evidently rubbed off on William. An uncle, John Jay Jackson, took in William and allowed the young man to apprentice in his law office in Parkersburg in what became West Virginia. John Jackson was a prominent and prosperous local attorney, and William learned the tricks of the trade from his uncle.

In 1847, he completed his legal studies and was licensed to practice law, which became a lifelong pursuit. He returned to his home town of Harrisville, where he opened his own law office. Jackson’s career as a jurist and Democratic public official during the ante-war period was prominent and distinguished. He served as Commonwealth’s Attorney in his district and was twice elected to the Virginia Legislature. He also served twice as Second Auditor, as Superintendent of the State Library Fund and as Lieutenant Governor of Virginia (1857-1860). In 1860, he was elected Circuit Judge of the Nineteenth Judicial district of Virginia. He married Sarah Elizabeth Creel on December 19, 1849, and together they had three children.

William L. Jackson was a big man, standing about six feet tall and weighed about 200 pounds. He had a shock of dark red hair and piercing blue eyes like those of his famous cousin, all of which made him stand out in a crowd. Jackson was not known as an eloquent speaker, but he was known as a forceful one.

In 1861, when he had been but once around his circuit, the war broke out. Judge Jackson strongly supported Virginia’s secession and enlisted in the Confederate army as a private. He quickly made his way up the ranks. In May, 1861, Major F. M. Boykin, Jr., writing from Grafton, recommended that General Robert E. Lee appoint Judge Jackson to military command at Parkersburg, as “a gentleman of great personal popularity, not only with his own party, but with those opposed to him politically, and devoted to the interests of Virginia, to the last extremity.”

On May 30, the advance of a strong Union column drove a small Confederate force out of Grafton. At daybreak on June 3, the Federals surprised this same unit, commanded by the Confederate Colonel George A. Porterfield, at Philippi, forcing Porterfield to withdraw his green and bewildered troops south to Beverly and then twelve miles further to Huttonsville. The Federal seizure of Beverly, at the junction of the Staunton-Parkersburg stage road and the turnpike to Grafton, would secure northwestern Virginia for the Union and place Staunton in grave danger. All Confederate troops available were hurried there from Staunton, and a qualified officer, Colonel Robert Selden Garnett, Adjutant General of Lee’s headquarters, was ordered to proceed to Western Virginia to assume command of these troops.

Jackson was commissioned a lieutenant colonel of Virginia volunteers, and reported for duty to Colonel George A. Porterfield at Huttsonville, Randolph county, in June. Two new regiments of infantry were organized, and Jackson was commissioned colonel of one of them, the 31st Virginia Infantry. Jackson established his headquarters at Hunttonsville, where he was responsible for defending the so-called “Huttonsville Line”, which stretched for about thirty miles from southwestern Pocahontas County to Warm Springs in Highland County. His primary responsibility was to block any movement toward Staunton by Union forces.

In 1862 he became a volunteer aide on the staff of his cousin, Stonewall Jackson. While serving on his famous cousin’s staff, Jackson served in the campaigns and battles around Richmond, Cedar Mountain, Second Bull Run, Harpers Ferry and then at Antietam.

On February 17, 1863, the Confederate War Department authorized Jackson to raise a regiment for the Provisional Army of the Confederate States of America within the lines of the enemy in West Virginia. By early April, he had organized and recruited a new unit, the 19th Virginia Cavalry, and Jackson was elected colonel. The new regiment joined the brigade of Brig. Gen. Albert G. Jenkins, as part of the Army of West Virginia, commanded by Maj. Gen. Samuel Jones.

The newly-formed 19th Virginia Cavalry participated in several raids, with Jackson commanding his regiment and acting as Jenkins’s adjutant general. His men joined the Jones-Imboden Raid against the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, where the unit secured 300-400 new recruits. In July, he commanded a second expedition to Beverly, where and at Huttonsville he was engaged with Brig. Gen. William Woods Averell’s Fourth Separate Brigade of the Middle Military District command. He continued in the department of Western Virginia, frequently opposing Federal incursions, his command increasing to the dimensions of a small brigade of cavalry, during the remainder of 1863. His lackluster pursuit of Averell’s raiders during the August 1863 raid that culminated in the Battle of White Sulphur Springs earned Jackson the unflattering moniker of Mudwall.

While pursuing Averell through Huntersville, Jackson’s troopers found “Mudwall Jackson” scrawled on the walls of the old county courthouse, “the principal feature of which was a complaint that ‘Mudwall Jackson’ would not fight,” as Confederate soldier John McNeel reported. McNeel saw this graffiti a few days after Averell’s men evacuated Huntersville, “and it was understood by the Confederate soldiers as having been put there by a Yankee soldier, and as we Confederates understood it at the time, the animus of the verse was because the dead ‘Stonewall’ had been so hard on the Yankees, and the live ‘Mudwall’ had escaped their net.”

“The fact is, he was as brave a man as lived, and never refused to fight, when the attendant circumstances were anything like equal,” claimed one of Jackson’s men. While Stonewall Jackson was most famous for his brigade’s stand at the First Battle of Bull Run, Mudwall Jackson was notorious for giving way. A Confederate soldier explained the origin of the nickname: “We called him ‘Mudwall’ in contradistinction from Stonewall Jackson because ‘Old Averill’, as we called Gen. Averill, always without an exception ran over him, knocked him down and ran him off.”

Averell nearly destroyed Jackson’s small brigade during the November 1863 Battle of Droop Mountain. After defeating Jackson’s command at Mill Point in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, Averell drove the Southern cavalry to Droop Mountain, where Brig. Gen. John Echols’s infantry brigade reinforced Jackson’s cavalry. In the Battle of Droop Mountain, Averell turned the Confederate flank and routed the Southern command from the field, inflicting another ignominious defeat upon Jackson’s little brigade.

