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12. cavalry leaders North and South

Theo. F. Rodenbough, Brigadier-General, United States Army (Retired)

Custer and his dog


Sheridan and his right-hand men This photograph shows Sheridan and his leaders, who drove Early and the Confederate cavalry from the Shenandoah Valley, and brought the Federal cavalry to the zenith of its power. Sheridan stands at the extreme left of the picture. Next to him is General Forsyth, and General Merritt is seated at the table. General Devin stands with his hand on his hip, and Custer leans easily back in his chair. This is a ceremonious photograph; each leader wears the uniform of his rank. Even Custer has abandoned his favorite velvet suit. together with the facing photograph, this offers an interesting study in the temperament of the Union cavalry leaders.


A study in temperament of the men who led the Federal cavalry The photographer has evidently requested the distinguished sitters to inspect a map, as if they were planning some actual movement such as that which “sent Early whirling through Winchester.” All but Sheridan have been obliging. General Forsyth is leaning over, hand on chin, one foot on a rung of Merritt's chair. Meritt has cast down his eyes and bowed his head above the map. General Devin is leaning slightly forward in an attentive position. Custer alertly surveys his chief. But Sheridan, his hand clenched beside him, still gazes resolutely at the camera. These were the leaders who stood between the Confederate army and Washington, the capture of which might have meant foreign intervention.


No war of modern times has produced so many able cavalry leaders as the so-called “War of Secession.” Sheridan, Stuart, Buford, Gregg, Wilson, Merritt, “FitzLee, Pleasonton, Hampton, Lomax, Butler, Wheeler, Custer, Forrest, Grierson, Morgan, Kilpatrick, and others, have written their names on the roll of fame in letters of fire alongside those of Seydlitz and Ziethen of the Old World. Of the group mentioned who have “crossed the river” a few pen portraits by friendly hands, and true to the life, are here presented.1

General Philip Sheridan2

The general is short in stature — below the medium — with nothing superfluous about him, square shouldered, muscular, wiry to the last degree, and as nearly insensible to hardship and fatigue as is consistent with humanity.

His face is very much tanned by exposure, but is lighted up by uncommonly keen eyes, which would stamp him anywhere as a man of quickness and force, while its whole character would betray him to be a soldier, with its firm chin, high cheek bones, and crisp mustache.

He is exacting on duty and hard on delinquents, and his ideas of duty are peculiar, as evinced by the fact that he has [263]

Major-General Philip Henry Sheridan

General Sheridan was the leader who relieved the Union cavalry from waste of energy and restored it an arm of the service as effective and terrible to the Confederacy as the Southern cavalry had been to the North at the outset of the war. He was born at Albany, N. Y., 1831, and graduated at West Point in 1853. In May, 1862, he was appointed colonel of the Second Michigan Cavalry, and served in northern Mississippi. In July he was appointed brigadier-general of volunteers and distinguished himself on October 8th at the battle of Perryville. He commanded a division of the Army of the Cumberland at Stone's River, and was appointed major-general of volunteers early in 1863. He took part in the pursuit of General Van Dorn, afterwards aided in the capture of Manchester, Tennessee, on June 27th, and was in the battle of Chickamauga. In the battles around Chattanooga he attracted the attention of General Grant. In April, 1864, he was placed in command of the cavalry corps of the Army of the Potomac, and its brilliant exploits under his leadership culminated in the death of General J. E. B. Stuart at Yellow Tavern, where the Confederates were defeated. In August, 1864, he was placed in command of the Army of the Shenandoah. He defeated General Early at Opequon Creek, Fisher's Hill, and Cedar Creek, and captured 5,000 of his men and several guns. He drove the Confederates from the valley and laid it waste. On September 10th he was made brigadier-general, and in November major-general. In July, 1865, he received the thanks of Congress for his distinguished services. He died at Nonquitt, Mass., on August 5, 1888.

Major-General Philip Henry Sheridan

Major-General Philip Henry Sheridan: the leader's eyes

[264] never issued orders of encouragement or congratulations to his troops before or after campaigns or battles. He has apparently taken it for granted that all under his command would do as well as they could, and they did so quite as a matter of course. And to this soldierly view the troops always responded. Understanding so well what they were fighting for and the issues at stake, they would not fight harder to accomplish results simply for the satisfaction of having them recounted. . . .

Though always easy of approach, the general has little to say in busy times. Set teeth and a quick way tell when things do not go as they ought, and he has a manner on such occasions that stirs to activity all within sight, for a row seems brewing that nobody wants to be under when it bursts. Notwithstanding his handsome reputation for cursing, he is rather remarkably low-voiced, particularly on the field, where, as sometimes happens, almost everybody else is screaming. “Damn you, sir, don't yell at me,” he once said to an officer who came galloping up with some bad news, and was roaring it out above the din of battle. In such moments the general leans forward on his horse's neck, and hunching his shoulders up to his ears, gives most softly spoken orders in a slow, deliberate way, as though there were niches for all the words in his hearer's memory, and they must be measured very carefully to fit exactly, that none of them be lost in the carrying. . . .

