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

(Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, Cold Harbor)

James N.

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Eventual Corps Commander Wade Hampton thought that the cavalry was to be more like mobile infantry than sword swinging horse riders. Many of his troopers were armed with long rifles to help stem an attack at longer range. The flamboyant and glorious cavalry charges of Jeb Stuart, George Custer or even Little Phil were true spectacles but the roll of cavalry eventually changed by by the end of the Civil War into WWI and beyond with those infernal machines, the tank.
Oddly and idiotically enough, the British cavalry was deployed behind their neophyte armor to "exploit" the anticipated breakthrough, at Arras I believe. (Of course the lumbering behemoths that were WWI tanks were too slow and awkward to perform that job themselves!) Naturally the churned-up condition of the terrain following the initial bombardment, plus the continuation of the damage wrought by the tanks themselves totally prevented the cavalry's advance. Actually, it was more likely the introduction of the true machine gun that spelled the demise of traditional horse cavalry even before the move to trench warfare.
 

Belfoured

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Oddly and idiotically enough, the British cavalry was deployed behind their neophyte armor to "exploit" the anticipated breakthrough, at Arras I believe. (Of course the lumbering behemoths that were WWI tanks were too slow and awkward to perform that job themselves!) Naturally the churned-up condition of the terrain following the initial bombardment, plus the continuation of the damage wrought by the tanks themselves totally prevented the cavalry's advance. Actually, it was more likely the introduction of the true machine gun that spelled the demise of traditional horse cavalry even before the move to trench warfare.
Good point. The Germans, on the other hand, quickly either dismounted the Uhlans, Hussars, etc or sent them packing to the "less entrenched" Eastern front, but even there they didn't do much as true cavalry.
 

AA484

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As far as Sheridan and his cavalry tactics are concerned -- and maybe Eric can chime in on a subject he has probably addressed hundreds of times -- he seemed to do his best in charge of combined infantry/cavalry operations, particularly when using his cavalry to harass retreating enemy formations. When confined to the more traditional cavalry roles (scouting, intelligence, etc.) he was found wanting. The independent combined operations were better able to exploit his aggressive nature.
 

AA484

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I think the difference between Civil War infantry/cavalry operations and WWII infantry/armor operations is that in the former, the combined arms would defeat the enemy in combat and the cavalry (being the quicker of the two) would pursue the retreating formations. In WWII, the armor would often make the initial penetration in the enemy lines and advance deep into enemy territory, often accompanied by motorized columns of infantry which would then surround and trap the enemy formations, allowing them to be mopped up by the trailing infantry formations.
 

Eric Wittenberg

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As far as Sheridan and his cavalry tactics are concerned -- and maybe Eric can chime in on a subject he has probably addressed hundreds of times -- he seemed to do his best in charge of combined infantry/cavalry operations, particularly when using his cavalry to harass retreating enemy formations. When confined to the more traditional cavalry roles (scouting, intelligence, etc.) he was found wanting. The independent combined operations were better able to exploit his aggressive nature.
That's precisely right. As a pure commander of cavalry, he was terrible. But he did do well commanding combined arms operations.
 

James N.

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That's precisely right. As a pure commander of cavalry, he was terrible. But he did do well commanding combined arms operations.
Probably unsurprising since his previous service - including prewar as I remember - had all been with the infantry.
 

AA484

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This is easy to say with the benefit of hindsight, but it would be interesting if Grant had brought Sheridan east and put him in charge of a combined infantry/cavalry corps. He could have taken some of the "orphaned" divisions or brigades when the I and III Corps were dissolved and combined them with one or two of his cavalry divisions to create this force. He could then leave the remainder of the cavalry separate under someone like David Gregg. Sheridan's combined arms corps would be more free to conduct rapid strike operations while Gregg (or whomever) would be able to perform the traditional reconnaissance duties.
 

WScott

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The combined infantry / cavalry (with artillery) unit sounds like it would be the Army of the Sheridan. I'm not sure where they would be posted or what roll they would play. When given the support of General Warren and his Corps during the Battle of Five Forks Little Phil didn't play nice.
 

James N.