In the spring of 1864, Jackson was stationed at Warm Springs. He fought at Cloyd’s Mountain in early May, where Jenkins was killed, and then he joined Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge’s command. He assumed command of a cavalry brigade, participating in opposing Maj. Gen. George Crook’s May 1864 expedition, and he helped to defend Lynchburg from the advance of Maj. Gen. David Hunter’s army in June. After the repulse of Hunter’s army, Breckinridge’s command–and Jackson’s brigade, joined Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early’s army as it advanced down the Shenandoah Valley, crossed the Potomac River into Maryland, and advanced on the defenses of Washington, D. C. When Early fell back, Jackson commanded his brigade when it served as Early’s rear guard, and repulsed a Federal attack at Rockville, Md.

His brigade was assigned to the cavalry division of Maj. Gen. Lunsford Lomax, and was involved in nearly every engagement during the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign, including the Third Battle of Winchester, the fight at Fisher’s Hill and Port Republic, the Battle of Tom’s Brook (the worst defeat suffered by the Confederate cavalry in Virginia during the entire Civil War), and in the Battle of Cedar Creek, among others. He was promoted to brigadier general on December 19, 1864. On May 3, 1865, he disbanded the last organized Confederate forces at Lexington, Va., after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.

Worried about being charged with treason, Jackson fled to Mexico, but soon returned to the United States and gave his parole in Brownsville, Texas on July 26, 1865. He returned to West Virginia, but learned that ex-Confederates had been banned from practicing law in the Union’s newest state.

Forbidden to practice law in his native state, West Virginia, Jackson, with his wife and children, instead settled in Louisville, Kentucky, where he resumed his pre-war legal career. He soon attained prominence in the local legal community, and in 1872 he was appointed Judge of the Jefferson Circuit Court. Based on a sterling reputation as a stern, fearless but eminently fair judge, he was regularly re-elected to that office until his death from Bright’s Disease on March 24, 1890. His judicial career was distinguished by high moral courage, as well as professional ability, and he was regarded as one of the leading jurists of Kentucky. “Judge Jackson was always noted for his fastidious dress, polished manners and dignified bearing,” recorded his obituary. “Upon the bench he was sternness personified, but in private life a most agreeable gentleman and of an exceedingly social nature. His form was tall and his features clean cut and remarkably handsome.”

“A man more highly respected or more ably endowed never occupied the seat. He has been an ideal Judge-stern and impartial in enforcing the law, but with a kind heart beneath his severity, ever prompting him to be merciful. He is a man of great personal courage, and never shrunk from the performance of his duty, under the most trying circumstances,” claimed the Parkersburg, West Virginia newspaper a few days before his death. “In private talks he is as genial and courteous as he is dignified. His face is a splendid Roman face, and is an index of a splendid Roman character. His friends could never do enough for him and his enemies pay tribute to his nobility and worth.”

Mudwall Jackson was buried in Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville. When his wife died, she was buried alongside him, and the two rest under a handsome rose-colored granite monument.

While William L. Jackson may not have been a great battlefield commander, he was, by all accounts, a good man and an excellent jurist. And he is worth remembering if for no other reason than for his magical nickname of “Mudwall.” Here’s to Mudwall Jackson, forgotten Confederate cavalryman.

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Let’s start the new year off with a profile of a forgotten cavalryman. It’s been too long since I last did one.

FergusonMilton Jameson Ferguson was born near Cassville, Wayne County, Virginia (now West Virginia) in 1833. Friends and family called him by his middle name, Jameson. He was of Scots-Irish descent. His father, also named Milton J. Ferguson, owned a general store. He was described as “a studious young man, full of vim and vigor.” On September 21, 1854, he married Martha Jane Wellman.

In September 1853, at the young age of 20, he was admitted to the bar of Virginia and began practicing law in Wayne County. He had a busy and flourishing practice, handling litigation, estate, and real property matters. He was still engaged in the practice of law when the Civil War broke out in the spring of 1861, and was considered “the foremost man of the county.” That year, he was elected prosecuting attorney for Wayne County, but he did not get to serve in the position due to the secession of Virginia. The office was declared vacant in 1862 and another man was appointed to fill the term.

In 1859, Milton and his Joseph founded a Masonic Lodge in Wayne County. He also was a member of the Wayne County Militia, and when the colonel of the militia unit retired in 1857, Ferguson succeeded him as colonel of the 167th Virginia Militia Regiment. His unit saw action at the Barboursville, VA on July 13, 1861, when the Union 2nd Kentucky Infantry advanced on the town. The approach of the Confederate infantry caused the Kentuckians to withdraw, and violence was averted.

Ferguson was called “Wayne County’s outstanding contribution to the Confederacy and the Civil War.” Ferguson was 5’11”, had gray eyes, and dark whiskers. He had one of the war’s truly spectacular beards, reaching nearly to his waist. He made quite a presentation, with his long, flowing beard parted in the middle and flying over his shoulder as he led his unit into battle.

Ferguson was captured by Union troops in July 1861 and spent a stint as a prisoner of war at Camp Chase in Columbus, Ohio. In January 1862, he and another Confederate officer were exchanged for Union officers of equal rank, and Ferguson returned to duty, and began recruiting a company of cavalry. The company was mustered in on September 16, 1862, and in the coming months, Ferguson recruited five more companies, sufficient to form Ferguson’s Battalion Virginia Cavalry. In January 1863, his battalion merged with another battalion of four companies, forming the 16th Virginia Cavalry, with Ferguson as colonel of the new regiment.

