January, 2008

My profiles of forgotten cavalrymen usually focus on men whose outstanding contributions to their cause made a difference in the outcome of the war. Every once in a while, though, it’s fun to pay tribute to a scoundrel. Today, we pay tribute to a true rascal.

WyndhamCol. Sir Percy Wyndham was born on the ship Arab in the English Channel on February 5, 1833, while his parents were en route to Calcutta, India. Capt. Charles Wyndham, his father, served in the British Fifth Light Cavalry. With that pedigree, the boy was destined to be a horse soldier. However, fifteen-year old Percy Wyndham entered the French navy instead, serving as a midshipman during the French Revolution of 1848. He then joined the Austrian army as a sub lieutenant and left eight years later as a first lieutenant in the Austrian Lancers. He resigned his commission on May 1, 1860 to join the Italian army of liberation being formed by the famed guerrilla leader Giuseppe Garibaldi, and received a battlefield promotion to major in the great battle of Milazzo, Sicily on July 20, 1860, where Garibaldi’s army defeated the Neapolitans, consolidating the guerrilla’s hold on the island. A grateful King Victor Emmanuel knighted the dashing cavalryman. With the conquest of Italy complete, the soldier of fortune went hunting for another opportunity, and found one in the United States in 1861.

Sir Percy offered his services to the Union with the coming of war in the spring of 1861. Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, who quickly rose to command all of the Union armies, was familiar with Wyndham’s reputation as a fighter, and recommended him to be the colonel of the 1st New Jersey Cavalry. Although the governor of New Jersey issued the commission in February 1862, the men of the 1st New Jersey did not welcome the Englishman with open arms. A local newspaper wondered, “Have we no material in New Jersey out of which to manufacture competent colonels without resorting to foreigners to fill up the list?” However, when he instituted discipline, improved their food, got regular pay for his men, and moved their camp out of a swamp, the troopers changed their minds about their new commander.

Sir Percy made quite an impression. A Federal horseman recalled, “This officer was an Englishman, an alleged lord. But lord or son of a lord, his capacity as a cavalry officer was not great. He had been entrusted with one or two independent commands and was regarded as a dashing officer…He seemed bent on killing as many horses as possible, not to mention the men. The fact was the newspapers were in the habit of reporting that Colonel or General so-and-so had made a forced march of so many hours, and it is probable that ‘Sir Percy’ was in search of some more of that kind of cheap renown.”

One Confederate trooper noticed that Sir Percy, who wore a spectacular mustache nearly two feet wide, was “a stalwart man…who strode along with the nonchalant air of one who had wooed Dame Fortune too long to be cast down by her frowns.” A Federal officer called Wyndham “a big bag of wind.” Another Northerner, remembering his first encounter with Wyndham, compared him to a bouquet of flowers, noting, “You poor little lillies, you! You haven’t the first the glorious magnificence of his beauty. He’s only been in Camp for two hours, and he now appears in his third suit of clothes!”

During Jackson’s Valley Campaign of 1862, Wyndham impetuously led his regiment in a charge into Turner Ashby’s cavalry, and Wyndham was captured on June 6, 1862. He was paroled on August 17. When he returned to duty, he was assigned to command a brigade in Brig. Gen. George D. Bayard’s cavalry division.

Wyndham’s brigade included his own 1st New Jersey Cavalry, the 12th Illinois Cavalry, the 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry, and the 1st Maryland Cavalry. In early 1863, while his brigade was headquartered at Fairfax Court House, Wyndham was given the task of running down the guerrillas of John S. Mosby. Sir Percy did not approve of Mosby’s unorthodox tactics, and called him a horse-thief. Sir Percy threatened to burn down towns if their inhabitants did not tell what they knew about the whereabouts of Mosby and his men, a policy that did not endear the Englishman to any of the locals.

Offended by being called a horse thief, Mosby decided a personal response was in order. When a deserter from the 5th New York Cavalry disclosed the location of Wyndham’s headquarters, Mosby raided the place on the night of March 9, 1863. Sir Percy had left for Washington the day before, and missed the humiliation of being captured in his bed, as two of his aides and Brig. Gen. Edwin M. Stoughton were. Mosby had to content himself with capturing some of Sir Percy’s uniforms.

Sir Percy’s brigade performed well during the Stoneman Raid of 1863, reaching the outer defenses of Richmond before turning away. His finest moment was at the Battle of Brandy Station on June 9, 1863. He personally led his brigade’s charge up Fleetwood Hill, engaging in hand-to-hand combat until they were driven back by the weight of enemy numbers. Although his troopers were badly outnumbered, he personally rallied a rear guard and forced the pursuing Confederates back with two hell for leather saber charges. Sir Percy received a severe gunshot wound to the leg, but stayed in the saddle until loss of blood finally forced him to retire. “It affords me no small degree of pleasure to be able to say that all of my command that followed me on the field behaved nobly,” he proudly wrote of his brigade’s performance, “standing unmoved under the enemy’s artillery fire and, when ordered to charge, dashing forward with a spirit and determination that swept all before them!”

Sent to Washington to recuperate, he assumed command of the cavalry units assigned to the capital’s defenses. During Stuart’s advance on Washington on his way into Pennsylvania, Sir Percy scraped together a force of 3,000 fully equipped horsemen, but they did not end up facing the enemy.

