- Auditing accounts -- Chief Quartermaster and Commissary of the Army of southwest Missouri -- preparing for the Pea Ridge campaign -- a difference with General Curtis -- ordered to the front -- appointed a Colonel.
Some days after I had reached the headquarters of my regiment near St. Louis, General Halleck sent for me, and when I reported he informed me that there existed a great deal of confusion regarding the accounts of some of the disbursing officers in his department, whose management of its' fiscal affairs under his predecessor, General John C. Fremont, had been very loose; and as the chaotic condition of things could be relieved only by auditing these accounts, he therefore had determined to create a board of officers for the purpose, and intended to make me president of it. The various transactions in question covered a wide field, for the department embraced the States of Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Arkansas, and all of Kentucky west of the Cumberland River. The duty was not distasteful, and I felt that I was qualified to undertake it, for the accounts to be audited belonged exclusively to the Quartermaster and Subsistence departments, and by recent experience I had become familiar with the class of papers that pertained to those branches of the army. Indeed, it was my familiarity with such transactions, returns, &c., that probably caused my selection as president of the board. I entered upon the work forthwith, and continued at it until the 26th of December, 1861. At that date I was relieved from the auditing board and assigned to duty as Chief Commissary of the Army of Southwest Missouri, commanded by General Samuel R. Curtis. This army was then organizing at Rolla, Missouri, for the Pea Ridge campaign, its strength throughout the campaign being in the aggregate about fifteen thousand men.  As soon as I received information of my selection for this position, I went to General Halleck and requested him to assign me as Chief Quartermaster also. He was reluctant to do so, saying that I could not perform both duties, but I soon convinced him that I could do both better than the one, for I reminded him that as Chief Quartermaster I should control the transportation, and thus obviate all possible chances of discord between the two staff departments; a condition which I deemed essential to success, especially as it was intended that Curtis's army should mainly subsist on the country. This argument impressed Halleck, and becoming convinced, he promptly issued the order making me Chief Quartermaster and Chief Commissary of Subsistence of the Army of Southwest Missouri, and I started for Rolla to enter upon the work assigned me. Having reported to General Curtis, I quickly learned that his system of supply was very defective, and the transportation without proper organization, some of the regiments having forty to fifty wagon each, and others only three or four. I labored day and night to remedy these and other defects, and with the help of Captain Michael P. Small, of the Subsistence Department, who was an invaluable assistant, soon brought things into shape, putting the transportation in good working order, giving each regiment its proper quota of wagons, and turning the surplus into the general supply trains of the army. In accomplishing this I was several times on the verge of personal conflict with irate regimental commanders, but Colonel G. M. Dodge so greatly sustained me with General Curtis by strong moral support, and by such efficient details from his regiment — the Fourth Iowa Volunteer Infantry--that I still bear him and it great affection and lasting gratitude. On January 26, 1862, General Curtis's army began its march from Rolla to Springfield, Missouri, by way of Lebanon. The roads were deep with mud, and so badly cut up that the supply trains in moving labored under the most serious difficulties, and were greatly embarrassed by swollen streams. Under these circumstances many delays occurred, and when we arrived at Lebanon nearly all the supplies with which we had started had been consumed, and the work of feeding the troops off the country had to begin at that point. To get flour, wheat had to be taken from the stacks, threshed, and sent to the mills to be ground. Wheat being scarce in this region, corn as a substitute had to be converted into meal by the same laborious process. In addition, beef cattle had to be secured for the meat ration. By hard work we soon accumulated a sufficient quantity of flour and corn meal to justify the resumption of our march on Springfield, at or near which point the enemy was believed to be awaiting us, and  the order was given to move forward, the commanding general cautioning me, in the event of disaster, to let no salt fall into General Price's hands. General Curtis made a hobby of this matter of salt, believing the enemy was sadly in need of that article, and he impressed me deeply with his conviction that our cause would be seriously injured by a loss which would inure so greatly and peculiarly to the enemy's benefit; but we afterward discovered, when Price abandoned his position, that about all he left behind was salt. When we were within about eight miles of Springfield, General Curtis decided to put his troops in line of battle for the advance on the town, and directed me to stretch out my supply trains in a long line of