The 16th Virginia Cavalry was assigned to a newly-formed cavalry commanded by Brig. Gen. Albert G. Jenkins, a Harvard-trained lawyer who had just received his general’s star. He led his regiment is several actions, including a long raid intended to disrupt the formation of the new state of West Virginia in the spring of 1863. Jenkins’ command then joined the Army of Northern Virginia, and led the way into Pennsylvania for Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell’s Second Corps in June 1863. After advancing all the way to the suburbs of Harrisburg, Jenkins’ men then led Ewell’s Corps to Gettysburg. After leading Ewell’s command to Gettysburg–and probably firing the first shots of the Battle of Gettysburg–Jenkins’ Brigade was split in half. Half, under Ferguson’s command, spent July 2 and 3 doing provost duty on Seminary Ridge, guarding prisoners and protecting the Confederate route of retreat.

Jenkins led the other half out onto the Confederate far left flank on July 2, and while reconnoitering in the area of Blocher’s (Barlow’s) Knoll, was badly wounded by shrapnel from a Union artillery shell. For some reason, word never reached Ferguson that Jenkins was down and that Ferguson now had command of the brigade. Consequently, that portion of Jenkins’ brigade, left leaderless, simply drifted away and failed to picket the roads to the north and east of Gettysburg, forcing two brigades of Confederate infantry to do duty that Jenkins’ horsemen should have done. That portion of Jenkins’ Brigade that failed to picket the roads on July 2 fought on East Cavalry Field on July 3, under command of Lt. Col. Vincent Witcher of the 34th Battalion of Virginia Cavalry.

Ferguson retained command of the brigade until Jenkins returned to duty in the late fall of 1863. During that time, the brigade participated in the November 6, 1863 Battle of Droop Mountain, where Union cavalry under command of Brig. Gen. William Woods Averell defeated a combined force of Confederate infantry and cavalry under command of Brig. Gen. John Echols, and which included Jenkins’ Brigade (with Ferguson in command of the brigade). Droop Mountain was the last large-scale combat in West Virginia during the war. When Jenkins returned, Ferguson reverted to command of the 16th Virginia Cavalry.

On February 15, 1864, Ferguson and 39 of his men were captured on Laurel Creek in Wayne County by Col. George Gallup and the 14th Kentucky Infantry. Ferguson soon found himself back at Camp Chase for a second stint, and was later sent to Fort Delaware and then on to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina before he was finally exchanged in late 1864. He served out the balance of the war, and was paroled at Charleston, West Virginia at war’s end.

After the war, he returned to Wayne County and tried to return to the practice of law. Because he was not permitted to resume his practice in West Virginia as a former Confederate officer, he relocated to Lawrence, Kentucky, and was elected judge there. In 1871, the law was changed, and Ferguson returned to Wayne County and resumed practicing law there. He built one of the larges and most extensive personal libraries in West Virginia, and was active in the Methodist Episcopal Church in Wayne County.

He died on April 22, 1881 at the young age of 48, and was buried in the Fairview Cemetery at Fort Gay in Wayne County, overlooking the Big Sandy River. He left behind his wife Martha Jane and three children, Henry Wise, born in 1855 and also an attorney, Lynn Boyd, and Luta. Another child, Volney Howard, died at the age of 8.

Milton Ferguson did his duty to the best of his ability. He had no formal training as a soldier, and proved to be a capable regimental commander who was clearly out of his depth as a brigade commander. The breakdown in the chain of command on July 2, 1863 was inexcusable, and kept two fine, veteran brigades of Virginia infantry from participating in the attacks on East Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill that night. One can only speculate what might have happened had Ferguson taken command of the cavalry after Jenkins fell and those two veteran brigades had participated in the unsuccessful Confederate assaults that night.

Here’s to Colonel Milton Ferguson, forgotten Confederate cavalryman.

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I was asked this question:

When did Albert Jenkins’ cavalry brigade arrive on the battlefield at Gettysburg? Could part of the reasoning on Lee’s and/or Ewell’s part have been to keep Governor-elect Billy Smith out of harm’s way, thus using his brigade to watch the flank? Or, did they not trust Jenkins’ brigade? Or, maybe a little of both?

Here’s my answer:

Good questions all.

Let me answer the last one first. The Gettysburg Campaign was the first so-called “regular” service of Jenkins’ command, which had been considered to be partisan rangers prior. They were largely an undisciplined and unproven commodity. In addition, they were not armed with normal cavalry weapons. Instead, they carried two-band Enfield muzzle-loaders, which meant that they were more mounted infantry than anything else. Hence, they were largely unknown to Robert E. Lee, who didn’t really trust them as a result.

For purposes of the invasion of Pennsylvania, the command consisted of the 14th, 16th, and 17th Virginia Cavalry regiments and the 34th Battalion of Virginia Cavalry, commanded by the very colorful Lt. Col. Vincent “Clawhammer” Witcher. Lije White’s 35th Battalion of Virginia Cavalry of Grumble Jones’ Brigade was also sent with Jenkins’ command.

The command escorted Jenkins into Pennsylvania, and then split when Early’s division went toward York and the Susquehanna River. White’s battalion and part of the 16th Virginia escorted Early all the way to great covered bridge at Wrightsville and back. The other two full regiments, the rest of the 16th Virginia, and Witcher’s guys, with Jenkins in personal command, went with the rest of Ewell’s Corps to Carlisle and on to Camp Hill. In fact, the detachment with Jenkins had two skirmishes at Camp Hill. The first one, on June 29, was at a place called Oyster Point. Then, the next day, after Ewell received orders to go to Gettysburg, the cavalry served as a rear guard for the infantry and had a pretty large engagement with infantry from Fort Couch and Fort Washington at a place called Sporting Hill, which is on the southern edge of what is today Camp Hill.

