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Chapter 4: General Sheridan.

Soon after our arrival at the St. Charles Hotel, in New Orleans, General Sheridan leaves a card, and two hours later we pay the young and brilliant Irish soldier a visit in his quarters “ Headquarters of the Military Division of the Missouri.” Like ourselves, General Sheridan and his staff are lodged in the hotel.

Our talk is general and on public matters; about the Plains of Kansas, where we saw Indian scares in 1866 ; about the disturbed districts in Texas, which we have just left; about our several travels and adventures since the war. As usual, General Sheridan is frank and friendly, laughing merrily at the fears which people express of him, and showing me the nature and extent of his commission in the South.

For military purposes, America is divided into [35] four great sections: a Division of the Pacific, a Division of the Atlantic, a Division of the Missouri, and a Division of the South. Four officers of eminence hold these great commands: Major-general Scholefield ruling the Pacific, from San Francisco; Major-general Hancock the Atlantic, from New York; Lieutenant-general Sheridan the Missouri, from Chicago; and Major-general McDowell the South, from Louisville. General Sherman, the Commander-in-Chief, is stationed at St. Louis.

Each military division consists of two or more departments. The division of Major-general McDowell, of which New Orleans forms a part, consists of two departments:--a Department of the South, and a Department of the Gulf. That of the South comprises seven States: Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida, except the forts in Pensacola Bay, from Fort Jefferson to Key West. The Headquarters are at Louisville, where General McDowell resides. That of the Gulf comprises three States: Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas, with all the military stations in the Gulf of Mexico, from Fort Jefferson to Key West, except the forts in Mobile [36] Bay. The Headquarters are at New Orleans, where General Emory commands, under the orders of his superior officer, General McDowell.

General Sheridan's Division of the Missouri is of greater extent, and, in a military sense, of vaster importance, since it runs from the British frontier to the Mexican frontier, and cuts off every line of intercourse between the Eastern and Western States. This great division consists of four departments, called Dakota, Platte, Missouri, and Texas. The Department of Dakota comprises the State of Minnesota, with the Territories of Dakota and Montana; that of Platte, the States of Iowa and Nebraska, with the Territories of Utah and Wyoming; that of Missouri, the States of Kansas, Colorado, Illinois, and Missouri, with the Territory of New Mexico and the district of Camp Supply; that of Texas, the State of Texas, and the Territories of the Indian Nations, with the exception of Camp Supply. These regions form the ordinary province over which General Sheridan rules, but on coming to New Orleans he has brought with him a secret power to add, at his discretion, either the whole or any part of General McDowell's division to his own. [37]

What sort of a man is he who has the charge of eight free States and six great Territories, and who may at any moment on his own mere motion, and without consulting a single native, add ten more States to his overgrown command? As a companion by the way, I like General Sheridan, and if I paint him somewhat darkly it is because the facts of history leave me no choice of tints. Nature has not drawn Philip Sheridan in sepia, nor need one pay him the poor compliment of softening a grand and sombre figure. To feel the situation you must see the man.

A soldier, short in stature, squat in form, and plain of face, with head of bullet-shape, and eyes lit up with sullen fire, is “Little Phil,” the wild Irish devil, who has fought his way to one of the highest seats within a soldier's reach. Five names emerge from the confusion of the war, and that of Sheridan is one of these five. If Lee and Jackson leave a brighter record, who among the Northern men, excepting Grant and Sherman, have a greater name than Sheridan? These captains are immortals, and Sheridan is youngest of the five. Alert as Mosby, he is hot as Hood and cool as Bragg. Think of poor Early in his grasp! Few strokes of war [38] excel the charge by which he shook, shattered, and destroyed the enemies who had burnt Chambersburg and menaced Washington. He reaps a rich reward. America has only one Lieutenant-general, and Philip Sheridan is that one.