battle, so that in falling back, in case the troops were repulsed, he could rally the men on the wagons. I did not like the tactics, but of course obeyed the order. The line moved on Springfield, and took the town without resistance, the enemy having fled southward, in the direction of Pea Ridge, the preceding day. Of course our success relieved my anxiety about the wagons; but fancy has often pictured since, the stampede of six mule teams that, had we met with any reverse, would have taken place over the prairies of southwest Missouri. The army set out in pursuit of Price, but I was left at Springfield to gather supplies from the surrounding country, by the same means that had been used at Lebanon, and send them forward. To succeed in this useful and necessary duty required much hard work. To procure the grain and to run the mills in the country, replacing the machinery where parts had been carried away, or changing the principle and running the mills on some different plan when necessary, and finally forward the product to the army, made a task that taxed the energy of all engaged in it. Yet, having at command a very skillful corps of millwrights, machinists, and millers, detailed principally from the Fourth Iowa and Thirty-sixth Illinois volunteer regiments, we soon got matters in shape, and were able to send such large quantities of flour and meal to the front, that only the bacon and small parts of the ration had to be brought forward from our depot at Rolla. When things were well systematized, I went forward myself to expedite the delivery of supplies, and joined the army at Cross Hollows, just south of Pea Ridge. Finding everything working well at Cross Hollows, I returned to Springfield in a few days to continue the labor of collecting supplies. On my way back I put the mills at Cassville in good order to grind the grain in that vicinity, and perfected there a plan for the general supply from the neighboring district of both the men and animals of the army, so that there should be no chance of a failure of the campaign from  bad roads or disaster to my trains. Springfield thus became the centre of the entire supply section. Just after my return to Springfield the battle of Pea Ridge was fought. The success of the Union troops in this battle was considerable, and while not of sufficient magnitude to affect the general cause materially, it was decisive as to that particular campaign, and resulted in driving all organized Confederate forces out of the State of Missouri. After Pea Ridge was won, certain efforts were made to deprive Curtis of the credit due him for the victory; but, no matter what merit belonged to individual commanders, I was always convinced that Curtis was deserving of the highest commendation, not only for the skill displayed on the field, but for a zeal and daring in campaign which was not often exhibited at that early period of the war. Especially should this credit be awarded him, when we consider the difficulties under which he labored, how he was hampered in having to depend on a sparsely settled country for the subsistence of his troops. In the reports of the battle that came to Springfield, much glory was claimed for some other general officers, but as I had control of the telegraph line from Springfield east, I detained all despatches until General Curtis had sent in his official report. He thus had the opportunity of communicating with his superior in advance of some of his vain subordinates, who would have laid claim to the credit of the battle had I not thwarted them by this summary means. Not long afterward came the culmination of a little difference that had arisen between General Curtis and me, brought about, I have since sometimes thought, by an assistant quartermaster from Iowa, whom I had on duty with me at Springfield. He coveted my place, and finally succeeded in getting it. He had been an unsuccessful banker in Iowa, and early in the war obtained an appointment as assistant quartermaster of volunteers with the rank of captain. As chief quartermaster of the army in Missouri, there would be opportunities for the recuperation of his fortunes which would not offer to one in a subordinate place; so to gain this position he doubtless intrigued for it while under my eye, and Curtis was induced to give it to him as soon as I was relieved. His career as my successor, as well as in other capacities in which he was permitted to act during the war, was to say the least not savory. The war over he turned up in Chicago as president of a bank, which he wrecked; and he finally landed in the penitentiary for stealing a large sum of money from the United States Treasury at Washington while employed there as a clerk. The chances that this man's rascality would be discovered were much less when chief of the departments of transportation and supply of an army than they afterward proved to be in the Treasury. I had in my possession at all times large sums of money for the needs  of the army, and among other purposes for which these funds were to be disbursed was the purchase of horses and mules. Certain officers and men more devoted to gain than to the performance of duty (a few such are always to be found in armies) quickly learned this, and determined to profit by it. Consequently they began a regular system of stealing horses from the people of the country and proffering them to