The detachment with Jenkins led Ewell’s way south through Carlisle and then on toward Gettysburg. If you read John Buford’s dispatches to Reynolds on the night of June 30, he talks about encountering enemy cavalry in the area of Heidlersburg. These would have been Jenkins’ command leading the infantry south, serving the traditional role of cavalry.

Elements of Jenkins’ command traded picket fire with elements of the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry of Devin’s brigade at the Samuel Cobean farm, well north of Gettsyburg, very early on the morning of July 1. I believe that it is quite likely that the first shots of the battle were actually fired by either by a member of the 17th Pennsylvania at one of Jenkins’ guys, or vice versa, and not by Lt. Jones on Wistler’s Ridge.

So, Jenkins and his men arrived very early on the morning of July 1, and then they pretty much disappear. We know that about half of the brigade spent most of the battle doing provost duty. That detachment, commanded by Col. Milton Ferguson of the 16th Virginia, operated in the vicinity of Lee’s headquarters on Seminary Ridge for most of the battle.

The whereabouts of the rest of the brigade for most of July 1 and 2 is unknown and undocumented. All we know is that they were operating in the vicinity of Blocher’s (now Barlow’s) Knoll on the morning of July 2, and Jenkins was wounded by a chunk of shell fragment. For reasons that are a complete mystery to all of us, nobody informed Ferguson that he was now in command of the brigade, and we don’t have any idea where the men with Jenkins went or what they did for the rest of July 2, because there are absolutely no records or reports to tell us. It’s like they just disappeared, only to reappear with Stuart on East Cavalry Field the next day. Witcher would have commanded that detachment (which he did on ECF on July 3), so the blame probably must be placed squarely on his shoulders.

The wounding of Jenkins and resulting breakdown in command left the Hanover and Carlisle Roads unpicketed, and Ewell had no choice but to detach the Stonewall Brigade and Extra Billy’s brigade to do that duty. That’s how they ended up where they ended up. I often say that the only military aspect of the battle that was impacted by Stuart’s absence on July 1 was that there was no cavalry picketing the roads to the north and east on July 2, and that the detachment of those two veteran brigades of infantry to do duty that should have been done by cavalry may well have tipped the balance in the fighting for Culp’s Hill and East Cemetery Hill on July 2, as neither of those brigades was available to participate in the Confederate attacks. One can’t help but wonder whether the addition of those two veteran brigades might have made the difference in two assaults that nearly succeeded without them.

As a general rule, I don’t much care for “what-if’s”, but even I have to admit that this one is an especially tantalizing one. Would those two veteran infantry brigades have given Ewell’s twin assaults on East Cemetery and Culp’s Hills sufficient oomph to succeed? We will never know, but it is fascinating.

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Loyal reader Valerie Protopapas is also the newsletter editor for the Stuart-Mosby Historical Society. Although I am not a member of the Society, I have given the address on the anniversary of Jeb Stuart’s birth. Valerie is kind enough to make certain that I receive the newsletter whenever one is published–thank you, Valerie. I do read them, and I do appreciate them.

The November-December 2009 issue had an article titled “Two Accounts of Mosby’s Affect on the Battle of Brandy Station” that’s worthy of some more exploration. The first is a quote from John Formby’s 1910 book The American Civil War–A Concise History of Its Causes, Progress, and Results:

It was in the spring of 1863 that the celebrated “Jack” Mosby began his raids and surprises on Union outposts and communications. He was a partisan leader pure and simple, who depended for success on ubiquity and the smallness of his communications. When the Army of the Potomac was lying in front of Centreville, he attacked their outposts continually, and caused such a scare that the planks of the chain bridge at Washington were taken up at nights; at this time he could not muster more than 20 men. He was often pursued by large forces, but easily escaped. In February he nearly succeeded in capturing General (sic) Wyndham in his own quarters, and did take General Stoughton in his, soon after. Just before the battle of Brandy Station, Hooker asked for the cavalry division from Washington to reinforce Pleasonton, but it was refused as being necessary to hold the communications against Mosby, who had just destroyed a supply train. He was chased by a major-general and 3,000 men, vanished, and a few days afterwards captured a cavalry camp in Maryland. He often neutralized a hundred times his own force, and created a constant feeling of insecurity on the Union side.

Mosby himself weighed in on the issue in his memoirs. He wrote:

If Pleasonton had had those 6000 sabers with him…on June 9, 1863, in his great cavalry combat with Stuart at Brandy Station, the result might have been different. Hooker had asked for them, but had been refused, on the ground that they could not be spared from the defense of Washington.

In support of his claims, Mosby quoted Joseph Hooker’s testimony before the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War after the Battle of Gettysburg:

I may state here that while at Fairfax Court House my cavalry was reinforced by that of Major-Gen. Stahel. The latter numbered 6100 sabers, and had been engaged in picketing a line from Occoquan River to Goose Creek…The force opposed to them was Mosby’s guerrillas, numbering about 200; and, if the reports of the newspapers were to be believed, this whole party was killed two or three times during the winter. From the time I took command of the Army of the Potomac there was no evidence that any force of the enemy, other than that above named, was within 100 miles of Washington City; and yet, the planks on the chain bridge were taken up at night during the greater part of the winter and spring.

At first blush, the statement that the addition of 6000 sabers to the 12,000 or so that Pleasonton took into battle at Brandy Station on June 9, 1863 would have made a significant difference certainly makes sense, as the addition of that division would have meant that Pleasonton’s force would have been twice the size of Stuart’s. Nobody disputes that.