When he returned from a leave of absence in October 1863, he was charged with “absence without leave”, his leave having expired on September 5. He was relieved from all duty “and ordered to proceed to Washington, but not in arrest.” On October 3, 1863, Sec. of War Edwin M. Stanton issued an unusual order: “Information received at this Department indicates that Colonel Percy Wyndham should not be permitted to have a command or come within the lines of [the Army of the Potomac].” Historian Roger Hunt speculates that this order stemmed from rumors that Wyndham was involved in a plot to kidnap Lincoln and his cabinet. Sir Percy repeatedly applied for reinstatement, but was rebuffed.

Undaunted, he returned to the army in April 1864 in a volunteer capacity, “rendering all the service in my power for the advancement and success of the Union cause.” When Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, the commander of the Army of the Potomac, learned that Wyndham was with the army again without authority, on June 26, 1864, he ordered that Wyndham “be sent by the Provost Marshal General to Washington, in charge of an officer, and reported to the Adjutant General.” On July 2, Stanton ordered, “Colonel Wyndham will be mustered out of service,” effective July 5, 1864.

Now a civilian, Sir Percy settled in New York, where he established a military school. In 1866 he returned to Italy to serve on Garibaldi’s staff. When the Italian war ended, he and a friend who was a chemist went to New York to start a petroleum refining business. Unfortunately, an explosion destroyed the main refinery and ruined the business. Ever restless, he soon left New York for India. He settled in Calcutta and established a comic newspaper, The Indian Charivari, modeled on London’s Punch. He founded an Italian opera company and married a wealthy widow. A failed business logging teak in Mandalay, Burma, ate up all of the wealth earned from his Indian businesses.

Returning to his mercenary roots, he briefly served as the commander in chief of the Burmese army, but was left penniless by the failure of his many businesses. He was fascinated by huge balloons, and undertook the construction of one. In January 1879, the huge balloon (70 feet tall and 100 feet in diameter) exploded with him aboard at an altitude of 300 feet. The flamboyant English soldier of fortune was dead at the young age of 46. His body was not found.

Here’s to Col. Sir Percy Wyndham, English soldier of fortune, scoundrel, and wearer of some of the most spectacular facial hair ever seen on this continent.

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14 Jan 2008, by

Orders of Battle

One of the things that I really enjoy doing when working on my projects is developing orders of battle. I’ve always been very proud of my ability to put together detailed orders of battle that include a lot of useful information, such as the names of regimental commanders, and, if something happened to them, successors.

Sometimes, it’s just not possible to get everything. Given that the Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads occurred a scant few weeks before the end of the Civil War, and given the wretched state of Confederate record-keeping at that time, in spite of years of research and my very best efforts to do so, I was unable to identify several of the regimental commanders on the Confederate side. That really bothered me, because it was the first time that I’ve ever been unable to fill in all of the regimental commanders in an order of battle.

This evening, I started working on an order of battle for the July 9, 1864 Battle of Monocacy, which is going to be the next project for J. D. and me. I got a decent start on it, but I’ve still got a bunch of regimental commanders on both sides to identify.

This time, though, I’m going to succeed. I’m going to get all of them.

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Always being on the alert for examples of neo-Confederate idiocy, I came across this prize on one of the Yahoo Groups e-mail lists on the Civil War that I subscribe to. It came across last night, and I hereby declare it the neo-Confederate grand champion for 2008, as I cannot imagine ANYONE topping this little prize:

I would also like to add that I am a founding family of Virginia and America. My family fought for the South. None of my ancestors owned any slaves. Also, with my family coming into this country in 1609 and 1614 I had many direct ancestors die in the Rev. war. If your family has not been in this country since before the ACW, I would rather not hear your opinion. As I do not believe you to be an American.

By our hero’s definition, more than 90% of U. S. citizens are not Americans, including me–my family did not immigrate to the U. S. until 1904. I wonder what our neo-Confederate hero thinks about Native Americans, since they pre-date his family?

Nice grammar, too.

Not surprisingly, our genius refuses to sign his posts, so nobody knows what his name might be. However, I do wish he’d head back to the mobile home, raise the Confederate battle flag with “git ‘er done” on it, turn on the Dukes of Hazard, and hopefully, never, ever reproduce. Like Britney Spears, this guy is a prime example of why people should be required to obtain a license to reproduce.

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As you will recall, last week, I posted here about a thread that I had started on the Armchair General forum boards about the differences between Union cavalry in the Eastern vs. Western Theaters of the war.

When I began that thread, I was afraid the someone would hijack it and try to turn it into a “Nathan Bedford Forrest was God” discussion, and I worked very hard to try to prevent that. After years of study, I remain absolutely convinced that Forrest was nothing more than a nuisance, John S. Mosby on a larger scale (No, Val, this will not become a Mosby discussion, so please don’t go there). My only point was that it’s easy to run up a gaudy won-lost record when you only ever face the junior varsity, and with very few exceptions, that’s what Forrest faced.

One of the Forrest worshippers kept trying to shanghai my thread, and went on and on and on. I finally suggested that we simply agree to disagree on the subject and let it go, but he insisted on taking another shot at it, saying that I couldn’t call Forrest a nuisance until I definitively proved to him that I was right. I hope I just put an end to it. I put up a post saying that it was not my responsibility to prove my opinion, and that my opinion was just that: my opinion. In the hope of preventing an all-out flame war, I said that I would not respond to any further posts on the subject.