Sheridan has seen hard service, in a region where the nicer feelings have no field; for he has spent six years among the Cheyennes and Sioux, learning their dialects and mixing in their feuds. It is a saying in the camp that Little Phil is one-half Irish savage, the other half Indian savage. If a merciless deed has to be done, everyone expects Sheridan to do it. When a cruel need of war induced General Grant to order the Shenandoah Valley to be burnt, the torch was placed in Sheridan's hands. “The whole country, from the Blue Ridge to the North Mountain, has been made untenable!” was his brief report; and never since the French generals, under advice of Louvois, ravaged the Palatinate, have eyes of man beheld a wreck so awful as that of the beautiful Virginian dale. When the Government wished to make example of an Indian tribe, Sheridan was sent into the Plains. The Piegans were selected for a sacrifice; [39] and the work of slaughter was so sudden and so thorough, that as long as Indian bards and seers recite the legends of their tribes no Red man or woman will forget the name of Sheridan and the horrors of that Piegan war.

Thus it happens that General Sheridan's arrival at New Orleans, in a time of much disorder, rouses the great city like an alarm of fire.

General Sheridan was in Chicago, busy with the duties of his post, and idling through the pleasures of courtship, and the festivities of Christmas, when a letter reached him from General Belknap, Secretary of War, marked “confidential,” which upset all his arrangements for balls and dinners. The letter ran:


War Department, Dec. 24, 1874.
General: The President sent for me this morning, and desires me to say to you that he wishes you to visit the States of Louisiana and Mississippi, and especially New Orleans and Vicksburg. . . . Inclosed herewith is an order authorizing you to assume command of the Military Division of the South, or any portion of that division, should you see proper to do so. ... You can, if you desire it, see General [40] McDowell in Louisville, and make known to him, confidentially, the object of your trip. But this is not required of you. Communication with him by you is left entirely to your own judgment. Of course you can take with you such gentlemen of your staff as you wish, and it is best that the trip should appear to be one as much of pleasure as of business. ... You can return by Washington, and make a verbal report.

Ever ready to obey orders, Sheridan telegraphed to Washington “ Your letter arrived — all right.”

A party of ladies and officers, including a young lady who was the object of General Sheridan's courtship, was made up for this “ pleasure trip,” and a note to the Chicago journals told the world that General Sheridan, having got leave of absence, was about to spend his winter holidays in Cuba. It was understood to be his courting trip, to end on his return in bridal cakes and marriage bells.

Lying on the road from Chicago to Cuba, New Orleans might be reached without exciting much suspicion and distrust. The presence of ladies, among them a damsel to whom Sheridan was said to be vowed, would give his journey a holiday and [41] festive air. The main difficulty lay with those great officers whose functions Sheridan was about to seize. The mission was unusual, the method of it irregular. If Emory is not strong enough for his place, a firmer hand might be sent down, without calling Philip Sheridan from the shores of Lake Michigan. If unity of command is needed, General McDowell is the officer in charge of the South. If the situation is thought so serious that a higher officer than McDowell should be on the spot, General Sherman is that higher officer.

It is no great secret that General Sherman notes these doings of Belknap and the War Office with alarm. Sherman has no taint of Caesarism. A patriot first, a soldier afterwards, he values military prowess mainly as the shield of liberty and safeguard of the Commonwealth. Unable to support a personal policy, even by his silence, he has broken with the presidents, secretaries, and adjutants, and shifted his Headquarters from Washington to St. Louis, where he stands apart, an American Achilles, disgusted by the passing phase of public affairs. Sherman is too great a man to slight; and Belknap, on receiving Sheridan's answer, sent a confidential [42] letter to St. Louis, explaining Sheridan's mission to the South. Of this letter General Sherman simply acknowledged the receipt.

General McDowell's case was still more delicate. No officer likes to be set aside, especially by a secret order, and without a hearing. Belknap threw his burthen on to Sheridan's back, by that clause in his letter which instructed Sheridan to see General McDowell in Louisville, and make known to him, confidentially, the object of his trip, if he saw fit to do so.

Sheridan preferred to keep McDowell in the dark.

The party of ladies and officers started from Chicago, and in five days they were in New Orleans, lounging about Canal Street, reading the proclamations of King Carnival, and asking dreamily when the next steamer sails for Cuba!

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