Why does General Wheeler get so little love?

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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General Joseph Wheeler appears to have been a brave and talented officer. He went from colonel of the 19th Alabama Infantry Regiment to commander of the cavalry of the Army Tennessee cavalry so must have had considerable skill. Wheeler performed well at the Battle of Perryville and other campaigns and battles. Wheeler did have a troubled relationship with Nathan Bedford Forrest.

So why does Wheeler not seem to get the fame he deserves? This may be a result of his inability of stopping Sherman in Georgia. I am not sure any Confederate general could have stopped Sherman with the available Confederate forces in Georgia.

Wheeler picked up the nick name "Fighting Joe" before the Civil War and was known to be aggressive. Wheeler had at least 16 horses shot out form under him and was wounded more that once. I read somewhere that when he entered West Point he only just met the West Point height requirement, but I would have to research what the height requirements were.
 

Lubliner

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I can think of a few which might be a factor but just guessing. He was probably overshadowed by Forrest. And his troopers probably did some of the destruction in Georgia that Sherman's bummers get the blame for,
I was thinking how cliquish the West Pointers' were and though he may have been one, somehow he fell out of favor with his comrades, or so it seems. Maybe he had no promotional aspirants that desired to make him more famous during and after the war. Look at Morgan, for one. The more loud and audacious the personality the more that person could inspire and lead. Maybe Wheeler was quiet.
Lubliner.
 

Jamieva

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Wheeler was generally known for lacking discipline in his troops. This was true throughout his tenure as the head of cavalry of the AoT. His performance before and during Chickamauga was definitely less than stellar. Dave Powell wrote an entire book around that theme. Wheeler did have considerable talent, but like many CW officers he got promoted at least a level higher than deserved. Hampton refused to serve under him in the Carolinas and I believe NBF did as well.
 

Rio Bravo

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He did have conflicts with both Forrest & Bragg, and it seems ( from a previous Poster ) with Wade Hampton.
He did write a book: Bragg’s Invasion of Kentucky. Whether he wrote anything which upset people would be interesting to know ! Whether volunteering for the U.S. Army in the Spanish-American War had anything to do with it I don’t know ! He was also one of only a handful of Confederate Soldiers to be buried in Arlington Cemetery !
 

Rhea Cole

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During his very long lifetime Wheeler was a celebrity. He commanded troops in the Spanish American War. Wheeler was a mainstay of the Lost Cause disinformation machine. He was personally responsible for distorting the narrative of the causes & conduct of the war. That is one aspect of Wheeler’s loss of reputation.

As a cavalry leader Wheeler had his moments. As the commander of the Army of Tennessee cavalry Wheeler was way over his head. His incompetence meant that the Army of the Cumberland repeatedly surprised Bragg.

In June 1863, the A of the C attacked along a front 50 miles wide. Because Wheeler was busy preparing for a newspaper headline grabbing raid into Kentucky, it was an improbable 48 hours before Bragg learned that his entire right flank had been turned. When he did respond to Rosecrans’ attack, Wheeler suffered one of the most lopsided defeats of the entire war at Shelbyville.

Wheeler was mendacious. Nothing that he wrote can be taken at face value. Unfortunately for General Bragg, Wheeler’s official reports reflected his magical thinking. Inspector generals found Wheeler’s muster rolls inaccurate by as much as 80%. This was ubiquitous, not an isolated event.

I don’t know how many times the raid against the Nashville & Chattanooga RR has been brought up as an example of Wheeler’s genius. Indeed, a single large wagon train was attacked. In his accounts, the number of wagons destroyed escalated to a preposterous 1,200. His newspaper headline hunting reports of his raid included a long list of bridges & facilities on the vital N&CRR.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. Wheeler barely touched the RR which was the entire goal of his raid. The entire horse inventory of the A of TN, including Forrest’s command, had been combed through for the best mounts. Of the 12,000 horses that left Chattanooga, only a few hundred were sound when Wheeler recrossed the Tennessee River. He had destroyed the cavalry of the A of TN.