I just don’t get it. What is it about Forrest that inspires such emotional and hate-filled responses? Even things that have almost nothing to do with Forrest instigate the inevitable and very predictable response. I have to say that I find it terribly distasteful, and that I think that the best course of action from now on is to simply avoid the topic altogether. Which is sad, considering that I’m a cavalry historian and that that’s the focus of this blog.

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Jack Dempsey, a fellow barrister from Detroit, has been keeping us posted on Michigan’s efforts to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. Jack recently posted a proclamation by the Governor of Michigan forming a committee to plan the state’s commemoration of the sesquicentennial. Today, the Michigan State Senate passed a resolution commemorating the Abraham Lincoln bicentennial. Michigan is keenly aware of the significance of the Civil War, and deserves a vast amount of credit for being proactive in commemorating the sesquicentennial.

My state, Ohio, unfortunately has nothing remotely like it. Sadly, history is given short shrift in this state; when the General Assembly needs to cut funds, the Ohio Historical Society is the first budget they slash. To date, nothing like the commemoration planned by Michigan has been planned or discussed here in Ohio, which is just stunning to me. Consequently, I will be sending the following letter to Governor Ted Strickland tomorrow:

The Honorable Ted Strickland
Governor’s Office
Riffe Center, 30th Floor
77 South High Street
Columbus, OH 43215-6108

Re: Civil War Sesquicentennial

Dear Governor Strickland:

Although I practice law for a living, I am an award-winning Civil War historian by avocation. In researching and writing fourteen books on the war, I have devoted much of my adult life to the study of the Civil War. I am a native Pennsylvanian, but I have lived in Ohio for more than twenty years, and consider the Buckeye State my home.

In the course of my years of study, I have learned the following facts: War-time Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase were both Ohioans. The State of Ohio raised nearly 320,000 soldiers for the Union army, behind only New York and Pennsylvania, and gave the most men per capita of any state in the union. Among the Union’s leading generals, a disproportionate number of them were Buckeyes: Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, Philip H. Sheridan, William S. Rosecrans, and George A. Custer are the first to come to mind, although there are others. Five Ohio-born Civil War officers later served as President of the United States: Grant, James Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, and Rutherford B. Hayes. The Fighting McCooks, an Ohio family, were the largest family unit to serve in the Civil War, contributing six Union generals to the cause. Finally, one of the largest all-cavalry battles of the war was fought in Meigs County during John Hunt Morgan’s great Indiana and Ohio raid of 1863.

There were two major Confederate prisoner of war camps in Ohio. One was located on Johnson’s Island in Lake Erie, and the other was located right here in Columbus. More than 2,000 Confederate dead rest in the Camp Chase Cemetery in the Hilltop region of Columbus.

Needless to say, the Civil War was the seminal event in American history. 600,000 Americans died, slavery was eradicated, and the question of the legality of secession and the dominance of the Federal system were settled once and for all. Instead of a loose confederation of states, the Civil War forged this country into the United States of America.

The year 2011 marks the beginning of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, which will last until 2015. A number of states have already formed sesquicentennial committees to commemorate their contributions to the war. Recently, the Governor of Michigan issued this proclamation:



WHEREAS, Section 1 of Article V of the Michigan Constitution of 1963 vests the executive power of the State of Michigan in the Governor;

WHEREAS, under Section 8 of Article V of the Michigan Constitution of 1963, each principal department of state government is under the supervision of the Governor unless otherwise provided, and the Governor shall transact all necessary business with the officers of government;

WHEREAS, at the beginning of the American Civil War in 1861, Michigan residents responded enthusiastically to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for troops to put down the Confederate rebellion, eventually sending 90,000 men, and a few women, to the Union Army;

WHEREAS, Michigan sent 50 percent of its military age male population to fight in the Civil War, including specialized regiments of sharpshooters and engineers, and more cavalry per capita than any other northern state;

WHEREAS, at least 68 Michigan men were awarded the Medal of Honor for gallantry on the battlefield during the Civil War;

WHEREAS, Michigan mines produced tons of ire ore used to make cannon, iron clad ships, and rails, all of which contributed to the military success of the Union in the Civil War;

WHEREAS, the year 2011 marks the sesquicentennial of the beginning of the Civil War;

WHEREAS, it is in the best interests of the State of Michigan to provide for appropriate commemorative activities recognizing the 150th anniversary of the Civil War;

WHEREAS, recognizing the sesquicentennial of the Civil War will increase awareness of Michigan’s cultural heritage and assist cultural economic development in this state;

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Jennifer M. Granholm, Governor of the State of Michigan, by virtue of the power and authority vested in the Governor by the Michigan Constitution of 1963 and Michigan law, order the following:


As used in this Order:

A. “Department of History, Arts, and Libraries” or “Department” means the principal department of state government created by Section 3 of the History, Arts, and Libraries Act, 2001 PA 63, MCL 399.703.

B. “Michigan Historical Commission” or “Commission” means the commission created under Section 1 of 1913 PA 271, MCL 399.1.


A. The members of the Michigan Historical Commission shall constitute an advisory body within the Department of History, Arts and Libraries, for the purpose of all of the following:

1. Advising the Department and the Governor on matters relating to fostering authenticity and inclusion in Michigan’s observance of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

2. Encouraging, planning, and developing activities, events, programs, observances, and services appropriate to commemorate the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War.

