07 March 2007 by Published in: Union Cavalry 24 comments

I’ve never claimed to be an expert on Western Theater cavalry operations. There are lots of reasons for that. For one thing, there was nobody like Jeb Stuart in the Western Theater until Wade Hampton was promoted and sent south in February 1865. That’s a big part of the reason why the Union horse soldiers there were pretty much the second team and why they were led by either lesser soldiers or rejects from the Army of the Potomac. I’m not much of an admirer of Nathan Bedford Forrest, and don’t think much of him as a soldier. I’ve worked on the Carolinas Campaign at some length, and I’m working on John Hunt Morgan’s Great Indiana and Ohio Raid of 1863, but that pretty much marks my intensive study of cavalry operations in the West.

Thus, I found it pretty remarkable when I was asked to do a major presentation on the Union cavalry in the West for the Nashville conference this weekend. I agreed, but I knew that I was going to have my work cut out for me. I had a lot of educating myself to do in order to get up to speed. I spent Monday night putting together a Power Point presentation of 25 slides of various key players to use to spice things up a bit when I do my talk, and then I spent the last couple of nights getting the outline for my talk together. It’s been a lot of work, but I’m as ready as I will ever be to do this presentation. The problem is that I only have an hour to talk, but I have four years, four armies, and lots of different campaigns to cover. By definition, that means that I have to do an extremely broad overview of things with no detail. However, my lack of intimacy with the topic–unlike cavalry operations in the east–leaves me extremely nervous about things and concerned that I’m going to get something wrong or screw it up.

As I go up to give my talk, I will say Shephard’s Prayer–that’s Alan Shephard’s prayer, which he recited for the first time before his Mercury flight–“Dear God, please don’t let me screw up.” ๐Ÿ™‚ And hopefully, I won’t.

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. Steve Basic
    Thu 08th Mar 2007 at 12:06 am

    Eric,

    You’ll do fine. ๐Ÿ™‚ Your post tonight did make me think that there are not that many books out that cover the Cavalry in the Western Theater, and that is a part of the War that has been ignored. One of my favorite books I have read is David Evans’s “Sherman’s Horsemen: Union Cavalry Operations in the Atlanta Campaign”. I thought it was an excellent book, and the main reason why I loved it is because I did not know all that much about the actions it described. It was new and fresh information, and still ranks up there as one of the best reads I have done over the years.

    Enjoy Music City, and of course the game. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Regards from the Garden State,

    Steve

  2. Mike Peters
    Thu 08th Mar 2007 at 12:12 am

    “Light this candle!” You’ll do fine man. I’d like to hear your talk in the not-too-distant future.

    Mike

  3. Thu 08th Mar 2007 at 12:47 am

    That’s Shephard’s prayer? Geez, and I thought I invented it! That’s exactly what I say every time I’m about to do something. I even said it twice going into my honeymoon ๐Ÿ™‚

    Knock ’em dead. Just be like Forrest!

    J.D.

  4. Scott
    Thu 08th Mar 2007 at 1:46 am

    On the bright side, I don’t there are any western cavalry ringers out there Eric, so this could work to your benefit. Maybe I’ll do something on the great John Pegram Raid and join you.

    Seriously though, Sherman’s horsemen is about the best that I have read on cavalry ops in the west. I know you don’t like Forrest but he was a helluva fighter. While he was not the pure cavalryman such as Stuart, he certainly earned his victories.

    Scott

  5. Don
    Thu 08th Mar 2007 at 7:55 am

    Eric,
    You’ll be fine, and should enjoy both the conference and the game.
    I was thinking about this the other night, and I believe the disparity between cavalry in the eastern and western theaters is the result of the war’s focus on the capitals. The talent went where the focus was, which was the eastern theater. If you look at a map or drive over the countryside, I would argue that the ground is much more suited to cavalry operations in the West. Another question: was it talent or notoriety?
    I’ve been eyeing the Sherman’s horsemen book, I’ll have to add it to the list now.

  6. Sam Elliott
    Thu 08th Mar 2007 at 9:38 am

    I’d second (or third) the endorsement of Sherman’s Horsemen. Great book.

    Eric, you’ll find the people at Traveller’s Rest and the Civil War community there in Nashville very accomodating. You may find after this experience that you need to shift some personal focus to the Western Theater–it is where the war was lost/won.

  7. Thu 08th Mar 2007 at 10:39 am

    “Sherman’s Horsemen” is a terrific read. The author was a guest on BookTV some time ago, and gave a great interview. Highly recommend it, Don.

    J.D.

  8. Don
    Thu 08th Mar 2007 at 11:06 am

    Hello Eric

    I find the posts very interesting. Like you, I know very little about western theater cavalary. What I’m familiar with has been gleaned from biographies of Morgan and Forrest. I’m very unfamiliar with the union side. I was familar with the Evan’s book and should pick up a copy. Seems it is very well done. I believe his main adversary was Joe Wheeler?

