Overland Would Buford Have Done Better Than Sheridan As Cavalry Commander In The Overland Campaign?

(Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, Cold Harbor)

JeffBrooks

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 20, 2009
Location
Manor, TX
For the sake of argument, imagine for a moment that John Buford doesn't die of typhoid in December of 1863 and Grant appoints him, rather than Phil Sheridan, as the commander of the cavalry corps of the Army of the Potomac.

Would be do a better job in the Overland Campaign than Little Phil?

Discuss.
 

rpkennedy

Lt. Colonel
Member of the Year
Joined
May 18, 2011
Location
Carlisle, PA
Yes

But when all is said and done, Sheridan was probably the right guy to command in the Shenandoah.

I very much agree with that. The problem with Sheridan (beyond not getting along with Meade and wanting to get out from under his eye) was that he had no interest in the traditional roles of the cavalry. Instead, he wanted to use it as a strike force against the enemy rather than screening and intelligence gathering. The AotP suffered during the Overland Campaign due to the poor use of cavalry but when he was independent and could use cavalry the way that he wanted in the Valley, Sheridan was much more successful.

Ryan
 

JeffBrooks

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 20, 2009
Location
Manor, TX
The AotP suffered during the Overland Campaign due to the poor use of cavalry but when he was independent and could use cavalry the way that he wanted in the Valley, Sheridan was much more successful.

I just finished reading Gordon Rhea's book on the North Anna River engagements and he makes the point that, had the cavalry been present and under a competent commander, Grant would have almost certainly detected Lee's movement from Spotsylvania to the North Anna on May 21, exactly at a moment when an opportunity existed to strike Lee's left flank with two corps while the Confederate army was in motion.

Regarding Sheridan in the Valley, it certainly helped that he had the strength of personality to cut through all the red tape and establish unity of command. On the other hand, he made some serious mistakes at Third Winchester, which only the massive Union weight in numbers overcame.
 

jackt62

Captain
Joined
Jul 28, 2015
Location
New York City
I've developed various opinions about Sheridan from different sources. No doubt, he was a bold, fearless, leader who could inspire and rally troops. His active and aggressive mindset was just what Grant needed and wanted in his commanders and his performance in a large number of different commands was highly regarded in both western and eastern theaters. At the same time, his role as cavalry commander in the Overland Campaign has been criticized for attention seeking glory raids at the expense of securing the army's flanks and ensuring that its movements and roadways were open and secure. I am less familiar with Buford's record, but from what I do know, he was a dependable cavalry leader who avoided self-promotion and could work to ensure that his cavalry enabled the infantry to do its job effectively. So in that regard, I would probably pick Buford over Sheridan for the Overland campaign.
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
Grant was merely completing with respect to making the cavalry an independent fighting force, what Pleasonton had started. Sheridan, young and single, was the archetypical trooper that Grant wanted. Sheridan's job was to fight JEB Stuart and whip him, or get killed in the process. The long process of adding the mobility of the cavalry as a mobile fighting force was well advanced by the Brandy Station fight. Sheridan, Merritt, Custer and the others were just completing the process.
When Grant sent Sheridan to the outskirts of Richmond in May of 1864 it was his way of announcing the theater of operations was going to be central Virginia and that the US Army was going to be attacking the logistical network of the Confederacy on a not stop basis. Sheridan's operation was just like Grierson's raid in Mississippi, but on a much greater scale. And Sheridan proceeded at a measured pace, to make sure there was a big fight before the US force was too close to Richmond.
If Buford had remained healthy enough to succeed Pleasonton, he too would have launched an independent raid on the Confederate roads and telegraph lines.
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
Behind the US Cavalry raid in May 1864 was the fact that the US remount procedure had been significantly improved. Army officers inspected and purchased the livestock. And the US had a vastly larger farm economy to buy from. Based on that change, the cavalry had to make the Confederate cavalry ride and fight. Because as their mounts became disabled, the Confederates could not easily replace them.
Winchester III foreshadowed the end of the war. By the end of the war the US Cavalry had the advantage in numbers, equipment, mounts and forage. It was not a fair fight after that.
 

67th Tigers

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 10, 2006
The idea that the cavalry was developing as an independent force under Hooker is commonly stated, but is not really true.