The general has a remarkable eye for topography, not only in using to the best advantage the peculiarities of the country through which he is campaigning, either for purposes of marching, assaults, or defense, but he can foresee with accuracy, by studying a map, how far the country will be available for these purposes.

He has been called ruthless and cruel because, in obedience to the orders of the officers appointed over him, he was compelled, by the stern necessities of war, to destroy property in the Shenandoah valley, and to take from the war-ridden people [265]

Major-General James Ewell brown Stuart, C. S.A. In the hat on General Stuart's knee appears the plume which grew to symbolize the dash and gallantry of the man himself. Plume and hat were captured, and Stuart himself narrowly escaped, at Verdiersville, August 17, 1862. “I intend,” he wrote, “to make the Yankees pay for that hat.” Less than a week later he captured Pope's personal baggage and horses, and for many days thereafter the Federal general's uniform was on exhibition in a Richmond store window — a picturesque and characteristic reprisal. Born in Virginia in 1833, Stuart graduated at the United States Military Academy in 1854. He saw service on the Texas frontier, in Kansas, and against the Cheyenne Indians before the outbreak of the war. On April, 1861, he resigned from the United States Army and joined the Confederacy in his native State. He won distinction at Bull Run, and also the rank of brigadier-general. Stuart rode twice around the Army of the Potomac when McClellan was in command, and played a conspicuous part in the Seven Days before Richmond. At the second Bull Run, at Antietam, by a destructive raid into Pennsylvania, at Fredericksburg, and at Chancellorsville Stuart added to his laurels. He was too late for anything except the last day of Gettysburg, where the strengthened Union cavalry proved his match. He was mortally wounded at Yellow Tavern May 11, 1864, in a pitched battle with Sheridan's cavalry.

[266] there what their friends had left them of supplies for man and beast. As he rode down the Martinsburg pike in his four-horse wagon, heels on the front seat, and smoking a cigar, while behind him his cavalry was destroying the provender that could not be carried away, the inhabitants of the Valley doubtless regarded him as history regards the emperor who fiddled while Rome was burning, and would not now believe, what is the simple truth, that this destruction was distasteful to him, and that he was moved by the distress he was obliged to multiply upon these unfortunate people, whose evil fate had left them in the ruinous track of war so long. But the Shenandoah valley was the well-worn pathway of invasion, and it became necessary that this long avenue leading to our homes should be stripped of the sustenance that rendered it possible to subsist an army there.

General James Ewell brown Stuart

Stuart was undoubtedly the most brilliant and widely known sabreur of his time. The term is used advisedly to describe the accomplished horseman who, while often fighting dismounted, yet by training and the influence of his environment was at his best as a leader of mounted men.

Stuart as a cadet at the Military Academy is thus described by General Fitzhugh Lee:

I recall his distinguishing characteristics, which were a strict attention to his military duties, an erect, soldierly bearing, an immediate and almost thankful acceptance of a challenge to fight from any cadet who might in any way feel himself aggrieved, and a clear, metallic ringing voice.

In the Indian country as a subaltern in the cavalry, his commanding officer, Major Simonson, thus wrote of him:

Lieutenant Stuart was brave and gallant, always prompt in the execution of orders, and reckless of danger or exposure. I considered him at that time one of the most promising young officers in the United States army.


Major-General John Buford General Buford was one of the foremost cavalry leaders of the North. He is credited by many with having chosen the field on which the battle of Gettysburg was fought. He was born in 1826 in Woodford County, Kentucky, graduated at West Point in 1848, and saw service against the Indians. In November, 1861, he attained to the rank of major, and in July, 1862, he was made brigadier-general of volunteers. While in command of a cavalry Brigade in 1862, Buford was wounded in the second battle of Bull Run. In McClellan's Maryland campaign, at Fredericksburg, and in the spirited cavalry engagements at Brandy Station, he played his part nobly. In Pennsylvania he displayed remarkable ability and opened the battle of Gettysburg before the arrival of Reynolds' infantry on July 1st. The Comte de Paris says in his “History of the Civil War in America” : “It was Buford who selected the battlefield where the two armies were about to measure their strength.” After taking part in the pursuit of Lee and subsequent operations in central Virginia, he withdrew on sick leave in November, 1863, and died in Washington on December 16th, receiving a commission as major-general only on the day of his death.


As a Confederate colonel at the first Bull Run battle, General Early reported:

Stuart did as much toward saving the battle of First Manassas as any subordinate who participated in it; and yet he has never received any credit for it, in the official reports or otherwise. His own report is very brief and indefinite.