    One other confederate that I think would be interesting and seemed to be involved in many operations is Red Jackson. Someone like Sam Elliott could speak to this possibility much better than me. I may be biased, but it seems that Forrest is without a doubt the most prominent confederate in the west. He seems to have been successful in most of his military campaigns and I don’t think anyone can question his leadership when it comes to getting involved with the fighting. Of course, Ft. Pillow is the incident many people recognize him with.

    I do agree with Mr. Elliott and many others that the war in the west needs more recognition and very likely was where the war was won/lost. Of course this is coming from someone that enjoys learning more about all aspects of the war. Good luck with your presentation. I’d love to see your powerpoint.

    Don

  9. Scott Mingus
    Thu 08th Mar 2007 at 11:25 am

    IIRC, there was a decent book on Jo Shelby and his Iron Brigade, but there are so many other notable Western cavalrymen that are lacking detailed bios, and the operations and campaigns are also poorly represented.

    Knock ’em dead, Eric!

  10. Thu 08th Mar 2007 at 11:28 am

    Eric:

    I too would like to see you speak in the future. Operatons in the West? Do you include the Texas Operations in that as well?

    When I did the geneology thing awhile back I discovered that I have a relative that was with the First Colorado Cavalry and fought a Glorietta against the Texans there.

    I never seen any reference to the operations anywhere, and wonder if these are considered Operation in the West?

    Good Luck.

    Chris

  11. Thu 08th Mar 2007 at 1:04 pm

    Beyond all the Forrest stuff, there are a number of good to excellent cavalry studies for the Trans-Miss. and Western theater. I should make a list for a blog post someday. Beyond books there are also a bunch of tweener length (30 pages+) journal articles (Arkansas HQ, Missouri HR, etc.), many written by Ed Bearss during the centennial celebration period. If he put together his series of operations surrounding Ft. Smith it would make a nice sized book.

    Chris Swift,
    Read Don Alberts’ book “The Battle of Glorieta”. It’s a model battle study and I can’t say enough good things about it. Also, since you are interested in Coloradans specifically, try a book just published last year called “Distant Bugles, Distant Drums” by Flint Whitlock. More than anything else, it details the response of the Colorado territory to the Confederate New Mexico campaign.

    Drew

  12. Dave Powell
    Thu 08th Mar 2007 at 1:06 pm

    Not an admirer of the great NBF!! Shocked, I’m Shocked. Since you’ll be in Nashville, try and go south on I-65 to see the ‘great’ statue of him in Brentwood.

    Western Cav ops are highly under-covered. Considering that by 1863, nearly 1/4 of all the Rebel troops under arms were mounted, it is all the more surprising that the dominant campaigns of that year each show the Rebels badly surprised, their cavalry outfought and outmanuevered, and their generals blinded. Grant at Vicksburg, Rosecrans at Tullahoma and Chattanooga, even Burnsides in East Tennessee.

    There are a few very interesting officers sent west. William Martin learned his trade under Stuart with the Jeff Davis Legion, and was sent west to take command of a brigade, then a division, under Joe Wheeler. Martin was a pretty good officer.

    Good luck.

    Dave Powell

  13. Thu 08th Mar 2007 at 1:40 pm

    Dave,
    Speaking of cavalry in Burnside’s E. Tenn. campaign, have you read “Blue Springs: A History of the Desperate Battles at Blue Springs for the Control of Upper East Tennessee During the Civil War” by William Beard? Sounds interesting, but I’ve never been able to discover any specific info about it and have no idea of its quality.

    Drew

  14. Thu 08th Mar 2007 at 2:21 pm

    Drew:

    I have read it and enjoyed it very much. I knew nothing of that area at all until I read the book. If you click on my link you can see the little I wrote about it.

    Chris

  15. Thu 08th Mar 2007 at 3:00 pm

    Dave,

    I’m staying in Brentwood. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Thanks for the vote of confidence, guys.

    To clarify…the Power Point is just photos of some of the officers I’m going to talk about. There are 24 slides. Folks like Morgan, Forrest, Stanley, Stoneman, Kilpatrick, McCook, Grierson, etc. I thought it might be good for folks to see photos of the people I will be talking about. Maybe it will keep them from falling asleep. ๐Ÿ™‚

    The talk covers only operations east of the Mississippi River. I have only an hour to cover the entire war. Trying to add the Trans-Mississippi would have been too much. As it is, I have to give a one over the world sort of analysis to things. If I try to do more, it will just be too damned much.

    Sherman’s Horsemen is one the finest Civil War books ever written. What’s really remarkable about is that at 800 or so pages, it only covers half of the campaign. I can only hope that Mr. Evans finishes the job at some point. Truthfully, he should be doing the talk, not me.

    My friend Greg Biggs–who is also on the program with me–has been bugging me for years to do a study of the Battle of Shelbyville, which was part of the Tullahoma Campaign. I just might tackle it one of these years. It was a visit to Monroe’s Crossroads that got me interested in it, and it may be that’s what Shelbyville requires, too.