However, the real question is whether there was ever any chance of Stahel’s division being added to the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps any sooner that it was, which was at the end of June 1863. The answer is absolutely not.

The reasons why are actually pretty simple. At the time of the Battle of Brandy Station, Alfred Pleasonton–who was then the INTERIM commander of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps (the actual commander, Maj. Gen. George Stoneman was on medical leave)–was still a brigadier general of volunteers. Julius Stahel, who commanded that division, was a major general, and outranked Pleasonton. Thus, by virtue of seniority, Stahel would have been entitled to take command of the Cavalry Corps and the expedition. Pleasonton, whose ambition knew no bounds, never, ever would have permitted that to occur; once Stahel was in command, it would have been all but impossible to remove him. Thus, the only way that Pleasonton could have the benefit of that division was if Stahel was no longer in command of it.

Further, it was well known that Alfred Pleasonton had a rabid case of xenophobia, and Stahel was a Hungarian immigrant. Pleasonton firmly believed that foreigners had no place fighting in this most American of wars, and he took active, affirmative steps to rid his command of high-ranking foreigners that was as extreme as sacrificing an entire regiment at Middleburg, VA in an effort to rid himself of Frenchman Alfred N. Duffie during the early phases of the Gettysburg Campaign.

Pleasonton succeeded in ridding himself of the threat posed by Stahel, but it didn’t happen until the last week of June 1863. Stahel was relieved of command of his division, and then the division became the Third Cavalry Division, Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac, under the command of Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick.

However, at the beginning of June, prior to the Battle of Brandy Station, Stahel was well-ensconced i command of his division, and, at that time, was going nowhere. Given that, and given that Stahel ranked Pleasonton, there was absolutely NO chance that his division would have joined the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps on June 9, 1863.

So, while Mosby certainly had a point, his own ego prohibited him from seeing the truth, which is that he really didn’t play any role at all in the great Battle of Brandy Station.

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Someone asked,

Why didn’t Lee use his other cavalry units to scout out the land to find the location of the Union army? I mean… Stuart disappeared, so why not send your own cavalry to scout ahead. This makes no sense to me.

I couldn’t resist. Here’s my response:

There were seven brigades of cavalry assigned to the Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by:

Brig. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee (Robert E. Lee’s nephew)
Brig. Gen. William H. F. “Rooney” Lee (Robert E. Lee’s second son)
Brig. Gen. Wade Hampton
Brig. Gen. Beverly H. Robertson
Brig. Gen. William E. “Grumble” Jones
Brig. Gen. Albert G. Jenkins
Brig. Gen. John D. Imboden

Imboden’s command had just been converted from partisan rangers that spring, and had had its first action as “regular” cavalry in the Jones-Imboden Raid of April 1863. These men were untried and hence suspect.

Jenkins’ command had also recently joined the “regular” cavalry service, serving mainly as mounted infantry much more so than in the conventional role of cavalry.

Robertson’s brigade was extremely green. It consisted of two very large, but very green regiments of North Carolina cavalry. They had seen their first action at Brandy Station on June 9, and had not done well at all. They basically fired a couple of volleys and then bugged out and were non-factors for the rest of the day, allowing Gregg’s command to march to Fleetwood Hill unmolested and undetected. Plus, Robertson and Stuart didn’t get along. Stuart detested Robertson and did not want to work with him under any circumstances.

Grumble Jones was as good a commander as the Confederates had; he was really outstanding. However, Jones and Stuart absolutely despised each other; their enmity was open and well-known. At the same time, they respected each other a great deal. Stuart quite correctly called Jones the “best outpost officer in the army,” meaning that he recognized Jones’ real talent for operating in a detached fashion. Jones’ brigade consisted of the 6th, 7th, 11th, and 12th regiments of Virginia Cavalry and the 35th Battalion of Virginia Cavalry, battle-tested veterans all (the 7th Virginia was Turner Ashby’s own regiment) and was, arguably, the finest combat command assigned to the Army of Northern Virginia’s mounted elements. This is the same brigade that Thomas L. Rosser dubbed the Laurel Brigade in 1864, and this was a very fine combat command. Jones and his brigade bore the brunt of the fighting at Brandy Station and then again at Upperville on June 21, 1863, and again during some of the many cavalry engagements during the retreat from Gettysburg. Even though Jones and Stuart were unable to get along, Stuart knew that Jones and his command were fighters.

Stuart marched on June 25 with three brigades, Hampton, Fitz Lee, and Rooney Lee’s brigade, now commanded by Col. John R. Chambliss, Jr. of the 13th Virginia Cavalry after Rooney’s wounding at Brandy Station. Stuart gave very specific orders to Robertson that his brigade and Jones’ brigade were to guard the mountain passes until the ANV had passed, and that they were then to follow the army north into Pennsylvania. Robertson failed miserably and did not arrive in Gettysburg until the morning of July 3. Had Robertson obeyed his orders, he would have arrived in time to lead the advance of Hill’s and Longstreet’s Corps as they advanced from the direction of Chambersburg. Unfortunately, Robertson ranked Jones, meaning that Robertson ended up in command of the two brigades, and not Jones. I firmly believe that had Jones been in command of this task force–rather than Robertson–things would have been very different indeed, as Jones would have been much more aggressive and much more diligent about seeing that the column moved with alacrity. It’s not a big surprise that Robertson was relieved of command after the Gettysburg Campaign and that he never commanded troops in the field again after his miserable failures during the campaign.