In a letter to President Davis, General J. E. Johnston recommended Stuart's promotion, which was made September 24, 1861:

He is a rare man, wonderfully endowed by nature with the qualities necessary for an officer of light cavalry. Calm, firm, acute, active, and enterprising, I know of no one more competent than he to estimate the occurrences before him at their true value. If you add a real brigade of cavalry to this army, you can find no better brigadier-general to command it.

In an account of the raid into Pennsylvania (October, 1862) Colonel Alexander K. McClure speaks of the behavior of Stuart's command in passing through Chambersburg:

General Stuart sat on his horse in the center of the town, surrounded by his staff, and his command was coming in from the country in large squads, leading their old horses and riding the new ones they had found in the stables hereabouts. General Stuart is of medium size, has a keen eye, and wears immense sandy whiskers and mustache. His demeanor to our people was that of a humane soldier. In several instances his men commenced to take private property from stores, but they were arrested by General Stuart's provost-guard. In a single instance only, that I heard of, did they enter a store by intimidating the proprietor. All of our stores and shops were closed, and with very few exceptions were not disturbed.


General John B. Gordon, in his “Reminiscences” relates:

An incident during the battle of Chancellorsville [illustrates] the bounding spirits of that great cavalry leader, General “JebStuart. After Jackson's fall, Stuart was [269]

Lieutenant-General Wade Hampton, C. S. A. General Hampton was the leader selected three months after Stuart's death to command all of Lee's cavalry. Although it had become sadly decimated, Hampton lived up to his reputation, and fought effectively to the very end of the war. His last command was the cavalry in Johnston's army, which opposed Sherman's advance from Savannah in 1865. Hampton was born in Columbia, S. C., in 1818. After graduating in law at the University of South Carolina, he gave up his time to the management of his extensive estates. At the outbreak of the war he raised and equipped from his private means the “Hampton's Legion,” which did good service throughout the war. He fought at the head of his Legion at Bull Run and in the Peninsula campaign, was wounded at Fair Oaks, and soon afterward was commissioned brigadier-general. He served brilliantly at Gettysburg, where he was wounded three times, and was made major-general on August 3d following. He was engaged in opposing the advance of Sheridan toward Lynchburg in 1864, and showed such high qualities as a cavalry commander that he was commissioned lieutenant-general in August of that year, and placed in command of all of Lee's cavalry. He was Governor of South Carolina from 1876 to 1878; then United States Senator until 1891. He was United States Commissioner of Railroads, 1893 to 1897. His death occurred in 1902.

[270] designated to lead Jackson's troops in the final charge. The soul of this brilliant cavalry commander was as full of sentiment as it was of the spirit of self-sacrifice. He was as musical as he was brave. He sang as he fought. Placing himself at the head of Jackson's advancing lines and shouting to them “Forward,” he at once led off in that song, “Won't you come out of the Wilderness?” He changed the words to suit the occasion. Through the dense woodland, blending in strange harmony with the rattle of rifles, could be distinctly heard that song and words, “Now, Joe Hooker, won't you come out of the Wilderness?”

General BUFORD4

But something more than West Point and frontier service was needed to produce a Buford. He was “no sapling chancesown by the fountain.” He had had years of training and experience in his profession, and although they were precious and indispensable, they could not have produced the same results which were realized in him, had it not been for the honorable deeds of his ancestors and the hereditary traits developed and transmitted by them. Such men as Buford are not the fruit of chance. Springing, as he did, from a sturdy Anglo-Norman family long settled in the “debatable land” on the borders of England and Scotland, he came by the virtues of the strong hand through inheritance. His kinsmen, as far back as they can be traced, were stout soldiers, rough fighters, and hard riders, accustomed to lives of vicissitude, and holding what they had under the good old rule, the simple plan, “Those to take who have the power, and those to keep who can.” Men of his name were the counsellors and companions of kings, and gained renown in the War of the Roses, and in the struggle for [271]

Major-General Wesley Merritt General Merritt did his share toward achieving the momentous results of Gettysburg. With his reserve Brigade of cavalry on the Federal left, he caused Law to detach a large force from the Confederate main line in order to protect his flank and rear. Merritt served with distinction throughout the Civil War and later in the Spanish-American War. He was born in New York City in 1836, graduated at West Point in 1860, and was assigned to the Second Dragoons. In April, 1862, he was promoted to be captain. He rode with Stoneman on his famous Richmond raid in April and May, 1863, and was in command of the cavalry reserve at Gettysburg. Merritt commanded a cavalry division in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign under Sheridan from August, 1864, to March, 1865, and in the final Richmond campaign the cavalry corps. After rendering service in the Spanish-American War, and commanding the forces in the Philippines, he was retired from active service in June, 1900. He died December 3, 1910.

[272] dominion over France. In the wars between the Stuarts and the Commonwealth they were “king's men.” . . .