3. Enlisting the support of private citizens, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and governmental entities in the planning and promotion of the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War.

4. Encouraging private citizens, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and governmental entities to organize and participate in Civil War Sesquicentennial activities.

5. Encouraging schools and cultural institutions in Michigan to participate in activities recognizing the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War.

6. Encouraging Michigan’s participation in national and international activities commemorating the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War and facilitating communications with other states commemorating the Sesquicentennial.

7. Serving as a clearinghouse for the collection and dissemination of information about Civil War Sesquicentennial plans, events, programs, observances, and services.

8. Researching and promoting the development of cultural, historical, and economic development opportunities relating to the Civil War in connection with the Civil War Sesquicentennial.

9. Reviewing, planning, and recommending strategies to promote and preserve the history of Michigan’s role in the Civil War.

10. Performing other functions related to the observance of the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War, as requested by the Director of the Department or the Governor.


A. The activities of the members of the Commission under this Order shall be staffed and assisted by personnel from the Department under the direction and supervision of the Director of the Department, subject to available funding.

B. The Commission may establish advisory workgroups composed of members of the public who are not members of the Commission to assist the members of the Commission in performing duties under this Order. The Commission may adopt, reject, or modify any recommendations proposed by an advisory workgroup.

C. In performing duties under this Order, the Commission may, as appropriate, make inquiries, studies, investigations, hold hearings, and receive comments from the public. The Commission may also consult with outside experts in order to perform its duties, including, but not limited to, experts in the private sector, organized labor, government agencies, and at institutions of higher education.

D. In performing duties under this Order, the Commission may hire or retain contractors, sub-contractors, advisors, consultants, and agents, and may make and enter into contracts necessary or incidental to the exercise of the powers of the Commission and the performance of its duties, as the Director of the Department deems advisable and necessary, in accordance with this Order and the relevant statutes, rules, and procedures of the Civil Service Commission and the Department of Management and Budget.

E. The Commission may accept donations of labor, services, or other things of value from any public or private agency or person related to activities under this Order.

F. Members of the Commission shall refer all legal, legislative, and media contacts related to this Order to the Department.


A. All departments, committees, commissioners, or officers of this state, or of any political subdivision of this state, shall give to the Commission or to any member or representative of the Commission, any necessary assistance required by the Commission or any member or representative of the Commission, in the performance of the duties of the Commission so far as is compatible with its, his, or her duties under this Order. Free access shall also be given to any books, records, or documents in its, his, or her custody, relating to matters within the scope of inquiry, study, or review of the Commission under this Order.

B. This Order shall not abate any suit, action, or other proceeding lawfully commenced by, against, or before any entity affected under this Order. Any suit, action, or other proceeding may be maintained by, against, or before the appropriate successor of any entity affected under this Order.

C. The invalidity of any portion of this Order shall not affect the validity of the remainder of the Order, which may be given effect without any invalid portion. Any portion of this Order found invalid by a court or other entity with proper jurisdiction shall be severable from the remaining portions of this Order.

D. This Order is effective upon filing.

Given under my hand and the Great Seal of the State of Michigan this 27th day of December, in the year of our Lord, two thousand seven.


The committee selected to implement this order has already had its first organizational meeting; 2011 is not that far away, and there is obviously a great deal to do to prepare for the sesquicentennial.

Given the fact that Ohio’s contributions to the Civil War dwarf those of Michigan by comparison, isn’t it time for Ohio to do something like this to honor this state’s contributions to the war?

I would be pleased to discuss this with you or your staff, should you wish to do so. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you wish to do so.

Very truly yours,


Eric J. Wittenberg

I don’t expect to receive a response, but I hope that the message is at least received and that something is done to commemorate Ohio’s contributions to the Civil War. I will be terribly disappointed if nothing is done, but it would, sadly, be typical of this state.

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William Henry Bonser (“Harry”) Lamin was a British enlisted man who served in the trenches of the Western Front during World War I. His grandson, Bill Lamin, an information technology teacher in England, found his grandfather’s letters home while a boy, and has decided to present them in a blog format. The letters are run, verbatim, on Bill’s blog on the 70th anniversary of the date on which they were written. The first letter appeared in 2005, and 57 of them ran in 2006. Bill refuses to give any clue’s to Harry’s fate, and his readers wait to find out what will happen to Harry in real time. The letters contain a fair amount of mundane discussion of family matters, such as how much Harry misses his boys, but they also provide some tantalizing glimpses at the horror of the life in the trenches during The War to End All Wars.

Bill’s blog has recently gotten a tremendous amount of attention in the media, both here and in England, which it richly deserves.

I think it’s an absolutely brilliant use of the blogging format and is a very welcome addition to the body of knowledge. I like the idea well enough to consider doing the same thing if I can locate the right set of letters or a soldier’s diary with which to do it.

Anyway, kudos to Bill for a magnificent idea. Harry’s saga can be found here.

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David Woodbury has an absolutely hysterical take on neo-Confederate nonsense on his blog today. Be sure to click on the picture to get the enlarged image, or else it won’t make sense.


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Dave Powell left an incredibly insightful comment on last night’s post adding to what I wrote and amplifying on it as well. It was so good, in fact, that I decided to give Dave the bully pulpit here. Here’s Dave’s comment:


Thanks for this supremely (to me) interesting post.