Jenkins’ brigade was actually with Ewell as Ewell made his advance to the Susquehanna River. A regiment and a half–the 35th Battalion of Virginia Cavalry of Jones’ Brigade and about half of the 17th Virginia Cavalry–went to York and then on to Columbia with Early, and the rest of Jenkins’ command went with Rhodes and Pender as they advanced on Harrisburg by way of Carlisle. Those elements of Jenkins’ command that were with Rhodes and Pender had skirmishes in Camp Hill, PA–just across the river from Harrisburg–on June 29 and 30, and then led the advance of the two divisions from Carlisle on July 1. While Lt. Marcellus Jones of the 8th Illinois Cavalry is usually credited with firing the first shots of the Battle of Gettysburg, it’s instead likely that one of Devin’s men actually fired that first shot at one of Jenkins’ guys as they advanced from Heidlersburg. Jenkins’ command actually did rather well. If you hear that there was no Confederate cavalry at Gettysburg on July 1, that is simply not true. Jenkins’ guys were there, and did rather well, particularly considering that this was their first real test and that they were not, by nature, well suited to that sort of work..

That leaves Imboden’s Northwestern Brigade. The simple truth is that they were untried and hence unknown. Consequently, Robert E. Lee didn’t trust them. Instead of being called to operate with the main body of the army, they were sent off on a foraging expedition. As late as July 1, they had a skirmish in the streets of McConnellsburg, PA, sixty miles due west of Gettysburg. Lee did not call Imboden’s command to the main battlefield until the morning of July 3. They then were given the arduous task of escorting the seventeen-mile-long wagon train of wounded to the Potomac River crossings at Williamsport, MD, and then to defend the town against Buford’s attacks on July 6. Imboden was nothing short of spectacular during these four or five days, clearly his greatest contribution to the Confederate war effort.

In short, then, had Robertson obeyed Stuart’s orders, there would have been two full brigades of cavalry with the main body of the Army of Northern Virginia. Jenkins’ brigade was with Ewell and was actively engaged. Imboden’s command was not summoned by Lee, who made a conscious choice not to utilize those men.

I hope that helps. As I said, we addressed this issue at great length in Plenty of Blame to Go Around if this topic is of interest to you and you want more detail than what I have related here.

That’s a summary of a significant portion of the conclusion to Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg, but it certainly puts the situation in its proper context.

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Yesterday, someone asked a question on one of the forum boards I frequent about the morale and condition of the Army of Northern Virginia’s Cavalry in 1864, particularly considering that it lost its commander, Jeb Stuart, in May. I spent some time cobbling together a responsive essay that I thought I would share with you here.

Here’s what I wrote:

The Confederate cavalry was in surprisingly good shape in 1864 for lots of reasons. First, and foremost, the command of the Union cavalry was in shambles as the year began. With Pleasonton relieved, Buford dead and Kilpatrick sent west, three of the four highest ranking officers in the AoP Cavalry Corps were out of the picture. Instead, you have Torbert, who’s an infantry officer, in command of the largest division, and Wilson, who’s never commanded anything bigger than a squad, in command of another. And you have Sheridan, with all of 60 days’ experience commanding cavalry and no real gift for it, in command.

Thus, the ANV Cavalry Corps opened the 1864 campaigning season at a real advantage in terms of leadership. Where it lacked was in horse flesh and technology. The Confederate system relied on cavalrymen supplying their own mounts until late 1864, so if a trooper lost his horse, he had to find a replacement. Many times, this meant having to take a furlough to return home to find another mount, which was a real drain on manpower. The Union, on the other hand, had instituted an effective and fairly efficient remount system in the form of the Cavalry Bureau, meaning that there was a real advantage for the AoP here.

Likewise, by the spring of 1864, nearly the entire AoP Cavalry Corps had been armed with Spencer repeating carbines, whereas the ANV Cavalry Corps still had either single-shot breechloaders or two-band muzzleloaders. This meant that the AoP had a major advantage in firepower and technology. This imbalance was never really corrected, and the imbalance really showed in the Shenandoah Valley in the fall of 1864, when the Valley cavalry was hopelessly outmatched by the powerful Cavalry Corps; Lunsford Lomax’s men had to use two-band muzzle loaders against an enemy armed with Spencers.

The morale of the ANV Cavalry Corps was high, and even with the loss of Stuart, its morale never really ebbed. Due to its success in the field–set forth in some detail below–its morale remained high until late fall, when it became obvious that the walls were beginning to close in at Petersburg.

As the spring campaigning season began, the inexperience of the Union commanders became obvious. Due to his inexperience, Wilson’s bungled in leading the way for the army (why the least experienced division commander was given the task of leading the way for the army’s advance is just one example of Sheridan’s poor performance as Cavalry Corps commander during the Overland Campaign), and his entire division got thrashed by Rosser’s Laurel Brigade at the outset of the Battle of the Wilderness. Wilson’s defeat meant that Meade entered the Wilderness with no cover for his flank and no cavalry leading the way to find the enemy. It’s no wonder that the 5th Corps stumbled into Ewell’s Confederates.

After the Wilderness, when Grant decided to move toward Spotsylvania Court House, the critical road junction along the way was where the Brock and Catharpin Roads meet. This was the site of a ramshackle tavern called Todd’s Tavern. On May 6, Sheridan had abandoned this position, allowing Fitz Lee’s division to occupy it, and the Virginians dug in. In one of the few good days Fitz had in the war, he held off most of the AoP for an entire day, before finally being driven off by Sheridan’s men in a fierce fight.

