03 January 2008 by Published in: Union Cavalry 6 comments

In response to yesterday’s post, Todd Berkoff wrote, “There must have been some tension between John Irvin and his cousin David M. Gregg over that postwar appointment to the 8th US Cavalry. Like many people, we wonder why David M. Gregg left the service when he did…I tend to believe he couldn’t stand Sheridan’s ego any longer and refused to serve under him.” Stan O’Donnell echoed the sentiment, writing, “I’m wondering the same thing Todd is? You mentioned that Long John got command of the 8th US Cav in the post-war summer of 1866 and that David McM Gregg had covetted that same command. Is the implication that D MCM Gregg would have reentered the US Army had he been offered that particular command? Or am I interpeting that wrong?”

Let me address those two issues. I was originally going to respond in the comments section to yesterday’s post, but as I thought about it, I realized that there was enough of interest here to warrant a separate post. So, here goes…..

1. Regarding David M. Gregg’s resignation in February 1865: Gregg was very circumspect about the reasons, and never left any written evidence. His resignation letter says that he was resigning to take care of urgent personal business at home. The regimental surgeon of the 6th Ohio Cavalry, a man named Rockwell, wrote in a postwar memoir that he believed that Gregg was showing signs of what we today call PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, only Rockwell referred to it as Gregg’s nerves being shot. There is absolutely nothing to corroborate this, and I don’t believe it.

Here’s what I think happened.

First, I think that David Gregg was really miffed about being passed over for permanent command of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps in the spring of 1864. He was the ranking officer after Pleasonton, and he had commanded the corps from time to time when Pleasonton was away. Instead, the high command brought in an infantryman to take command of the corps, and I think that it really pissed Gregg off.

Then, the infantryman, Sheridan, hung Gregg out to dry at Samaria (St. Mary’s) Church on June 24, 1864, leaving Gregg’s two brigades all alone to contend with 7 brigades of Confederate cavalry. Gregg lost about 25% of his command in several hours of very, very hard fighting and was lucky to get out with the remaining 75%. That he did is a tribute to his skillful fighting withdrawal. Sheridan never sent anyone to reinforce or cover Gregg’s retreat, and I think he was rightfully very angry about that.

A few weeks later, Sheridan was ordered to the Shenandoah Valley (August 8), and he left Gregg in command of the remaining cavalry forces remaining with the Army of the Potomac. Again, the appointment was not made permanent, and I think that just added to his growing frustration and anger.

One of David Gregg’s closest friends at West Point was his classmate, William Woods Averell. Averell was entitled to command the Army of the Shenandoah’s Cavalry Corps by seniority, but was passed over by Sheridan in favor of Gregg’s other classmate, Alfred T. A. Torbert, over Averell’s very loud protests. Then, when Averell wisely declined to attack Early’s entire army with three brigades of cavalry on high ground, supported by artillery, the day after the Battle of Fisher’s Hill, Sheridan unceremoniously fired Averell without any real justification for doing so. Averell was refused a court of inquiry, and that trashed his military career. His career was finished.

Then, in the winter of 1865, Torbert himself was fired by Sheridan as punishment for his failure to accomplish Sheridan’s objectives for a raid into the Luray Valley of Virginia intended to punish John S. Mosby and is guerrillas. Torbert was also unceremoniously relieved of command just about the time that Gregg began the process of resigning his commission.

By that time, it was clear that with the bulk of Early’s force having returned to the Army of Northern Virginia and only a scratch force remaining in the Valley, Sheridan would likely return to the Army of the Potomac. While I can’t prove this, I genuinely believe that he couldn’t bear the thought of serving under Sheridan again and that he found it so unpalatable that he preferred to resign his commission than to run the risk of being next in Little Phil’s crosshairs. Given what had happened to his two old friends and West Point classmates, I think it’s a completely reasonable fear/assumption, and is probably the best explanation for his actions.

2. The 8th Cavalry commission: Gregg’s family did not necessarily support his decision to resign; a favorite uncle told him straight out that it was a bad mistake. Gregg attempted farming and fruit growing, but was not good at it. He evidently missed the military, because in 1868, he applied for reinstatement so as to be considered for the command of the 8th Cavalry. Instead, the command went to his first cousin, Long John Gregg. David Gregg’s reaction is not recorded, and we don’t know for sure why the decision was made. I suspect that it probably did cause some tension between the Gregg cousins, but David was too much of a Victorian gentleman to leave behind any written evidence other than some very gracious statements praising Long John’s abilities, integrity, and courage under fire.

Again, we can speculate a bit. Let’s not forget that in 1868, when these events occurred, Grant was the commanding general of the armies, now with four stars. Sheridan was in command of troops in the west, fighting Indians. Sheridan always had Grant’s ear, and it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if Sheridan didn’t put the kabosh on Gregg’s reinstatement, reminding Grant of the circumstances of Gregg’s resignation in February 1865. Sheridan was that kind of guy, and Grant tended to listen to Little Phil, particularly when it came to the cavalry. Hence, I tend to think that this was Little Phil’s payback for Gregg’s resignation.

Or so I think.

Oh, yeah…one other interesting note about all of this….the lieutenant colonel of the 8th Cavalry during at least part of Long John’s tenure in command of the regiment was Thomas C. Devin, who had done such good service under John Buford. Devin was promoted to colonel and assigned to command the 3rd Cavalry, but fell ill with the cancer that took his life a few weeks later. Devin died in 1879, about the same time that Long John retired from the 8th Cavalry.

I hope that helps, guys.

Scridb filter


  1. Rick Allen
    Thu 03rd Jan 2008 at 7:45 pm

    Very interesting analysis Eric!! I don’t know enough about it say if your insights are accurate or not, but they sure ring true. He must have been a very, very, proud and stubborn man.

    Really interesting. Thanks!


  2. Thu 03rd Jan 2008 at 9:11 pm


    I think that’s a very fair assessment of David Gregg.


  3. Todd Berkoff
    Thu 03rd Jan 2008 at 9:42 pm


    Thank you for the very thorough response. I enjoyed reading your take, and agree with your assessment. I also enjoyed reading your more complete view on some of these topics in your book “Little Phil: A Reassessment.”

    Kindest Regards,

    Todd Berkoff

  4. Fri 04th Jan 2008 at 10:58 am


    Devin died in 1878, but no matter – as we’ve discussed, I think you’re right on. If it looks, sounds, and walks like a duck, it’s probably a duck. I believe Gregg was kicked in the corner one too many times, and simply couldn’t stay during the war any longer. Like so many, he couldn’t adapt to being a gentleman farmer. It wasn’t the life for him.

    But neither was serving under a guy like Little Phil.


  5. Raymond C. Hillyer
    Thu 03rd Apr 2008 at 3:06 pm

    The thing I’ve always wondered about was that J. I. Gregg was made Col of the 8th Cav though he had never received a full rank volunteer general’s commission and never commanded commanded a division, while division commander Merritt and Custer, who had been Maj Gens, and Devin who had been a Brig Gen received appointments as lt cols.


  6. Stefan Papp Jr.
    Tue 05th Nov 2013 at 2:44 pm

    On 5 March 1866, Gregg was recommend by Sheridan for “appointment as Field Officer in one of the Cavalry Regiments to be raised upon the reorganization of the Regular Army.” Sheridan terms Gregg as a “gallant and efficient officer” qualified for any position in the Cavalry. “The record of General Gregg is to well known to the (War) Department to require its mention by one.”

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