A couple of things:

1) I am not sure that Rosecrans really disliked David S. Stanley all that much, despite his faults. However, starting in early september, Stanley was getting ill, which definitely hindered his capacity, so much so that on September 16th Stanley relinquished command and was hauled back to Stevenson by wagon. He would be some time recovering.

The ranking commander under Stanley was a politician that scared both Rosecrans and Stanley – Robert B. Mitchell. (Not exactly a household name in ACW lore.) After Chickamauga, Mitchell was quietly sidelined, being ordered back to DC for court-martial duty, and then later given a series of frontier commands, chiefly Nebraska. He was an Ohio politician, not a soldier, and it showed.

I think that Stanley’s illness, as much as anything, lay behind Rosecrans request for Buford. I wish he had lived to go, too – that would have been the subsequent year extremely interesting.

However, there were a number of highly competent Union Cav guys – mostly brigade-level – who did do very well. Minty, Wilder, and George Crook come to mind. Crook orchestrated the pursuit of Wheeler duing his October 1863 raid, in which Wheeler lost roughly half his command.

This example and Wade’s point touch on the larger theme that I see about Cavalry in the West. While the Rebel performance there was at times flashy, and “stunt-laden” in the manner that caught many postwar fabulist’s attention, the CSA routinely failed at the critical cav duties that made up the bulk of Cav’s role, as boring as it was.

Stuart might have had his stunts, riding around the AOP and the like, but his men also performed well in the scouting and screening role. That was a marked difference between east and west.

This goes hand in hand with Ethan Rafuse’s column over on Civil Warriors as well, and accepting the idea that the CSA cavalry was equal on both fronts, but Union cav was weak in the west.

In fact, I think the CSA cavalry was a massive failure in the west. Even in raiding, with a few exceptions, they failed to achieve much of significance.

First, never overlook the fact that the CSA invested huge numbers in CSA cavalry between the mountains and the Mississippi. It is the only branch were the CSA has the advantage of numbers – sometimes 2/1, usually a 3/2 ratio – for much of the war. Despite this, it rarely effects Union operations, and the Rebel horse never manages to win the scout/screening fight.

For example, in the Spring of 1863, the CSA Cavalry in East Tennessee, with Bragg, and in Pemberton’s theater amount to nearly 30,000 men – larger than Bragg’s army, BTW. This huge force amounts to more than two infantry corps of strength. (I doubt CSA Cav in VA ever amounted to half that, despite the larger overall field forces Lee commanded.) Union Cav in the west amounted to about half – roughly 17,000 men, not counting the garrison forces in KY that were simply not available for field duty.

A note about those garrisons, because they create a different dynamic than in the East. Federals in the West controlled large areas of disputed territory, far more than in the East, and so each department – Grant in West Tennessee, Rosecrans in Middle Tennessee, and Burnsides in SE KY and East Tennessee – had to leave about 40 % of their troops in permanent garrisons to secure the occupied territories. This is why Grant might muster 90,000 men in his department in March, but can only free up 50,000 to take the field against Pemberton. While the Eastern Feds had garrison issues, (MD and the B&O RR) they tended to be much smaller as a percentage of forces, and often were close enough to the war to have a role to play, during Gettysburg for example.

Despite this disparity in numbers, however, the Rebels were constantly fooled by Union offensives. Rosecrans outmanuvered and Surprised Bragg three times; during the approach to Murfreesboro, famously at Tullahoma, and again in crossing the Tenn. In each case Wheeler failed miserably, at Tullahoma, Forrest contributed significantly to the confusion.

Or consider Grant’s inland operations behind Vicksburg. Both Pemberton and Johnston were paralyzed with indecision, and had terrible intel. Grant had far superior intel despite his lack of cav, because he was able to use the local slave network and he operated in all but a Rebel Cav vacuum.

Burnsides in East Tenn had similar success. Buckner was at first deceived as to Burnsides’ entry points, and later, the cav sent to help Longstreet never managed to dominate against the limited Federal mounted force there.

We can go back to Perryville and see the same pattern, where Bragg completely misreads the two Federal column, thinks Sill’s diversion is the main body, and attacks Buell’s whole army with 15,000 men. Now we can certainly blame Bragg, but we must also blame Wheeler’s horrible intel during the campaign, as well.

Neither Grant nor Sherman needed developed an emphasis on good cav because they never really needed to – they had all the operational freedom and intel they needed without it. this remarkable fact says a lot about the overall incompetence of the CSA cavalry in the west.

yes, there were some spectacular raids. Holly Springs is the most famous. But even Forrest’s great triumph – Brice’s Crossroads – is a strategic defeat. Forrest needs to be operating against Sherman’s supply lines, where he might have some real effect, not aimlessly chasing Sturgis in Northern Mississippi. The mere fact that he is fighting Sturgis and not Sherman is a failure of Confederate strategic thought.

Of course, the indiscipline of the CSA cav in the west played a major role in this ineffectiveness. Wheeler simply could not control his men, who often came and went as they pleased. Thus, while the CSA did have 30,000 armed and uniformed men roaming the western theater in the spring of 63, for example, maybe only 20,000 of them were responding to army discipline at any one time. Two quick examples can demonstrate the scope of this problem:

In August 63, Rebel cav dispersed to refit. Wharton’s men went to Rome, GA, where they proceeed to earn a remarkable reputation as thieves. When they departed for the front they left behind many men who infested the region for the next 6-8 months as bushwackers and bandits. Similarly, when Dibrell’s Brigade moved to Sparta (home turf) that same month, at least half of his 1200 men stayed behind when Dibrell was recalled to open the Chattanooga campaign.