A distinguished officer of the same arm of the service, said of him that as a captain of dragoons “he was considered,” in a regiment famed for its dashing and accomplished officers, “as the soldier par excellence.” He adds in loving admiration, that “no man could be more popular or sincerely beloved by his fellow officers, nor could any officer be more thoroughly respected by his men, than he was. His company had no superior in the service.” The same distinguished officer, writing after his career had closed in death, says, “He was a splendid cavalry officer, and one of the most successful in the service; was modest, yet brave; unostentatious, but prompt and persevering; ever ready to go where duty called him, and never shrinking from action however fraught with peril.” . . .

Speaking many years after of the part taken in this great day's work5 by Buford's cavalry, General F. A. Walker, in the “History of the Second Army Corps,” uses the following language: “When last it was my privilege to see General Hancock in November, 1885, he pointed out to me from Cemetery Hill the position occupied by Buford at this critical juncture, and assured me that among the most inspiring sights of his military career was the splendid spectacle of that gallant cavalry as it stood there, unshaken and undaunted, in the face of the advancing Confederate infantry.” No higher commendation for the cavalry can be found. Its services have been generally minimized, if not entirely ignored, by popular historians, but no competent critic can read the official reports or the Comte de Paris' “History of the Civil War in America” without giving the cavalry the highest praise for its work on this day, and throughout this campaign. “To Buford was assigned the post of danger and responsibility. He, and he alone, selected the ground,” says that trustworthy historian, “upon which unforeseen circumstances were about to bring the two armies into [273]

Major-General Nathan Bedford Forrest, C. S. A. General Forrest was one of the born cavalry leaders. Daring and resourceful in every situation, he and his hard-riding raiders became a source of terror throughout the Mississippi Valley. He was born near the site of Chapel Hill, Tennessee, on July 31, 1821, attended school for about six months, became a horse and cattle trader, and slave trader at Memphis. He cast in his lot with the Confederacy and entered the army as a private in June, 1861. In July he organized a battalion of cavalry, of which he became lieutenant-colonel. He escaped from Fort Donelson when it surrendered to Grant, and as brigadier-general served in Kentucky under Bragg. Transferred to Northern Mississippi in November, 1863, Forrest was made major-general on December 4th of that year, and at the close of the following year was placed in command of all the cavalry with the Army of the Tennessee. On January 24, 1865, he was put in command of the cavalry in Alabama, Mississippi, and east Louisiana, and was appointed lieutenant-general on February 28th. He met defeat at the hands of General James H. Wilson at Selma, Ala., in March, 1865, and surrendered to General Canby at Gainesville the following May. He remained in business in Tennessee until he died in 1877-one of the most striking characters developed by the war.

[274] hostile contact. Neither Meade nor Lee had any knowledge of it. . . . Buford, who, when he arrived on the evening of 30th, had guessed at one glance the advantages to be derived from these positions, did not have time to give a description of them to Meade and receive his instructions. The unfailing indications to an officer of so much experience, revealed to Buford the approach of the enemy. Knowing that Reynolds was within supporting distance of him, he boldly resolved to risk everything in order to allow the latter time to reach Gettysburg in advance of the Confederate army. This first inspiration of a cavalry officer and a true soldier decided, in every respect, the fate of the campaign. It was Buford who selected the battlefield where the two armies were about to measure their strength.”

General Wade Hampton6

Wade Hampton entered the military service of the Confederate States as colonel of the Hampton Legion, South Carolina Volunteers, June 12, 1861, said legion consisting of eight companies of infantry, four companies of cavalry, and two companies of artillery. With the infantry of his command, Colonel Hampton participated in the first battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861, where he was wounded. He bore a part as a brigade commander in the subsequent battles on the Peninsula of Virginia, from the beginning of operations at Yorktown until the battle of Seven Pines, where he was again wounded. . . .

I have been often asked if General Hampton was a good tactician. If in a minor, technical sense, I answer to the best of my judgment, “No.” I doubt if he ever read a technical book on tactics. He knew how to maneuver the units of his command so as to occupy for offensive or defensive action the strongest points of the battlefield, and that is about all there [275]

Major-General George Armstrong Custer with General Pleasonton The beau sabreur of the Federal service is pictured here in his favorite velvet suit, with General Alfred Pleasonton, who commanded the cavalry at Gettysburg. This photograph was taken at Warrenton, Va., three months after that battle. At the time this picture was taken, Custer was a brigadier-general in command of the second brigade of the third division of General Pleasonton's cavalry. General Custer's impetuosity finally cost him his own life and the lives of his entire command at the hands of the Sioux Indians June 25, 1876. Custer was born in 1839 and graduated at West Point in 1861. As captain of volunteers he served with McClellan on the Peninsula. In June, 1863, he was made brigadier-general of volunteers and as the head of a brigade of cavalry distinguished himself at Gettysburg. Later he served with Sheridan in the Shenandoah, won honor at Cedar Creek, and was brevetted major-general of volunteers on October 19, 1864. Under Sheridan he participated in the battles of Five Forks, Dinwiddie Court House, and other important cavalry engagements of Grant's last campaign.