me for purchase. It took but a little time to discover this roguery, and when I became satisfied of their knavery I brought it to a sudden close by seizing the horses as captured property, branding them U. S., and refusing to pay for them. General Curtis, misled by the misrepresentations that had been made, and without fully knowing the circumstances, or realizing to what a base and demoralizing state of things this course was inevitably tending, practically ordered me to make the payments, and I refused. The immediate result of this disobedience was a courtmartial to try me; and knowing that my usefulness in that army was gone, no matter what the outcome of the trial might be, I asked General Halleck to relieve me from duty with General Curtis and order me to St. Louis. This was promptly done, and as my connection with the Army of Southwest Missouri was thus severed before the court could be convened, my case never came to trial. The man referred to as being the cause of this condition of affairs was appointed by General Curtis to succeed me. I turned over to the former all the funds and property for which I was responsible, also the branded horses and mules stolen from the people of the country, requiring receipts for everything. I heard afterward that some of the blooded stock of southwest Missouri made its way to Iowa in an unaccountable manner, but whether the administration of my successor was responsible for it or not I am unable to say. On my arrival at St. Louis I felt somewhat forlorn and disheartened at the turn affairs had taken. I did not know where I should be assigned, nor what I should be required to do, but these uncertainties were dispelled in a few days by General Halleck, who, being much pressed by the Governors of some of the Western States to disburse money in their sections, sent me out into the Northwest with a sort of roving commission to purchase horses for the use of the army. I went to Madison and Racine, Wis., at which places I bought two hundred horses, which were shipped to St. Louis. At Chicago I bought two hundred more, and as the prices paid at the latter point showed that Illinois was the cheapest market — it at that time producing a surplus over home demands — I determined to make Chicago the centre of my operations. While occupied in this way at Chicago the battle of Shiloh took place, and the desire for active service with troops became uppermost in my thoughts, so I returned to St. Louis to see if I could not get into  the field. General Halleck having gone down to the Shiloh battle-field, I reported to his Assistant Adjutant-General, Colonel John C. Kelton, and told him of my anxiety to take a hand in active field-service, adding that I did not wish to join my regiment, which was still organizing and recruiting at Jefferson Barracks, for I felt confident I could be more useful elsewhere. Kelton knew that the purchasing duty was but temporary, and that on its completion, probably at no distant date, I should have to join my company at the barracks; so, realizing the inactivity to which that situation of affairs would subject me, he decided to assume the responsibility of sending me to report to General Halleck at Shiloh, and gave me an order to that effect. This I consider the turning-point in my military career, and shall always feel grateful to Colonel Kelton for his kindly act which so greatly influenced my future. My desire to join the army at Shiloh had now taken possession of me, and I was bent on getting there by the first means available. Learning that a hospital-boat under charge of Dr. Hough was preparing to start for Pittsburg Landing, I obtained the Doctor's consent to take passage on it, and on the evening of April 15 I left St. Louis for the scene of military operations in northeastern Mississippi. At Pittsburg Landing I reported to General Halleck, who, after some slight delay, assigned me to duty as an assistant to Colonel George Thom, of the topographical engineers. Colonel Thom put me at the work of getting the trains up from the landing, which involved the repair of roads for that purpose by corduroying the marshy places. This was rough, hard work, without much chance of reward, but it was near the field of active operations, and I determined to do the best I could at it till opportunity for something better might arise. General Halleck did not know much about taking care of himself in the field. His camp arrangements were wholly inadequate, and in consequence he and all the officers about him were subjected to much unnecessary discomfort and annoyance. Some one suggested to him to appoint me quartermaster for his headquarters, with a view to systematizing the establishment and remedying the defects complained of, and I was consequently assigned to this duty. Shortly after this assignment I had the satisfaction of knowing that General Halleck was delighted with the improvements made at headquarters, both in camp outfit and transportation, and in administration generally. My popularity grew as the improvements increased, but one trifling incident came near marring it. There was some hitch about getting fresh beef for General Halleck's mess, and as by this time everybody had come to look to me for anything and everything in the way of comfort, Colonel Joe McKibben brought an order from the General for me to get fresh beef for the headquarters  mess. I