The next day, after telling George G. Meade to stuff it, Sheridan left on the Richmond Raid, leaving Grant without any cavalry to speak of for the better part of three weeks. The lack of a cavalry screen left him pretty much blind and nearly got his army caught in a massive trap at Ox Ford on the North Anna River.

Stuart died on May 12. Robert E. Lee had a dilemma on his hands: his nephew Fitz was Stuart’s hand-picked choice, but RE Lee was aware of his nephew’s limitations. He also knew that Wade Hampton technically outranked Fitz. So, he decided to avoid the problem and issued an order that indicated that now the three separate divisions would act as independent commands, with the division commanders reporting to him directly. This was a real recipe for disaster.

Hampton made his debut at the May 28, 1864 Battle of Haw’s Shop. While Hampton was ultimately driven from the battlefield, his tenacious stand prevented Sheridan from accomplishing his mission, which was to locate the main body of the ANV. Sheridan never got close. There was more hard fighting on May 30 and 31 and Old Church and Totopotomoy Creek, and finally Cold Harbor began on June 1.

After being stymied at Cold Harbor, Grant realized that he was out of room to maneuver around Richmond, and instead decided to cross the James River and instead advance on the important railroad town of Petersburg, 25 miles south of Richmond. He who controlled Petersburg controlled Richmond; Lee would either have to come out and fight Grant on ground of Grant’s choosing, or Richmond would fall. Grant’s plan relied on stealth. He would send two of his four cavalry divisions (which counts August V. Kautz’s small division from the Army of the James) off on a raid on the Virginia Central Railroad in the hope that it would detract the attention of the Confederate cavalry and draw it off in pursuit, allowing Grant to cross the James undetected. It was a brilliant plan, and it worked like a charm.

The Trevilian Raid began on June 7 and culminated with the two-day battle of Trevilian Station on June 11-12. Two of the three ANV cavalry divisions (Hampton’s and Fitz Lee’s) pursued Sheridan, who had two divisions. Fought on heavily wooded ground that closely resembled the Wilderness, Hampton thrashed Sheridan after a very hard fight and where Sheridan outnumbered Hampton 9000 to 6300. Hampton prevented Sheridan from destroying the critical railroad junction at Gordonsville, and from linking up with David Hunter’s army.

Hampton pursued Sheridan across Virginia and again thrashed elements of his command at Samaria (St. Mary’s) Church, east of Richmond, on June 24. Sheridan then crossed the James River made his way back to the AoP, which was, by then, in the process of investing Petersburg.

On June 27, the Wilson-Kautz Raid began. Freed from having to chase Sheridan, Hampton,now joined by Rooney Lee’s division and the independent brigades of Martin W. Gary and James Dearing, turned on Wilson and Kautz. On June 30 and July 1, at Sappony Church and Reams Station, respectively, Hampton pounced on Wilson and Kautz, nearly destroying their commands. They lost 1500 of their 4500 men between the two battles, all of their wagons, and all of their horse artillery. And 1500 of Hampton’s men ended up with perfectly serviceable Spencer carbines in the process. Wilson and Kautz were lucky to escape with their commands intact. In recognition of Hampton’s superb performance and in a tacit acknowledgment that Fitz was not up to the job, Hampton was made permanent commander of the ANV Cavalry Corps on August 12, 1864.

On August 8, Sheridan was ordered to the Shenandoah Valley with most of the Cavalry Corps. Only David Gregg’s Second Division remained with the AoP, too small a force for the job at hand. This permitted Hampton to lead the famous Beefsteak Raid in September, where elements of his command rustled the entire cattle herd of the AoP, providing Lee’s army with much-needed food. They also captured much of the 1st District of Columbia Cavalry, meaning that elements of Hampton’s command–including Hampton himself–ended up with Henry rifles.

Not much happened for the rest of the year, and Hampton (and his old division, now commanded by Maj. Gen. Matthew C. Butler) was sent to South Carolina at his own request in an effort to resist the advance of Sherman’s armies. He was promoted to lieutenant general in February 1865. Fitzhugh Lee then assumed command of what was left of the ANV Cavalry Corps and remained in command of those troopers until the surrender at Appomattox.

So, the answer to the question is that in many ways, the loss of Stuart was not the crippling blow to the ANV Cavalry Corps that you might have expected. In many ways, the ANV Cavalry Corps got BETTER. It never lost a significant engagement (I consider Haw’s Shop a Confederate victory even though Sheridan held the field at the end of the fight because Hampton prevented Sheridan from accomplishing his mission) battle with Hampton in command, and, in some ways, the death of Stuart made it possible for the ANV Cavalry Corps to get serious about the work in front of it. Without Stuart’s silliness out of the way, these men went about their work with deadly earnestness, and it showed. I argue–and I believe I’m right–that Stuart needed to be removed from the equation for the ANV Cavalry Corps to take the next step, and the proof is in the pudding. Just look at what it accomplished with Wade Hampton in command.

I fully recognize that some of what I say is controversial–some of it intentionally so–but I do believe that the proof is in the pudding. The simple truth is that each and every time that Wade Hampton and Phil Sheridan met on the field of battle, Hampton outgeneralled him, often by a long shot. What does that tell you about the state of the Army of Northern Virginia’s Cavalry Corps after the loss of Stuart?

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Here’s the other profile I promised last week, of one of the most colorful cavalrymen of the Confederacy.

Gilbert Jefferson WrightGilbert Jefferson Wright was born in Lawrenceville, Georgia, on February 18, 1825 as the son of Littlebury and Henrietta (Austin) Wright. He was educated in the local schools of the county and grew to be a giant of a man at 6’4’ tall. His friends called him “Gib”, a nickname that stuck with him for the rest of his life. “A man of social and convivial tastes, in his youth, he fell into bad habits and, during one of his drinking bouts, was so unfortunate to kill one of his comrades,” recalled a biographer. He was acquitted of murder.