Of course, Wheeler’s pen was far mightier than his sword. Beginning with his fantastical official reports, Wheeler’s accomplishments increased steadily as the years went by. Modern historians do not fall for Wheeler’s disinformation & distortions. Out side the Lost Causers, Wheeler’s reputation is exactly what it should be.

Full disclosure:

My wife’s ancestor Gen John Sprague was awarded the Metal of Honor for his deft defeat of Wheeler’s attempt to destroy Sherman’s reserve ammunition supply. Had Gen Sprague not been the real deal, it is unlike the March to the Sea could have happened.
 

Lincoln56

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He went and rejoined the US Army after the war and fought in the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection. That might have had an impact on how the South decided to remember him. In fact, he was granted the rank of Major General in the US Army, and is buried in Arlington.
William B. Oates served in the 15th Alabama as its Colonel, then became governor of Alabama for one term and served as a Brigadier General in the U.S. Army during the Spanish-American War.

Yet Oates' reputation doesn't seem tarnished by this service; not to say Wheeler wasn't judged differently for his.

It seems if they're down on you for one thing (see Pete Longstreet as exhibit 'A') than they pile on the affronts whether relative or not.

As an aside, I highly recommend a visit to the Wheeler home if you're in the area:

https://ahc.alabama.gov/properties/pondspring/pondspring.aspx
 

wausaubob

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During his very long lifetime Wheeler was a celebrity. He commanded troops in the Spanish American War. Wheeler was a mainstay of the Lost Cause disinformation machine. He was personally responsible for distorting the narrative of the causes & conduct of the war. That is one aspect of Wheeler’s loss of reputation.

As a cavalry leader Wheeler had his moments. As the commander of the Army of Tennessee cavalry Wheeler was way over his head. His incompetence meant that the Army of the Cumberland repeatedly surprised Bragg.

In June 1863, the A of the C attacked along a front 50 miles wide. Because Wheeler was busy preparing for a newspaper headline grabbing raid into Kentucky, it was an improbable 48 hours before Bragg learned that his entire right flank had been turned. When he did respond to Rosecrans’ attack, Wheeler suffered one of the most lopsided defeats of the entire war at Shelbyville.

Wheeler was mendacious. Nothing that he wrote can be taken at face value. Unfortunately for General Bragg, Wheeler’s official reports reflected his magical thinking. Inspector generals found Wheeler’s muster rolls inaccurate by as much as 80%. This was ubiquitous, not an isolated event.

I don’t know how many times the raid against the Nashville & Chattanooga RR has been brought up as an example of Wheeler’s genius. Indeed, a single large wagon train was attacked. In his accounts, the number of wagons destroyed escalated to a preposterous 1,200. His newspaper headline hunting reports of his raid included a long list of bridges & facilities on the vital N&CRR.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. Wheeler barely touched the RR which was the entire goal of his raid. The entire horse inventory of the A of TN, including Forrest’s command, had been combed through for the best mounts. Of the 12,000 horses that left Chattanooga, only a few hundred were sound when Wheeler recrossed the Tennessee River. He had destroyed the cavalry of the A of TN.

Of course, Wheeler’s pen was far mightier than his sword. Beginning with his fantastical official reports, Wheeler’s accomplishments increased steadily as the years went by. Modern historians do not fall for Wheeler’s disinformation & distortions. Out side the Lost Causers, Wheeler’s reputation is exactly what it should be.