Hooker inherited three large brigades/ small divisions from Burnside (who inherited them from McClellan fully formed):

Pleasanton's Brigade (officially a brigade, but Pleasanton kept calling it a division after he divided it into two wings) - 6 regts
Averell's Brigade - 6 regts
Bayard's (Gregg's) Brigade - 5 regts

Each of these was assigned to a "Grand Division". Stoneman was given 6 additional cavalry regiments (11th Corps Cavalry Bde), which he used to bulk out every brigade to at least 6 regts, renamed them divisions and divide into 2 brigades, whilst centralising all the regular cavalry into another large brigade for Buford.

There were 5 cavalry generals in the AoP at this point; Stoneman, Pleasanton, Averell, Gregg and Buford.

Buford had been the cavalry commander since September '62, replacing Stoneman. He was largely being placated. Each of the divisions was aligned to a pair of corps, exactly like under Burnside (and one supposes nominally a brigade of 3-4 regts per Corps). The aligned cavalry had to provide cavalry for the various functions etc., with the reserve brigade having to provide details to GHQ etc.

Of course, Stoneman had his unsuccessful experiment with the cavalry operating independently, and the alignment of the cavalry divisions (now reorganised - Averell's and Gregg's division were amalgamated, as was Pleasanton's division and the reserve brigade, the new 3rd division consisted of the old 12th Corps brigade, and the Michigan brigade) with wings continued throughout the Pennsylvania Campaign etc.
 

67th Tigers

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 10, 2006
Our colleague Eric Wittenberg has done a nice job of showing the significant improvement in the Union cavalry's performance and morale starting in early 1863 with General Orders No. 6 issued by Hooker. The Union Cavalry Comes of Age is recommended.
The problem is, he failed to establish a low standard of performance before this, and instead presents a strawman version of the 1861-2 cavalry. Hence his argument is relatively weak in places.
 

Belfoured

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
The problem is, he failed to establish a low standard of performance before this, and instead presents a strawman version of the 1861-2 cavalry. Hence his argument is relatively weak in places.
Where is it "weak"? And just what was the "standard of performance" before that? Specific examples would be useful. We can discount anything that took place while the Army of the P was on the Peninsula, for starters. That army's cavalry also did nothing material in the Second Bull Run Campaign. So are we proposing a laudable performance in Maryland or Loudoun? Fredericksburg???? Buford's accomplishments under Pope don't count, for several reasons.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
We can discount anything that took place while the Army of the P was on the Peninsula, for starters.
I'm not so sure we can. Wittenberg said:

"On the Peninsula McClellan parceled out his volunteer cavalry regiments to specific infantry brigades, primarily using the horsemen as messengers and orderlies. This was a poor use for an expensive arm of the service like cavalry ... McClellan frittered them away."

But when I asked him for data about this he refused to provide any.

Obviously, if this is a statement which is not well supported by evidence (and if in fact the Army of the Potomac's cavalry was largely concentrated and used appropriately to screen the flanks, provide a reserve striking force and conduct recces) then the idea of the Army of the Potomac's cavalry having a low standard of performance is not well established.

So are we proposing a laudable performance in Maryland or Loudoun?
Well, the Union cavalry did well in both campaigns at the scouting and screening role, driving Stuart's cavalry back through the Catoctins in Maryland and fighting multiple (successful) cavalry actions during the march south in the Loudoun Valley campaign. In particular the Union cavalry takes three guns from Stuart's horse artillery, which isn't something to sneeze at.

The scouting and screening in Loudoun is particularly worth noting, because there is a clear information disparity between the two sides.

On or about the 9th of November Lee's sense of where the Union army is is wrong by about fifteen to twenty miles (that is, he tells Jackson that the Union army is around Piedmont Depot and Rectortown, 35 miles from Culpeper; the Union army is actually mostly at Warrenton, 20 miles from Rectortown and 22 miles from Culpeper, and the 9th Corps is at Waterloo only sixteen miles from Culpeper). Conversely, the Union cavalry has a pretty good idea where most of Lee's army is (the details shift around slightly but for example they confirm on the 8th that Jackson and both Hills are still in the Shenandoah and are clearly aware that Longstreet is at Culpeper).
 
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