‘I Am Sending General Sheridan’ – Grant Decides What’s Best for Washington

August 1, 1864 (Monday)

Grant's headquarters at City Point, Va.
Grant’s headquarters at City Point, Va.

As the fires of Chambersburg smoldered, General Grant rethought how he might handle Jubal Early, commanding a corps of Rebels in the Shenandoah Valley. It was clear that as long as the Confederates held the Valley, Washington and Pennsylvania would be threatened. Additionally, if the Valley remained in Southern hands come harvest time, the bounty would end up filling the bellies of the Rebel soldiers facing him in Petersburg.

Grant blamed the failure “partly because of the incompetency of some of the commanders, but chiefly because of interference from Washington.”

“It seemed to be the policy of General Halleck and Secretary Stanton to keep any force sent there, in pursuit of the invading army, moving right and left so as to keep between the enemy and our capital; and, generally speaking, they pursued this policy until all knowledge of the whereabouts of the enemy was lost. They were left, therefore, free to supply themselves with horses, beef cattle, and such provisions as they could carry away from Western Maryland and Pennsylvania. I determined to put a stop to this.”

Just how he planned to do this centered around one man: Philip Sheridan, a young, but disciplined commander from the west. Grant had suggested his name to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton just as the Army of the Potomac had arrived near Petersburg. Stanton, however, objected and cited Sheridan’s age as the reason. For a time, Grant relented, allowing Washington to handle its own defense. But it was plainly not working.

On the day previous, Grant called Sheridan to his headquarters at City Point. “In the interview that followed,” recalled Sheridan after the war, “he detailed me to the situation of affairs on the upper Potomac, telling me that I was to command in the field the troops that were to operate against Early, but that General Hunter, who was at the head of the geographical department, would be continued in his position for the reason that the Administration was reluctant to reconstruct or consolidate the different districts. After informing me that one division of the Cavalry Corps would be sent to my new command, he went on to say that he wanted me to push the enemy as soon as this division arrived, and if Early retired up the Shenandoah Valley I was to pursue, but if he crossed the Potomac I was to put myself south of him and try to compass his destruction.”

Photograph showing group portrait of Sheridan with Civil War generals sitting and standing in front of a tent: Henry E. Davies, David McMurtrie Gregg, Wesley Merritt, Alfred Torbert, and James H. Wilson.
Photograph showing group portrait of Sheridan with Civil War generals sitting and standing in front of a tent: Henry E. Davies, David McMurtrie Gregg, Wesley Merritt, Alfred Torbert, and James H. Wilson.

Grant was fairly candid with Sheridan, but he was likewise with Washington. Whereas before, Sheridan’s name had been a suggestion, he was now insisting.

“I am sending General Sheridan for temporary duty whilst the enemy is being expelled from the border,” wrote Grant to Chief of Staff Henry Halleck on this date. “Unless General Hunter is in the field in person, I want Sheridan put in command of all the troops in the field, with instructions to put himself south of the enemy and follow him to the death. Wherever the enemy goes let our troops go also.”

Once fully gathered, Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah would number over 37,000 – nearly 20,000 more than those under Jubal Early. These would include three divisions from the Sixth Corps, two from the Nineteenth Corps, and two from the Eighth (also known as the Army of West Virginia). There would also be three divisions of cavalry and twelve batteries of artillery.

Rather than waiting for a reply from Washington, the following day, Grant relieved Sheridan of all duties with the Army of the Potomac and “Little Phil” was on his way north. He would arrive in Washington on the 4th.1



  1. Sources: Series 1, Vol. 37, Part 2, p558; Personal Memoirs by Ulysses S. Grant; Personal Memoirs by Philip Sheridan; “Little Phil” and His Troopers by Frank Burr; Sheridan in the Shenandoah by Edward J. Stackpole. []
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