Much more telling, however, are Wheeler’s numbers during the march to the Sea. Wheeler reports roughly 9,000 men on hand at the start of the march, and nearly 8,000 pfd in January, 65, after the march. During the campaign, however, he claims never to have more than 2,500 men with him. Where are the others? Basically, off pillaging. Many of Wheeler’s men are as bad as any of Sherman’s bummers. Wheeler is simply unable to control them, and they are not really interested in fighting.

This topic is large enough to demand far more attention than I can provide here, but hopefully you get the idea.

I feel that one big reason for the CSA defeat is the mismanagement of the Rebel Cav in the west – the one resource, ironically, that the Confederates had (at least) numerical superiority in for almost two years – mid 62 to mid 64.

The glamour that Forrest and Morgan tend to bring to CSA western cav ops is so strong that the strategic realities get obscured by the mythology, but once you start peeling back the layers, it is hard not to realize that tactically, the Federals dominated the scout-screen mission in campaign after campaign.

Dave Powell

Dave is an authority on the Western Theater and has studied cavalry operations in the Chickamauga Campaign in particular. Thanks for the excellent contribution, Dave.

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Last week, I asked this question on the Armchair General forum boards: I’ve often said that part of the reason why I don’t have a great deal of respect for Nathan Bedford Forrest is because, with the distinct exception of James H. Wilson at Selma, he always faced the second team.

Then, there was Wheeler, who enjoyed a modicum of success in spite of not being particularly talented. Wheeler faced pretty much every Union cavalry commander in the West, including the Eastern Theater retreads (he put a damned good whipping on Kilpatrick at Aiken, SC in February 1865).

I have some thoughts on the subject, but I would be interested in hearing why people think that, until Wilson’s independent command was formed during the fall and winter of 1864-1865, the Union cavalry in the West got short shrift and not the best of the commanders or the weaponry that were commonly distributed to the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps.

Because I was interested to see what folks might come up with in response, I waited almost a week to propose an answer to my own question. Here’s what I wrote, which is, I think, a fair summary:

I asked this particular question for a reason. This is an issue that I am often asked about, and it’s also a question that I have spent a lot of time pondering over the years. There is no right or wrong answer, only theories and gut reactions. This is what I’ve come up with over the years. These thoughts are presented in no particular order.

There are a lot of converging reasons for why this is the case. To mix my metaphors for just a moment, it’s like a perfect storm of synergistic reasons all coming together to lead to a situation where there was in fact a wide disparity in the quality of the Western vs. Eastern Union cavalry.

First, and foremost, was the issue of geography. The simple truth is that the Federal capital was in the east, and not the west. Defending Washington was the number one priority of the Army of the Potomac at all times, and that never changed. The Eastern Theater of the war was small, with the opposing capitals a mere 100 miles apart. That meant that there was a small field of operations. The West, on the other hand, was a massive landmass, and few of the major Northern cities were ever seriously threatened by the Confederates, with the limited exception of Morgan’s Indiana and Ohio raid of 1863. Thus, the Federal cavalry in the West tended to be widely dispersed rather than concentrated in a small theater of operations.

In addition, there was no Western theater equivalent to J.E.B. Stuart. Say what you will about Stuart, but if Stuart was not THE finest horse cavalryman ever born on this continent, he has to be in the top two or three. In the earliest days of the war, Stuart and his cavalry had a significant impact. If you need evidence of that, look at the charge of Stuart and 1st Virginia Cavalry at the climax of 1st Bull Run, when his charge into Griffin’s battery and the Fire Zouaves started the Union rout. Then came the Ride Around McClellan, which created so much consternation in the Union ranks that Stuart’s father-in-law, the venerable Philip St. George Cooke, was relieved of command and shunted off to do recruiting duty in Minnesota, the 1862 equivalent of being sent to man a weather station in Alaska.

By comparison, the Confederate cavalry in the West in the early days had Earl Van Dorn, who was much more interested in bedding married women than anything else, and John Hunt Morgan, who was a fearsome raider, but a tactical zero. Later, Joseph Wheeler emerged from the pack. It’s very important to keep in mind that Wheeler emerged not because of competence, but rather because he and Braxton Bragg had a good working relationship, and because Bragg liked Wheeler a great deal. Wheeler, in turn, was loyal to Bragg. Bragg evidently felt that loyalty was a more important measure than competence, and he promoted Wheeler far beyond his level of competence. Forrest (whom I will briefly address later in this discussion) did not really emerge until much later and was really a non-factor in the early days of the war.

The upshot is that there simply was no sense of urgency for the Union cavalry in the West, while there was a great sense of urgency in the East due to the superiority of Jeb Stuart and his cavalry.

The next factor is that there were only so many good battlefield commanders to go around. I believe that the combination of the Stuart factor and the proximity to Washington meant that the bulk of the batter officers would be dedicated to serve in the east and not the west. Once some of the less competent battlefield commanders were weeded out, the competent ones emerged. Officers like John Buford, David M. Gregg, William W. Averell, Wesley Merritt, Thomas C. Devin, and others came up through the ranks to achieve higher levels of command. This process took time. John Buford, generally acknowledged as the best cavalryman in the Federal service, did not achieve brigade command until June 1862. Note how many of these officers rose in the East. It seems like the majority of the better officers were assigned to the East and not the West.