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The combined infantry / cavalry (with artillery) unit sounds like it would be the Army of the Sheridan. I'm not sure where they would be posted or what roll they would play. When given the support of General Warren and his Corps during the Battle of Five Forks Little Phil didn't play nice.
That idea sounds good in retrospect but it would've been too radical a departure to be seriously considered at the time. It's the sort of thing that - like the WWII German Kampfgruppen - sometimes DID occur, but as temporary ad hoc formations that sort of grew like Topsy.
 

wausaubob

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Phil Sheridan had a pretty good run from November 1863 to April 1865.
His division was instrumental in breaking Bragg's line at Chattanooga, under very fluid conditions.
His cavalry defeated the Confederate cavalry and General Stuart became a casualty.
He kept Wade Hampton away from the James River and the bulk of the US army during the movement to the James.
He spent a lot of time jockeying with Early, before the cavalry discovered under American conditions, with poor roads and rough terrain, the mobility of the cavalry made flanking movements possible.
By April his cavalry conducted a successful holding against Pickett's and Fitzhugh Lee's Confederate force. He may have ruthless relieved Warren, but if Sheridan was in charge it was inevitable that the hard cursing Griffin would take over the Vth Corp.
He cut off Ewell's portion of the army at Sailor's Creek and got ahead for Lee and got support from Griffin and the USCT.
If the Confederate advocates don't like Sheridan, they have certainly picked the right target. Because he defeated one Confederate general after another, and became a strong advocate for civil rights and equal accomodations in the process.
He didn't win every battle in that stretch, but the soldiers and troopers seem to have been ready to fight for him.
 

Belfoured

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Phil Sheridan had a pretty good run from November 1863 to April 1865.
His division was instrumental in breaking Bragg's line at Chattanooga, under very fluid conditions.
His cavalry defeated the Confederate cavalry and General Stuart became a casualty.
He kept Wade Hampton away from the James River and the bulk of the US army during the movement to the James.
He spent a lot of time jockeying with Early, before the cavalry discovered under American conditions, with poor roads and rough terrain, the mobility of the cavalry made flanking movements possible.
By April his cavalry conducted a successful holding against Pickett's and Fitzhugh Lee's Confederate force. He may have ruthless relieved Warren, but if Sheridan was in charge it was inevitable that the hard cursing Griffin would take over the Vth Corp.
He cut off Ewell's portion of the army at Sailor's Creek and got ahead for Lee and got support from Griffin and the USCT.
If the Confederate advocates don't like Sheridan, they have certainly picked the right target. Because he defeated one Confederate general after another, and became a strong advocate for civil rights and equal accomodations in the process.
He didn't win every battle in that stretch, but the soldiers and troopers seem to have been ready to fight for him.
Fair points overall but this one is probably a real reach:

"His cavalry defeated the Confederate cavalry and General Stuart became a casualty."

For the period May 10 - June 20 I would rely on two authors who very much know whereof they write: @ericwittenberg and Gordon Rhea. For that period the grade is probably a "C" at best - and it's that high only because of the fortuitous mortal wounding of Stuart.
 

wausaubob

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Fair points overall but this one is probably a real reach:

"His cavalry defeated the Confederate cavalry and General Stuart became a casualty."

For the period May 10 - June 20 I would rely on two authors who very much know whereof they write: @ericwittenberg and Gordon Rhea. For that period the grade is probably a "C" at best - and it's that high only because of the fortuitous mortal wounding of Stuart.
Go ahead and blog about the failures. At some point Wade Hampton got loose and captured the US cattle herd, about 4,000 head. That was a big mistake by the US cavalry and the AoftheP.
 

Belfoured

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Go ahead and blog about the failures. At some point Wade Hampton got loose and captured the US cattle herd, about 4,000 head. That was a big mistake by the US cavalry and the AoftheP.
Who's "blogging"? I'm simply making a point about Sheridan's handling of the cavalry during the Overland Campaign, consistent with what two well-regarded authorities have concluded in no uncertain terms. The fact that others also made mistakes doesn't convert Phil's record during those 6 weeks into the equivalent of the DiMaggio hitting streak.
 
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