When the Mexican War broke out in 1846, he enlisted as a private in Company A, 1st Georgia Infantry. He fought in several battles and received a severe neck wound. Although he returned to duty with his regiment after a period of recuperation, he suffered from a painful stiff neck for the rest of his life. When the war ended, Wright returned to Georgia, read law, and joined the bar in 1848, quickly building up a large and lucrative practice. “In no sense an orator, he was a laborious lawyer, a man of vigorous intellect and of untiring energy, and was able always to present his views with distinctiveness, clearness and force,” recalled an observer. He married Dorothy Chandler on February 19, 1850 in Carroll County, Georgia.

Wright helped to organize the Albany Hussars, which eventually became Company D of the Cobb Legion Cavalry in 1861 and was appointed a lieutenant. He served in all of the campaigns of the Army of Northern Virginia until 1865, reportedly serving in more than 100 engagements. Wright as promoted to captain in 1862 and to major on June 9, 1863 at the Battle of Brandy Station. He was wounded in battle several times, including during the Battle of South Mountain on September 14, 1862, earning the respect of his brigade commander, Wade Hampton. He was wounded again on August 3, 1863. His obituary in the Atlanta Constitution stated, “He was seriously wounded several times, but before his wounds ever healed he would be again on the field of battle fighting with matchless valor.”

A couple of anecdotes go a long way to demonstrating his nature. At the Battle of Quebec Schoolhouse in September 1862, he received a severe wound to the foot, which bled heavily. He realized that if he stayed mounted, he would bleed to death quickly. Wright dismounted, was laid on his back, and with his foot hoisted about three feet above his prone body, he remained in command of his troops, calling out orders. “Give ’em hell, boys! give ’em hell for they shot my foot!” He remained there until the battle ended.

During the Gettysburg Campaign, as the Cobb Legion entered a small town, a scared courier dashed back warning that the Yankees were advancing down the same road. “Tell ’em I’m traveling this road myself, and if they don’t get out of the way, hell will be to pay,” replied Wright. A few minutes later, he met the Yankees and charged them, routing them, and capturing a number of prisoners. Such was his command style.

On October 9, 1863, Wright was promoted to colonel of the Cobb Legion Cavalry and assumed command of his brigade when Brig. Gen. Pierce M. B. Young was transferred to command the North Carolina cavalry brigade. Wright was badly wounded again on May 30, 1864. Gib Wright led the brigade, consisting of the Cobb Legion, Phillips Legion, Jeff Davis Legion, and the 7th Georgia Cavalry at intervals throughout the rest of 1864. His brigade bore much of the brunt of the first day’s fighting at the June 11-12, 1864 Battle of Trevilian Station, where he drew the praise of Wade Hampton.

In January 1865, when the brigade was transferred to South Carolina, he assumed permanent command of the brigade, leading it in combat at the March 10, 1865 Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads, where his Georgians suffered heavy casualties, and then again at Bentonville nine days later. Wright was apparently promoted to brigadier general during the war’s final months, but he never received the commission.

He had promised his men that they would not be surrendered against their will, but Wright was unable to deliver on the promise. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston surrendered Wright’s brigade at the Bennett Place near Durham, North Carolina, on April 26, 1865.

His commander and mentor, General Young, said “this office has proved his gallantry on many fields.” J.E.B. Stuart called him “a most competent officer.” According to one of his troopers, Wright’s “unique personality, vigorous intellect and untiring energy made a remarkable impression upon all with whom he came into contact.” Though not a professional soldier, Wright possessed a “bulldog courage” and “stentorian voice” that were conspicuous in battle. A South Carolina horse soldier described him as a “stern old warrior.”

The war over, he returned home to Albany and resumed his practice of law, forming a partnership with a friend. “For some years this firm did the leading law practice of Southwest Georgia, and were retained in most cases of importance, whether civil or criminal, both in the State and Federal Courts,” noted Wright’s biographer. A Democrat and opponent of Reconstruction, he was elected mayor of Albany in 1866, holding office until 1869. While serving as mayor, he and some friends engaged in some game of chance that violated city ordinances. Wright, the city councilmen, and all others involved in the game were arrested. The next day, Wright made each of his partners in crime stand up and accept a fine of $10 for violating an Albany city ordinance. When his own turn came, he called his name three times, stood up, and assessed himself a fine of $20 that he then paid to the court clerk.

From 1875 to 1880, he served as judge of the Albany Circuit, filling “the place with fidelity and with distinction.” His health failing, Wright retired in 1880 and moved to Monroe County, Georgia, where he farmed until his death at Forsyth, Georgia, on June 3, 1895. “The news of Judge Wright’s death will carry the deepest sorrow to the hearts of his friends all over Georgia,” noted his obituary. “He was, a few years ago, regarded as one of the ablest lawyers at the Georgia bar.” He was buried in Oakland Cemetery in Forsyth. He was 70 years old and had led an active and infinitely interesting life.

His biographer summed him up nicely:”Notwithstanding his many peculiarities and conflicting traits of character, General Wright was one of the most influential men in South Georgia and a leader in everything that was calculated to do good to his section of the State. On the Bench he was a man of rigid integrity; enforced the law without regard to persons; and his record while in that position showed that whatever his little defects might have been, he had a just appreciation of the duties of his office. His opinions and his charges delivered while on the Bench established for him a reputation as one of the strongest jurists in the State.”

Here’s to old Gib Wright, one of the most colorful and interesting cavalrymen of the Civil War, forgotten no more.

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