Post by custersfreckles on Feb 8, 2008 16:00:39 GMT -5
I just thought I'd start a thread--perhaps one day to become a subject heading (hint, moderatrix and moderator)--dedicated to GAC (and the Army of the Shenandoah's)'s actions in the valley of The Daughter of the Stars. As I have mentioned to some, Steve Alexander--made what later turned out to be a mistake--wore a Custer shirt whilst visiting Winchester. Though I have never seen the area, even I knew that was not a good idea! But he does have a knack for telling a great story. I laughed and laughed.
Using that tale as a starting point for the discussion, emotions obviously still run high in the area that was once considered the "Breadbasket of the Confederacy." Certainly GAC either cemented his stellar reputation or added to his notoriety whilst acting on Sheridan's orders (important note). Why? How?
Neither side was particularly angelic. As a note to Custer stated: General Custer: Measure for Measure.
And I am trying to remember whether it was Grant or Sheridan who came up with that scorched earth policy. If one could bring the Shenandoah to its knees--figuratively salting the earth--it could unhinge the Confederacy. It wasn't very long--needless to say--between its surrender/occupation and the fall of Lee ...
Just startin' a discussion. Have at it? Blinn Tin Tin
Last Edit: Feb 8, 2008 16:01:17 GMT -5 by custersfreckles
I think that it was Grant who came up with the strategy, which was simply something on the order of "Make the Shenandoah so bereft of the ability to supply the Confederacy, that a crow flying over it would need to carry its own provender." There was also the need to make the valley unfit for use as a highway to the outskirts of Washington, or at least close enough to require the constant attentions of hundreds of thousands of troops.
Like a lot of strategic thinking, it was only of the broadest nature, and the details were left up to the commander on the ground, who wound up being Sheridan. Sheridan then issued his own broad statement as grand tactical orders: "Whip the rebels into submission and destroy whatever contraband could be used to support them." The actual small unit tactics were generally left to the subordinate commanders, except when pronouncements such as "Somebody should do something about those people over there" were made.
Of course, Sheridan did issue more explicit orders, such as "Whip or get whipped."
Post by custersfreckles on Feb 9, 2008 1:20:24 GMT -5
Very good, my fair and most darling of cousins. I had forgotten who uttered the statement about said crow--not to be confused with the Tribe--statement. Yes, yes. Wonderful!
In my writing, I try to portray John Singleton Mosby as the continual--and forever always--thorn in GAC's side, the man he could not beat, the single Confederate leader he would not destroy. There definitely seemed to be a grudge match occuring between the two warriors ....
Goodness, a banjo editon of Garryowen is playing upon my stereo. Steve Alexander and I call this particular burned CD "the soundtrack." Ugh ... whilst in Montana in 2004 my Sweet Baby swore that he ever heard that song again he'd go insane. Well, he did learn to grin and bear it ....
Good and useful information, as always. Since Custer is often accused of squandering the lives of the men in his commands, it would be even better to know which of these casualties were from his immediate command. The total of 454 killed in those engagements, some of which were principally cavalry actions, tends to put the lie to those accusations.
Mosby was the bane of many Yankee commanders. His personal animosity toward Custer seems to have arisen from the mistaken impression that some of his men were executed on Custer's orders [which is debatable, but likely not true], and he replied tit for tat, Somewhere on one of the boards, I'm not sure which, I saw a report from Marcus Reno, regarding his own pursuit of Mosby. It made interesting reading. Mosby was quite a fellow.
I've tried to get a handle on casualties in the Michigan Brigade as compared to other cavalry brigades of the Army of the Potomac and Sheridan's Army during Custer's tenure as brigade commmander.
Using the "Official Records of the War of the Rebellion" I was able to do a running total for the Michigan Brigade during Custer's time which yielded a reasonable total. The Michigan Brigade remained relatively stable for most of the 15 months of Custer's command. The only outside regiments to serve with the brigade were the 1st Vermont for about 10 months and the 25th NY for 3 to 5 months.