Full disclosure:

My wife’s ancestor Gen John Sprague was awarded the Metal of Honor for his deft defeat of Wheeler’s attempt to destroy Sherman’s reserve ammunition supply. Had Gen Sprague not been the real deal, it is unlike the March to the Sea could have happened.
The cavalry raids of Wheeler, Forrest and Morgan made headlines. Ranging against small garrisons and capturing US supplies was very disruptive. But the rate at which the raids broke down mounts usually escapes the historians.
Forrest accomplished the most. And the US rightfully mounted a huge effort to fight Forrest and discourage his command from resorting to guerilla warfare, at least for awhile.
But the situation for all the raiders was the same. Neither section of the US was a nomadic society. Riding horses were a valuable commodity and US horses expected grain and good quality hay. Cavalry units were very, very expensive and commanders who skipped on that expense found their commands shrinking.
 

wausaubob

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Wheeler's activity north of the Tennessee River probably convinced the US that the railroad south from Louisville to Bridgeport could be protected. And it also convinced the US that the breaks in the line that did occur were manageable, just like the weather related damage that was a regular part of railroad maintenance expense.
 
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It has been said before, Wheeler's and his troops' conduct in the Carolinas Campaign led to complaints from locals and fellow Confederates, including Wade Hampton who led cavalry there as well. Which resulted in Hampton being promoted to Lieutenant General and Wheeler`s command becoming subordinate to him. That Forrest soon after was promoted as well must have been quite a sting to Wheeler, especially considering that he wasn´t promoted, too (despite, if I remember correctly, him claiming to be so).
 

A. Roy

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Wheeler's cavalrymen had a reputation here in North Carolina as rather aggressive foragers. Here's one account from a Raleigh memoir:

“I remember when Wheeler’s cavalry passed through town that the men, when halted, just dropped in the streets and slept, so that passers-by were forced to step over them, but in spite of starvation and weariness, the old indomitable spirit would assert itself. One of the poor fellows, while the column was passing by Christ Church, looked up at the weathercock and remarked to a comrade that it was the first and only instance of Wheeler’s boys seeing a chicken which they could not get at.” (Devereux, Margaret. Plantation Sketches. Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1906.)

Roy B.
 
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He did have conflicts with both Forrest & Bragg, and it seems ( from a previous Poster ) with Wade Hampton.
He did write a book: Bragg’s Invasion of Kentucky. Whether he wrote anything which upset people would be interesting to know ! Whether volunteering for the U.S. Army in the Spanish-American War had anything to do with it I don’t know ! He was also one of only a handful of Confederate Soldiers to be buried in Arlington Cemetery !
I would think it largely stems from conflict with Forrest, as some have to wished to elevate Forrest to some mythical folkhero.

Don't mean that as a bash at Forrest......but realisticly Forrest excelled when off in his own little world. Cooperation with any regular army didn't seem Forrest's strong suit, Wheeler seemed better at that, as he screened and fought rearguards for regular armies.
 

neyankee61

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Wheeler's performance in the Tullahoma campaign June 23-July 4 1863 was less than stellar. Too much involved in looking for an opportunity to set off on a grand raid than do what he needed to do; screen the AoT's right flank and provide timely information on Union movements. David Powell's recent book on the campaign goes into detail on Wheeler's initial success and then failures during this crucial time
 

NH Civil War Gal

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He went and rejoined the US Army after the war and fought in the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection. That might have had an impact on how the South decided to remember him. In fact, he was granted the rank of Major General in the US Army, and is buried in Arlington.
How did the rejoin work? Was Wheeler approached or did he approach them? I've seen the poster and I know part of it at least was for public relations of helping to rejoin North and South. Was it Teddy Roosevelt's idea?
 

Jamieva

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Wheeler's performance in the Tullahoma campaign June 23-July 4 1863 was less than stellar. Too much involved in looking for an opportunity to set off on a grand raid than do what he needed to do; screen the AoT's right flank and provide timely information on Union movements. David Powell's recent book on the campaign goes into detail on Wheeler's initial success and then failures during this crucial time

Wheeler was trying to compete with Jeb Stuart. All of the newspapers had been talking about how great Stuart was for 2 years and Wheeler wanted his moment in the sun, rather than focusing on the actual task of what a cavalry command is supposed to do.
 
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