In the West, officers of questionable competence, such as David Stanley, rose to high levels of command. Stanley, a notorious alcoholic, commanded the Army of the Cumberland’s Cavalry Corps for a significant portion of the war. However, Stanley’s performance was so bad during the Chickamauga Campaign that William S. Rosecrans asked to have John Buford sent west to assume command of the Army of the Cumberland’s Cavalry Corps. Buford agreed, provided that he could take the Regulars assigned to the Army of the Potomac with him. However, the Army of the Potomac was in the middle of the Bristoe Station Campaign when all of this happened, and the high command was loath to call them back from the field in mid-campaign. By the time the campaign ended, Buford was already suffering from the typhoid fever that took his life on December 16, 1863. Imagine, though, if you will, the great cavalry battle royale that inevitably would have happened between Wheeler and Buford. My money would have been on Buford for sure.

Then there were the likes of Sam Sturgis. Again, with all due respect to N. B. Forrest (my thoughts on him are well-known and need not be repeated here), it’s not difficult to roll up a sterling won-loss record when you’re up against the likes of Sturgis and not against the best officers that the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps had to offer. I view Forrest and his command as not much more than Mosby’s guerrillas on a larger scale–a major nuisance and not a whole lot more.

The next factor is the size of the theater. It was much easier to concentrate cavalry forces in the Virginia theater than in the West. The simple fact is that the Western Theater covered vast areas of ground, stretching cavalry resources to their limits, while the Virginia theater was much more compact and more conducive to concentrating forces.

The next factor was technology. Because of the nature of the war in the East, the Eastern Theater cavalry were more likely to get the latest technology first, since the safety of nothing less than the Federal capital was at stake. By the beginning of May 1864, nearly the entire Army of the Potomac Cavalry Corps had been armed with Spencer repeating carbines. Many fewer Western Theater units had repeaters, and some never did get them. However, Wilder’s Lightning Brigade, a brigade of mounted infantry armed with Spencer repeating rifles, demonstrated without any question just how effective a unit armed with repeating weapons could be. Wilder’s command was rather literally all over the battlefield at Chickamauga, and no Federal unit played a more important role as a consequence of the combination of maneuverability and firepower. From and ordinance standpoint, the Western Theater seems to have gotten the short shrift.

Leadership at the highest levels also factors in. John Pope certainly can be criticized for many things, including his terrible handling of the Battle of 2nd Bull Run, and rightfully so. However, one area where he cannot be criticized is in his recognition of the value and power of cavalry. Pope was the first to brigade volunteer cavalry regiments, and they did good service under him during the Island No. 10 Campaign and also in the 2nd Bull Run Campaign. It is not a huge stretch to suggest that of all of the Union army commanders during the Civil War, none had a better understanding of the proper and most effective use of horse soldiers than did Pope.

While Grant clearly understood the importance of a strategic cavalry raid (see Grierson’s Raid if you need an example of that), he was not good at using his cavalry as part of his army. This weakness carried itself through the 1864 Overland Campaign, when he sent the entire Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac off on a raid on Richmond intended to draw Stuart and his horsemen out to fight. By leaving the army to grope its way along blindly, Grant nearly fell into a trap set for him at Ox Ford on the North Anna River. Grant never learned these lessons in the west.

Sherman also was not especially good at using is cavalry. For a detailed analysis, see David Evans’ superb Sherman’s Horsemen: Union Cavalry Operations in the Atlanta Campaign. When Sherman marched out of Atlanta headed for the sea, he had only the small division of Judson Kilpatrick with him. Sherman had the measure of the man, describing Kilpatrick as “a hell of a damned fool” in early 1864, and he ended up being right in his assessment. Kilpatrick did so poorly under Sherman (getting surprised and nearly captured three different times in a period of three months, including twice in his own camp) that by March 1865, Sherman was quite literally begging Grant to send him Sheridan with the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps. Sheridan wanted no part of it, and refused to obey his orders to report to Sherman, leaving Sherman to fend for himself with only Kilpatrick’s small division for the entire Carolinas Campaign.

The retreads from the Army of the Potomac also did not do well in the West. I’ve already touched on Kilpatrick’s lackluster performance. Maj. Gen. George Stoneman, the original commander of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps, was sent to Sherman and was captured while trying a harebrained raid intended to free the Union prisoners of war being held at Andersonville, Georgia. Instead of liberator, Stoneman ended up a prisoner himself.

One other factor should be considered here. In July 1863, the Cavalry Bureau was formed, with the specific mission of provided remounts for Federal horse soldiers who had lost their mounts. A system of relative efficiency developed, with remount depots. The main remount depot in the East was located at Giesboro Point, just outside downtown Washington, D.C. With the Eastern Theater’s actions and players concentrated within a hundred miles or so of Washington, it was relatively easy to develop an efficient system to deliver remounts. The sheer size of the Western Theater, with multiple armies scattered about, made the efficient provision of remounts a real challenge. A horse soldier often had to be gone for an extended period of time to get a fresh mount, thereby impacting the combat effectiveness of his unit.