The same cannot be said for the other brigades. Most of them had a core of 2 or 3 regiments, but there were frequent changes in regiments and brigade commanders and a wide swing in numbers of men present for duty. In addition, some brigade came and went and came back. At Gettsburg there were 8 brigades later there were 7. Gregg's 2 brigade division was left with the Army of the Potomac when Sheridan took 5 to the Shenandoah. A third brigade was organized and added to Gregg's division. 2 brigades in the Shenandoah were added to the 5 Sheridan brought. One of those brigades returned from the Valley with the original 5, so that during the Appomattox campaign the AofP had 9 cavalry brigades plus Mackenzie's 2 small brigades from the Army of the James.
Nevertheless I'm sure that Custer's brigade suffered higher casualties overall than any other brigade.
I was able to find 11 seperate battles or periods of time for which there were reports of casualties in the ORs. The number of battle deaths for that period in the Michigan Brigade were 210. In no way does that mean that the only battle deaths in the Michigan Brigade in Custer's time were those 210. There were probably deaths among the missing and wounded that were not known at the time the reports were made. There was also the drain of losses in small actions and on picket and escort duty.
In terms of Brigade commanders with the highest losses, Custer's ranking was as follows:
The Battle of Gettysburg - 1st of 7 The Gettysburg Campaign (overall) - 2nd of 8 12 - 15 Sep 1863 - 2nd of 2 9 - 22 Oct 1863 - 3rd of 7 26 Nov - 2 Dec 1863 - 3rd of 7 (Col Town commanded the brigade while Custer commanded the 3rd Div) Kilpatrick Dahlgren/Charlottesville Raids - 3rd (none) of 3 while commanding the Reserve Brigade; the Michigan Brigade ranked 2nd of 3 The Wilderness/Spotsylvania - 4th of 7 9 - 24 May 1864 - 2nd of 7 22 May - 15 Jun 1864 - 3rd of 7 The Trevilian Raid - 1st of 5 15 Jun - 31 Jul 1864 - 8th (none) of 9. Activity limited Winchester - 1st of 7
During the above period 21 men in addition to Custer commaded the brigades compared.
There was often a wide disparity between the casualties of the highest and lowest brigadiers and even the highest and 3rd and 4th. .
The number of missing men was quite often a very high figure, especially during the raids behind Confederate lines.
My impression from my reading in general is that casualties were thought of by commanders as proof of how well a unit fought and a reflection of the importance of the work done. Even the well thought of David M. Gregg had no qualms about adding Custer's Gettysburg casualties to his report of the battle. I haven't checked but I think that Sheridan in his report for the Cav Corps in the Overland Campaign wrote something like no one would ever again be able to ask "Whoever saw a dead cavalryman?"
One of the hard facts of the Civil War is illustrated in the history of the 7th Michigan. I don't feel like checking right now but I am pretty sure the regiment lost more dead at Andersonville than in any one battle and overall about as many men died as POWs as in battle.
Any judgement of Custer's recklessness or ability to as a commander should also take into consideration the tasks his commands were asked to perform. If you compare the losses of Custer's Division to those of Crook's during the Appomattox Campaign you can make the case that Crook was the more reckless commander.
That would be as rediculous as Van De Water's summation of Custer's Civil War career in which we learn that all his casualties and all his failures are Custer's own and all his successes are due to his commanding officers. That's like saying Custer was responsible for his brigade's losses at Gettysburg, and Gregg was responsible for the victory.
RCH, based upon my reading of Rhea's Overland Campaign series, Sheridan's quote, "Whoever saw a dead cavalryman?" did not occur until he went off on his own after Laurel Hill (where he neglected to open the road to Spottsylvania) when he B.S.'d Grant into letting him take the cavalry corps on a raid. Sure, Stuart was killed but the cost to the Union infantry was catastrophic.
Post by ericwittenberg on Feb 10, 2008 15:28:53 GMT -5
I would agree with virtually everything you said, but for one thing.
Just to amplify....
The Battle of Trevilian Station left the Michigan Cavalry Brigade ("MCB") largely combat ineffective. The losses taken during those two days were never replaced, and the MCB never was the force that it had been previously.