    Eric

  16. Andy Papen
    Thu 08th Mar 2007 at 8:06 pm

    I’ll just throw one more endorsement of Evans’ book out there; helluva book. And I’m not even a cavalry afficionado (full apologies to the owner of this blog!).

    Did I hear a rumor awhile back that Evans might do a full length study of the Atlanta campaign as a whole? Maybe I just dreamt that up. If he gave the whole campaign the same detailed coverage as the cavalry raids south of the Chattahoochee, all I can say is…bring it on!

    A.P.

  17. Sam Elliott
    Thu 08th Mar 2007 at 10:49 pm

    I, too, have heard he was working on Atlanta, but I don’t recall where I got that information

  18. Jack Dempsey
    Fri 09th Mar 2007 at 1:06 am

    “Second team”? Led by “lesser soldiers” or “rejects” from out East? And a comment suggesting all talent went east? There were amazing and courageous Union raids out West–could a traditional focus on the East cause a lack of comparable renown? With so much conquered territory to safeguard, Union cavalry played a key role where not as necessary in the East. Grierson wasn’t talented? What about John H. Wilson (who went West from the East)? Sheridan cut his teeth out west with the 2d Michigan Cav and remained there til ’64. The western cavalry must have covered far more miles than the eastern, especially given their participation in Sherman’s ’64-’65 exploits. Much has been written about Forrest, but not much else. Mr. W, perhaps this suggests a crying need to do some works about the western horse soldiers who helped save the Union…

  19. Dave Powell
    Fri 09th Mar 2007 at 5:50 am

    Drew,

    RE: “Blue Springs” No, haven’t read it. I haven’t managed to find a copy while browsing, and I never remember to order it.:)

    The truth is that from about late 62 until at least mid 64, Cav ops were a major focus in the west, unlike the east. In the east, there are a few major cav actions while the armies are static, but the not so much the constant pace.

    In the west, there is always a raid going somewhere, and low-level skirmishing for control in places like Kentucky, West Tennessee, etc. I can think of a half-dozen raids by one side or the other that are very obscure, but worth covering. Morgan and Grierson are just the flashy ones.

    Shelbyville is a single – very interesting, to be sure – facet of the Tullahoma campaign, which is dominated by mounted ops. Holly Springs also had a tremendous effect, and is worth examining.

    Dave Powell

  20. Fri 09th Mar 2007 at 12:47 pm

    Dave,
    I spotted a copy online for $50, but decided it didn’t interest me quite THAT much, esp. since it’s an unknown quantity. It was published by the town of Mosheim and was probably just sold locally. Another E. Tenn. book that sounds intriguing is David C. Smith’s “Campaign to nowhere: The results of General Longstreet’s move into upper East Tennessee”.

    Drew

  21. Dave Powell
    Fri 09th Mar 2007 at 1:10 pm

    I believe the East Tennessee stuff is some of the most interesting and unexplored campaigning of the war, mostly for the logistics problems everyone faced there. The cumberland gap mess, the initial success Burnside had and the two-front nature of his war there, and Longstreet’s counter-effort are all significantly under-studied.

    I also believe that holding East Tennessee feeds directly into the Western Theater CSA cavalry obsession – the region allowed them to keep launching raids into KY in the mistaken belief that they could accomplish real military objectives there. But again, that feeds into my wonder at how the Confederacy could willingly tie up 25% of their total manpower between the mountains and the west in poorly disciplined, badly trained cavalry organizations that contributed little extra combat power in too many cases. Frankly, the South could have fielded an extra infantry corps (10,000 men) at Corinth, Perryville, Murfreesboro, the Vicksburg fights, or Chickamauga if they had organized more rationally.

    Dave Powell

  22. Fri 09th Mar 2007 at 1:51 pm

    I think a lot of people tend to carryover to the West the general eastern impression of the relative effectiveness of the Union vs. Confed. cavalry (i.e. parity in 1863 then gradual Union domination, etc.). From my own reading and research, I’ve always had the impression that Union cavalry was never inferior in the West, and often superior due to steeper initial advantages in training/discipline and equipment. While many fixate on Confederate raiders, it needs to be recognized that Western Federal cavalry raided all over creation from 1862 onward. While Confederates had to have a high percentage of cavalry in the West to patrol the vast areas opened up to union raiding after the Federal successes in 1862, I definitely agree with you, Dave, that the Confeds overdid it.

  23. Ethan Rafuse
    Sun 11th Mar 2007 at 1:41 am

    Eric:

    1) It is actually spelled “Shepard”.

    2) Al had to urinate in his suit before lift off for his suborbital flight. (They didn’t think the mission would last long enough for a full bladder to become an issue–but there were so many various holds in the countdown that fine May morning it did.) Hope you didn’t encounter THAT problem.

    ESR

  24. Mon 12th Mar 2007 at 8:20 pm

    Ethan,

    Fortunately, no. Luckily, there was a bathroom at Traveller’s Rest. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Eric

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