The one clear exception to all of this was something that was clearly an experiment. Maj. Gen. James Harrison Wilson, another refugee from the Army of the Potomac, was nominally Sherman’s chief of cavalry in the winter of 1864-65. However, Wilson and the prickly Sherman evidently did not get along well, as Wilson was left behind to try an experiment. Wilson had a brilliant idea. He would create a mounted army, well armed and with good horses. This 15,000 man force proved to be the largest, best-mounted, and best-armed cavalry force of the war, and it thrashed Forrest and his men at Selma, Alabama in the spring of 1865. Wilson’s command is often called a prototype for modern armored tactics, and I can see where there were such statements come from.

Why was this force so successful? Excellent leadership, all of the technological advantages, and an effective remount system, combined with a well-defined mission. Once all of these factors converged, the result was that Wilson’s force became an unbeatable juggernaut that marks the ultimate evolution of Federal cavalry doctrine. However, these were hard earned lessons that took four years of war to learn.

I think that the synergy of all of these factors are the reason why the Union cavalry in the Western Theater never made the impact that it did in the East. Would anyone care to comment?

Indeed, I welcome your thoughts here. This is a question that I am often required to address, and it’s one I have invested significant amounts of time in trying to craft a coherent answer for.

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The following article appears in today’s issue of The Culpeper Star-Exponent newspaper, and it’s some of the very best preservation news that I’ve heard in a VERY long time. Congratulations to the Brandy Station Foundation and the Civil War Preservation Trust, and, of course, Bud Hall, who has devoted the last twenty years of his life to saving this battlefield, for a job VERY well done:

‘The vortex of hell’

Important Civil War Land Saved at Brandy Station
By Rob Humphreys, Managing editor

One Civil War expert calls it “the vortex of hell … the most fought upon, marched upon and camped upon piece of property in this country.”

Now, the Civil War Preservation Trust is calling it a vital piece of history that has been saved.
After lengthy negotiations, the CWPT last month purchased 23 acres and is in talks to acquire 27 more on the northeastern base of Fleetwood Hill, where the Battle of Brandy Station culminated in the afternoon hours of June 9, 1863.

This part of America’s hallowed landscape, a parcel of blood-soaked land that looks today much like it did 145 years ago, represents the culmination of the war’s largest cavalry battle.
And to Bud Hall, the leading authority on Culpeper’s role in the war, it denotes “the beginning of the end for the Confederate cavalry, and indeed for the Civil War.”

Hall, a founding member of the CWPT who writes a column for the Star-Exponent, played a key role in saving the property.

For the past 20 years, he has been in contact with the Pound family, which owns the land and nearby parcels. Louis Pound died at the age of 78 last January. A few weeks ago, his sister Barba Aylor, executor of the estate, sold it to the CWPT for $700,000.

“I think it would definitely please my parents that this has happened,” said Aylor, adding that her father, R.W. Pound, bought the land in the late 1940s.

Hall said Pound’s brother Whitney has also spoken to the CWPT about the possibility of selling his adjacent 27 acres.

If the second sale goes through, it would signify “the two most important parcels that have possibly ever been protected at Brandy Station,” according to Jim Campi, CWPT spokesman.
Such a statement speaks volumes because the nonprofit preservation trust already owns some 945 acres associated with the battle’s first phase, about a mile away near Culpeper Regional Airport. The Brandy Station Foundation also has preserved smaller tracts nearby.

But historians say the land near Fleetwood Hill located directly behind a roadside historical marker on U.S. 29 about five miles northeast of the town of Culpeper is much more significant.

“The high water mark of the Confederate cavalry,” Hall contends, “was on Fleetwood Hill. … You had acres upon acres of horsemen fighting savagely; man-to-man savage combat on Fleetwood Hill.

“The Confederate cavalry both won here and lost here. On the morning of June 9, 1863, the Confederate cavalry was at its height, and on the evening of June 9, 1863, the confederate cavalry was on the decline.”

Most historians agree that the Battle of Brandy Station the opening salvo in the Gettysburg Campaign represented the height of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, including its 9,600-man cavalry division under Gen. JEB Stuart.

Until this time, Stuart’s cavalry had been virtually invincible. But that changed on June 9, 1863. The Confederates surprised by a massive raid from a force of primarily Union horsemen won a narrow tactical victory.

However, the Union cavalry began to gain strength, experience and morale, eventually matching and, less than a month later at Gettysburg, bettering its Southern foes.

In addition to the Battle of Brandy Station, Fleetwood Hill saw action during several other periods of the four-year war. Because of its defensive importance and prominent geographical setting, both sides used it extensively.

In the winter of 1863-64, Union troops established their winter quarters in Culpeper County, planting the 3rd Corps on the hill. Confederates often camped and fought there too, using it as a natural stronghold overlooking the Rappahannock River.

Today, U.S. 29 cuts across the eastern slope of Fleetwood Hill, and a few houses dot the ridge upon which hundreds of soldiers fell. But, for the most part, cattle, tree lines and gently rolling hills still dominate the landscape.

“Practically nothing has been protected at Fleetwood Hill,” Campi said. “Fleetwood Hill is certainly one of the most dramatic battles, so protecting land there has been a priority of ours for some time.”

Hopefully, the second sale will go through, and some of the most historically significant, and most heavily fought-over ground in all of Virginia will be saved forever.

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