[276] is in tactics. A successful strategist has a broader field for the employment of his military qualities. General Hampton appeared possessed of almost an instinctive topographical talent. He could take in the strong strategic points in the field of his operations with an accuracy of judgment that was surprising to his comrades. It was not necessary for him to study Jomini, Napoleon's “Campaigns,” and other high authorities in the art of war. He was a law unto himself on such matters. According to the rules laid down in the books, he would do the most unmilitary things. He would hunt his antagonist as he would hunt big game in the forest. The celerity and audacity of his movements against the front, sometimes on the flank, then again in the rear, kept his enemies in a constant state of uncertainty and anxiety as to where and when they might expect him. With his wonderful powers of physical endurance, his alert, vigilant mind, his matchless horsemanship, no obstacles seemed to baffle his audacity or thwart his purpose.

General Wesley Merritt7

Merritt was graduated in the class of 1860 at the Military Academy. He was twenty-four years of age. In scholarship he was rated at the middle of his class, and in the other soldierly qualities he was near the head. . . .

At the battle of the Opequon (Winchester), on September 19th, his division gave the most effective instance in a hundred years of war, of the use of a cavalry division in a pitched battle. He rode over Breckinridge's infantry and Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry and effectually broke the Confederate left. At this time Sheridan wrote to a friend, “I claim nothing for myself; my boys Merritt and Custer did it all.” . . .

On the disastrous morning of October 19th, at Cedar [277]

Major-General Fitzhugh Lee, C. S. A. A nephew of the South's greatest commander, General Fitzhugh Lee did honor to his famous family. Along the Rappahannock and in the Shenandoah he measured swords with the Federal cavalry, and over thirty years later he was leading American forces in Cuba. He was born at Clermont, Va., in 1835, graduated at West Point in 1856, and from May, 1860, until the outbreak of the Civil War was instructor of cavalry at West Point. He resigned from the United States Army, and entered the Confederate service in 1861. He fought with Stuart's cavalry in almost all of the important engagements of the Army of Northern Virginia, first as colonel, from July, 1862, as brigadier-general, and from September, 1863, as major-general. He was severely wounded at Winchester, on September 19, 1864, and from March, 1865, until his surrender to General Meade at Farmville, was in command of all the cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia. In 1896 he was sent to Cuba by President Cleveland as consul-general at Havana, and in May, 1898, when war with Spain seemed inevitable, was appointed major-general of volunteers, and placed in command of the Seventh Army Corps. He returned to Havana as Military Governor in January, 1899. He died in 1905.


Creek, Merritt's division blocked the way of Gordon's victorious Confederates, held its position north of Middletown all day, without assistance, then charged and, crossing the stream below the bridge, joined Custer in the pursuit to Fisher's Hill. In that campaign Merritt's division captured fourteen battle-flags, twenty-nine pieces of artillery, and more than three thousand prisoners. . . .

Merritt at his high prime was the embodiment of force. He was one of those rare men whose faculties are sharpened and whose view is cleared on the battlefield. His decisions were delivered with the rapidity of thought and were as clear as if they had been studied for weeks. He always said that he never found that his first judgment gained by time and reflection. In him a fiery soul was held in thrall to will. Never disturbed by doubt, or moved by fear, neither circumspect nor rash, he never missed an opportunity or made a mistake.

These were the qualities that recommended him to the confidence of that commander whose ideals were higher and more exacting than any other in our history. To his troops he was always a leader who commanded their confidence by his brave appearance, and his calmness in action, while his constant thoughtfulness and care inspired a devotion that was felt for few leaders of his rank.

General Nathan Bedford Forrest8

When the war broke out, Forrest was in the prime of his mental and physical powers. Over six feet in stature, of powerful frame, and of great activity and daring, with a personal prowess proved in many fierce encounters, he was a king among the bravest men of his time and country. He was among the first to volunteer when war broke out, and it was a matter of [279]

Lieutenant-General Joseph Wheeler, C. S. A. Commander of Confederate forces in more than a hundred cavalry battles, General Wheeler well deserved the tribute of his erstwhile opponent, General Sherman, who once said: “In the event of war with a foreign country, Joe Wheeler is the man to command the cavalry of our army.” He was born in 1836, and graduated at West Point in 1859. He served in the regular army until April, 1861, then entered the Confederate service. He commanded a brigade of infantry at Shiloh in April, 1862, and later in the year was transferred to the cavalry. He fought under Bragg in Kentucky at Perryville and in other engagements, and covered the retreat of Bragg's army to the southward. In January, 1863, he was commissioned major-general. In the Chattanooga campaigns Wheeler showed himself a brave and skilful officer. He harassed Sherman's flank during the march to Atlanta, and in August, 1864, led a successful raid in Sherman's rear as far north as the Kentucky line. In February, 1865, he was commissioned lieutenant-general, and continued in command of the cavalry in Johnston's army until its surrender. He served as a major-general in the Spanish-American War. He died in Brooklyn, January 25, 1906.