was not caterer for this mess, nor did I belong to it even, so I refused point-blank. McKibben, disliking to report my disobedience, undertook persuasion, and brought Colonel Thom to see me to aid in his negotiations, but I would not give in, so McKibben in the kindness of his heart rode several miles in order to procure the beef himself, and thus save me from the dire results which he thought would follow should Halleck get wind of such downright insubordination. The next day I was made Commissary of Subsistence for the headquarters in addition to my other duties, and as this brought me into the line of fresh beef, General Halleck had no cause thereafter to complain of a scarcity of that article in his mess. My stay at General Halleck's headquarters was exceedingly agreeable, and my personal intercourse with officers on duty there was not only pleasant and instructive, but offered opportunities for improvement and advancement for which hardly any other post could have afforded like chances. My special duties did not occupy all my time, and whenever possible I used to go over to General Sherman's division, which held the extreme right of our line in the advance on Corinth, to witness the little engagements occurring there continuously during the slow progress which the army was then making, the enemy being forced back but a short distance each day. I knew General Sherman very well. We came from near the same section of country in Ohio, and his wife and her family, had known me from childhood. I was always kindly received by the General, and one day he asked me if I would be willing to accept the colonelcy of a certain Ohio regiment if he secured the appointment. I gladly told him yes, if General Halleck would let me go; but I was doomed to disappointment, for in about a week or so afterward General Sherman informed me that the Governor of Ohio would not consent, having already decided to appoint some one else. A little later Governor Blair, of Michigan, who was with the army temporarily in the interest of the troops from his State, and who just at this time was looking around for a colonel for the Second Michigan Cavalry, and very anxious to get a regular officer, fixed upon me as the man. The regiment was then somewhat run down by losses from sickness, and considerably split into factions growing out of jealousies engendered by local differences previous to organization, and the Governor desired to bridge over all these troubles by giving the regiment a commander who knew nothing about them. I presume that some one said to the Governor about this time, “Why don't you get Sheridan?” This, however, is only conjecture. I really do not know how my name was proposed to him, but I have often been told since that General Gordon Granger, whom I knew slightly then, and who had been the  former colonel of the regiment, first suggested the appointment. At all events, on the morning of May 27, 1862, Captain Russell A. Algerrecently Governor of Michigan-accompanied by the quartermaster of the regiment, Lieutenant Frank Walbridge, arrived at General Halleck's headquarters and delivered to me this telegram:
I took the order to General Halleck, and said that I would like to accept, but he was not willing I should do so until the consent of the War Department could be obtained. I returned to my tent much disappointed, for in those days, for some unaccountable reason, the War Department did not favor the appointment of regular officers to volunteer regiments, and I feared a disapproval at Washington. After a further consultation with Captain Alger and Lieutenant Walbridge, I determined to go to the General again and further present the case. Enlarging on my desire for active service with troops, and urging the utter lack of such opportunity where I was, I pleaded my cause until General Halleck finally resolved to take the responsibility of letting me go without consulting the War Department. When I had thanked him for the kindness, he said that inasmuch as I was to leave him, he would inform me that the regiment to which I had just been appointed was ordered out as part of a column directed to make a raid to the south of the enemy, then occupying Corinth, and that if I could turn over my property, it would probably be well for me to join my command immediately, so that I could go with the expedition. I returned to my tent, where Alger and Walbridge were still waiting, and told them of the success of my interview, at the same time notifying them that I would join the regiment in season to accompany the expedition of which Halleck had spoken. In the course of the afternoon I turned over all my property to my successor, and about 8 o'clock that evening made my appearance at the camp of the Second Michigan Cavalry, near Farmington, Mississippi. The regiment was in a hubbub of excitement making preparations for the raid, and I had barely time to meet the officers of my command,  and no opportunity at all to see the men, when the trumpet sounded to horse. Dressed in a coat and trousers of a captain of infantry, but recast as a colonel of cavalry by a pair of well-worn eagles that General Granger had kindly given me, I hurriedly placed on my saddle a haversack, containing some coffee, sugar, bacon, and hard bread, which had been prepared, and mounting my horse, I reported my regiment to the brigade commander as ready for duty.