I refer to the first day of Trevilian Station as Custer's First Last Stand, and for good reason--the parallels between that hot, dry, dusty June day in 1864 are stunning when compared to another hot, dry, dusty June day twelve years later. As a consequence of pitching in without doing any scouting or taking any precautions, Custer very nearly wiped out the MCB, and it was only by hard fighting and good fortune that it got out intact. For that, he, and he alone, is culpable.
The MCB that went to the Valley in August 1864 was most assuredly NOT the MCB of East Cavalry Field, Hagerstown, or Yellow Tavern.
Post by custersfreckles on Feb 10, 2008 16:18:30 GMT -5
I so appreciate your contribution to this thread. I do enjoy your blog as well. I know little about the Shenandoah, but it is my second-favourite topic in Custeriana. If you get a handle on GAC there, you open a new insight into his enigmatic personna.
I'm sure Sheridan used the phrass [Later-that should be "phrase." Sheridan probably didn't use phrass until many years later} I'd guess since he was commissioned in the Infantry he probablty ragged the cavalrymen of his aquaitance with it himself. He may have used it in other reports, but the one I was thinking of was his report dated, 13 May 65, on the Corps' operations through 4 Aug 1864. I didn't read the whole report, because I was looking for stats on casualties, but the phrase caught my eye. Sheridan's wrote, "In all the operations the percentage of cavalry casualties was as great as that of the infantry, and the question which had existed 'Who ever saw a dead cavalryman?' was set at rest." I like my version better.
Post by ericwittenberg on Feb 10, 2008 19:27:35 GMT -5
I thought I would follow up on my prior post and put out some actual casualty statistics for the MCB in the Battle of Trevilian Station, as they amply support my comments. I pulled out my research from my book on Trevilian Station, where this information is included as part of an appendix on overall Union strengths and losses at Trevilians.
June 11, 1864
Unit Killed Wounded Captured Total
1st Michigan Cavalry 1 5 59 65
5th Michigan Cavalry 4 6 136 146
6th Michigan Cavalry 5 22 60 87
7th Michigan Cavalry 1 17 44 62
TOTAL 11 51 299 361
BRIGADE STRENGTH: 1653 PERCENTAGE LOSSES: 22%
June 12, 1864
1st Michigan Cavalry 11 16 2 29
5th Michigan Cavalry 0 3 0 3
6th Michigan Cavalry 1 1 0 2
7th Michigan Cavalry 1 8 3 12
TOTAL: 13 28 5 46
TOTAL LOSSES FOR TWO DAYS OF FIGHTING: 407, representing a loss of 25%
These losses were never made good, and none of these regiments were ever the same after the two days of fighting at Trevilian Station.
There is one other similarity between Trevilian and the LBH; no matter how well founded your considered opinion, you're going to get lip.
I don't think Custer was operating any differently than any other cavalry brigadier would have operated.
As with the LBH just when and how would the scouting and recon take place?
Do you think Custer's culpability was so great that he should have been relieved?
The casualty figures I used for the raid were the revised figures from the OR. They had 25 killed, 82 wounded, and 308 missing for a total of 415 for the 2 days. I was aware of your figures, but since I was working from the OR and because they were higher I used those.
The Michigan Brigades zero losses for the period 15 Jun - 31 Jul were included because the OR did not as I recall indicate that the brigade was "not engaged." There seemed to be some activity, but it is also obvious that the brigade was in need of a rest.
I have a little more to say but I have to break off for a while.
Post by ericwittenberg on Feb 10, 2008 22:17:21 GMT -5
I don't think that Custer should have been relieved. I do, however, think that it was unwise to charge into a large force of unknown size and make-up without doing anything at all to determine what lay ahead, and that's precisely what Custer ordered that day.
As for the period 6/15-7/31, most of that time was spent doing little of consequence, with the MCB largely resting and refitting. Other than for the Army of the Potomac to invest Petersburg and the Deep bottom expedition, not much happened of any consequence. That was, in part, due to the losses taken by the MCB at Trevilian.