[280] course that he should be the commander of the troops who flocked to his standard. From the very outset he evinced his extraordinary capacity for war, and in his long career of great achievement no defeat or failure was ever charged to him. . . .

When Forrest, with about twelve hundred men, set out in pursuit of Streight, he was more than a day behind him. Streight had several hundred more men in the saddle than Forrest, and being far in advance could replace a broken-down horse by a fresh one from the farms through which his route lay, while Forrest, when he lost a horse, lost a soldier, too; for no good horses were left for him. After a hot pursuit of five days and nights, during which he had lost two-thirds of his forces from broken-down horses, he overhauled his enemy and brought him to a parley. This conference took place in sight of a cut-off in the mountain road, Captain Morton and his horse artillery, which had been so long with Forrest, passing in sight along the road till they came to the cut-off, into which they would turn, reentering the road out of view, so that it seemed that a continuous stream of artillery was passing by. Forrest had so arranged that he stood with his back to the guns while Streight was facing them.

Forrest, in his characteristic way, described the scene to me. He said,

I seen him all the time he was talking, looking over my shoulder and counting the guns. Presently he said: “Name of God! How many guns have you got? There's fifteen I've counted already!” Turning my head that way, I said, “I reckon that's all that has kept up.” Then he said, “I won't surrender till you tell me how many men you've got.” I said, “I've got enough to whip you out of your boots.” To which he said, “I won't surrender.” I turned to my bugler and said, “Sound to mount!” Then he cried out “I'll surrender!” I told him, “ Stack your arms right along there, Colonel, and march your men away down that hollow.”

“When this was done,” continued Forrest,

I ordered my men to come forward and take possession of the arms. [281]

Major-General James Harrison Wilson and staff This brilliant cavalryman's demonstration of 1865 against Selma and Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in aid of General Canby s operations against Mobile and the center of the State, was one of the greatest cavalry raids in the West. General Wilson was born in 1837, near Shawneetown, Illinois, and graduated at West Point in 1860. He was aide-de-Camp to General McClellan on the Peninsula, and served in the engineering corps in the West until after Vicksburg and Chattanooga, when he was made brigadier-general of volunteers in October, 1863. In February, 1864, he was put in charge of the cavalry bureau at Washington, and later commanded the Third Division of Sheridan's reorganized cavalry. October 5, 1864, he was brevetted major-general of volunteers for “gallant and meritorious services” during the war, and on the 24th of that month he was put in command of the cavalry corps of the Military Division of the Mississippi. He took part in the battles of Franklin and Nashville, and in March, 1865, made his famous Selma raid. In twenty-eight days Wilson had captured 288 guns and 6280 prisoners, including Jefferson Davis. Five large iron works, three factories, numerous mills and immense quantities of supplies had been destroyed. As a reward for these services, he was made major-general of volunteers on April 20, 1865. General Wilson later served with distinction in the Spanish American War, and was also in command of the British and American troops in the siege at Pekin, China.


When Streight saw they were barely four hundred, he did rear! demanded to have his arms back and that we should fight it out. I just laughed at him and patted him on the shoulder, and said, “Ah, Colonel, all is fair in love and war, you know.” . . .

Forrest knew nothing about tactics — could not drill a company. When first ordered to have his brigade ready for review, he was quite ignorant, but Armstrong told him what commands to give, and what to do with himself. . . .

Forrest will always stand as the great exponent of the power of the mounted riflemen to fight with the revolver when mounted and with the rifle on foot. His troops were not dragoons “who fought indifferently on foot or horseback,” nor were they cavalry who fought only mounted and with sabers. Few of his command ever bore sabers, save some of his officers, who wore them as a badge of rank. None of Forrest's men could use the saber. He himself had no knowledge of its use, but he would encounter half a dozen expert sabreurs with his revolver.

General George Armstrong Custer9

It was here (Hanover, Pennsylvania, June, 1863) that the brigade first saw Custer. As the men of the Sixth, armed with their Spencer rifles, were deploying forward across the railroad into a wheat-field beyond, I heard a voice new to me, directly in rear of the portion of the line where I was, giving directions for the movement, in clear, resonant tones, and in a calm, confident manner, at once resolute and reassuring. Looking back to see whence it came, my eyes were instantly riveted upon a figure only a few feet distant, whose appearance amazed, if it did not for the moment amuse me. It was he who was giving the orders. At first, I thought he might be a staff-officer, conveying the commands of his chief. But it was at once apparent [283]

Brigadier-General John R. Chambliss, C. S. A. General John R. Chambliss was a Confederate cavalry leader who distinguished himself at Gettysburg. At Brandy Station, June 9, 1863, W. H. F. Lee had been wounded, and Colonel Chambliss had taken command of his brigade. On the night of June 24th Stuart left Robertson's and Jones' brigades to guard the passes of the Blue Ridge and started to move round the Army of the Potomac with the forces of Hampton, Fitzhugh Lee, and Chambliss, intending to pass between it and Centerville into Maryland and so rejoin Lee. The movements of the army forced him out of his way, so on the morning of the 30th he moved across country to Hanover, Chambliss in front and Hampton in the rear with Fitzhugh Lee well out on the flank. Chambliss attacked Kilpatrick at Hanover about 10 A. M., but was driven out before Hampton or Lee could come to his support.

Major Henry Gilmor, C. S. A. Major Gilmor was born in Baltimore County, Maryland, in 1838. He entered the Confederate army at the outbreak of the Civil War, and was commissioned captain in 1862. In 1862-63 he was imprisoned for five months in Fort McHenry, at Baltimore, and in the latter year he raised a cavalry battalion, of which he was made major. Subsequently he commanded the First Confederate Regiment of Maryland, and in 1864 headed the advance of the forces of General Jubal A. Early into that State, and, being familiar with the country, made a successful raid north of Baltimore. He captured Frederick, Md., and created great alarm by his daring exploit so far north of the customary battlefields. In 1874 he became police commissioner of his native city. He died in 1883.

[284] that he was giving orders, not transmitting them, and that he was in command of the line.

Looking at him closely, this is what I saw: An officer, superbly mounted, who sat his charger as if to the manner born. Tall, lithe, active, muscular, straight as an Indian and as quick in his movements, he had the fair complexion of a school; girl. He was clad in a suit of black velvet, elaborately trimmed with gold lace, which ran down the outer seams of his trousers, and almost covered the sleeves of his cavalry jacket. The wide collar of a navy-blue shirt was turned down over the collar of his velvet jacket, and a necktie of brilliant crimson was tied in a graceful knot at the throat, the long ends falling carelessly in front. The double rows of buttons on his breast were arranged in groups of twos, indicating the rank of brigadier-general. A soft black hat with wide brim adorned with a gilt cord, and rosette encircling a silver star, was worn turned down on one side, giving him a rakish air. His golden hair fell in graceful luxuriance nearly or quite to his shoulder, and his upper lip was garnished with a blonde mustache. A sword and belt, gilt spurs and top-boots completed his unique outfit.

A keen eye would have been slow to detect in that rider with the flowing locks and gaudy tie, in his dress of velvet and of gold, the master-spirit that he proved to be. That garb, fantastic as at first sight it appeared to be, was to be the distinguishing mark which, during all the remaining years of the war, like the white plume of Henry of Navarre, was to show us where, in the thickest of the fight, we were to seek our leader — for, where danger was, where swords were to cross, where Greek met Greek, there he was, always. Brave, but not reckless; self-confident, yet modest; ambitious, but regulating his conduct at all times by a high sense of honor and duty; eager for laurels, but scorning to wear them unworthily; ready and willing to act, but regardful of human life; quick in emergencies, cool and self-possessed, his courage was of the highest moral type, his perceptions were intuitions. [285]

Major-General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick This daring cavalry leader was born in 1836 near Deckertown, New Jersey, and graduated at West Point in 1861. He entered the Federal service as captain in the Fifth New York Volunteers, generally known as Duryea's Zouaves. He was wounded at Big Bethel, June 10, 1861, and on September 25th he became lieutenant-colonel of the Second New York Cavalry. In the second battle of Bull Run, and on the left at Gettysburg, he served with conspicuous gallantry. In December, 1862, he was promoted to be colonel, and in June, 1863, to be brigadier-general of volunteers while he received the brevet of major and lieutenant-colonel in the Regular Army for repeated gallantry. In March, 1864, he made his celebrated Richmond raid and in April accompanied Sherman in his invasion of Georgia. He was wounded at Resasca, and at the close of the war he was brevetted brigadier-general in the Regular Army for “gallant and meritorious services in the capture of Fayetteville, North Carolina,” and major-general for his services during the campaign under Sherman in the Carolinas. In June, 1865, he obtained the regular rank of major-general of volunteers. He died at Santiago in December, 1881.


General Fitzhugh Lee10

Major-General Fitzhugh Lee, or “Our Fitz” as he was affectionately called by his old comrades, won high distinction as a cavalryman in the Army of Northern Virginia, and since the war won higher distinction as a citizen.

After serving for a year at Carlisle Barracks as cavalry instructor of raw recruits, he reported to his regiment on the frontier of Texas, and was greatly distinguished in several fights for gallantry. In a fight with the Comanches, May 13, 1859, he was so severely wounded, being pierced through the lungs by an arrow, that the surgeons despaired of his life (especially as he had to be borne two hundred miles across the prairie in a horse litter), but he recovered and rejoined his command, and led a part of his company in January, 1860, in a very notable and successful fight with the Indians, in which he greatly distinguished himself in a single combat with a powerful Indian chief. . . .

In the campaign against Pope, and the Maryland Campaign (1862) his cavalry rendered most important service, of which General R. E. Lee said in his official report: “Its vigilance, activity, and courage were conspicuous; and to its assistance is due in a great measure some of the most important and delicate operations of the campaign.” . . .

When Hampton was sent south, Lee was put in command of the entire cavalry corps of the Army of Northern Virginia, and only the break — up at Richmond prevented him from receiving his merited commission as lieutenant-general, which had been decided on by the Confederate President. . . .

When the war with Spain broke out he was made major-general of volunteers, and put in command of troops destined to capture Havana. After the close of the war he was kept [287]

Major-General George Stoneman General Stoneman was born at Busti, Chautauqua County, N. Y., in 1822, and graduated at West Point in 1846. Following some service in West Virginia in the early part of the war, he was appointed chief of cavalry in the Army of the Potomac. After the evacuation of Yorktown, he overtook the Confederate troops and brought on the battle of Williamsburgh in May, 1862. On November 15, 1862, he was made commander of the Third Army Corps, which he led at Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862. During Hooker's Chancellorsville campaign he led a cavalry raid toward Richmond. In April, 1864, he was made commander of a cavalry corps in the Army of the Ohio, and in the Atlanta campaign undertook a raid against Macon and Andersonville. For three months he was a prisoner.

Major-General Lovell Harrison Rousseau General Rousseau was born in Stanford, Lincoln County, Ky., in 1818. He fought in the Mexican War, distinguished himself at Buena Vista, and later settled in Louisville. In 1860 he raised the Fifth Kentucky regiment, of which he was made colonel, and in 1861 he was made brigadier-general. He served with great credit at Shiloh, and was made major-general of volunteers for gallant conduct at Perryville. He commanded the Fifth Division of the Army of the Cumberland at Stone River and at Chickamauga, and in 1864 made a cavalry raid into Alabama. In the Nashville campaign he had command of Fort Rosecrans under General Thomas, and did his share in achieving the notable results of that battle. At the time of his death in 1869 he was commander of the Department of the Gulf.

[288] for a time in Cuba as Commander of the District of Havana, and was made brigadier-general in the regular army, where he served with distinction until he was retired.

General Joseph Wheeler

One of the most versatile soldiers of the Civil War was Joseph Wheeler, Lieutenant-General, C. S. A., Brigadier-General, U. S. A., and in the opinion of General R. E. Lee one of “the two ablest cavalry officers which the war developed.”

President Davis said that General Wheeler displayed “a dash and activity, vigilance and consummate skill, which justly entitled him to a prominent place on the roll of great cavalry leaders. By his indomitable energy he was able to keep the Government and commanders of our troops advised of the enemy's movements and by preventing foraging parties from leaving the main body, he saved from spoliation all but a narrow tract of country, and from the torch millions worth of property which would otherwise have certainly been consumed.”

One of his biographers (Rev. E. S. Buford) states that: “General Wheeler has commanded in more than a hundred battles, many of which, considering the numbers engaged, were the most severe recorded in the history of cavalry. Always in the front of battle, he was wounded three times, sixteen horses were shot under him, eight of his staff-officers were killed and thirty-two wounded.”

At the outbreak of the war with Spain, Wheeler was appointed a major-general, U. S. V., and during the short but sharp campaign in Cuba, displayed the same energy and ability which had distinguished him in a greater conflict. In 1899 he was ordered to the Philippines, serving there until June, 1900, when he was commissioned brigadier-general, U. S. A., and in September of the same year was retired from active service. His old opponent, General Sherman, paid this tribute to his worth: “In the event of war with a foreign country, ‘Joe’ Wheeler is the man to command the cavalry of our army.”

1 More or less personal sketches of famous Cavalry leaders will be found in other chapters of this volume and in the volume to be devoted to biography.

2 with General Sheridan in Lee's last campaign. By a staff officer. (Philadelphia) J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1866.

3 Campaigns of Stuart's Cavalry.

4 Major-General John Buford. By Major-General James H. Wilson, U. S. V., Brevet Major-General, U. S. A. Oration delivered at Gettysburg on July 1, 1895.

5 The First Day, Gettysburg, July 1, 1863.

6 Butler and his cavalry, 1861-1865. by U. R. Brooks (Columbia S. C.). the State company, 1909.

7 General Wesley Merritt. By Lieutenant-Colonel Eben swift, Eighth cavalry. From the (March, 1911) Journal of the United States cavalry Association.

8 recollections of a Virginian in the Mexican, Indian, and Civil wars. By General Dabney Herndon Maury. (New York) Charles Scribner's sons, 1894.

9 personal recollections of a cavalryman. By J. H. Kidd, formerly Colonel, Sixth Michigan cavalry. (Ionia, Mich.) sentinel Printing Co.

10 thirty-sixth Annual Reunion of the Association of the graduates of the United States military Academy, at West Point, New York, June 13, 1905.

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