Page 188




The Army of the Potomac had been hibernating m on the left bank of the Rapidan River, when as the season for active operations was about to open (April, 1864) there arrived a lieutenant-general commanding and a chief of cavalry. The one was not unknown to fame ; the other was almost an entire stranger to his new command.

During the first two years of the war the Union cavalry lacked the paternal care essential to its proper development. Its first father was General Hooker, who organized a multitude of detachments into a compact army corps of 12,000 horsemen; transforming that which had been a by-word and a reproach into a force that, by its achievements in war, was ultimately to effect a radical change in the armament and use of mounted troops by the great military powers.

The winter of 1863-64 brought little rest to the cavalry. While the Artillery and Infantry were comfortably quartered, the cavalry was "hutted" three miles in front of the infantry picket lines, and a part was distributed as escorts and orderlies at infantry headquarters. Although the infantry maintained a picket line of its own, where it was useless, the cavalry was compelled to keep up a chain of videttes sixty miles in length, besides the necessary patrol duty and reconnaissances. Upon his arrival, Grant seems to have noted this maladministration and to have taken steps to correct it. For a chief of his cavalry, he told the President, he "wanted tho very best man in the army," and few will deny that he got that man.

I remember Sheridan's arrival at the headquarters of the Cavalry Corps. We all thought a commander might have been selected from home material. One or two things that he did, however, met with warm approval. He set about reforming the abuses above referred to. On one occasion he was about to send a staff-officer to demand the immediate return to the corps of a small regiment which had been acting as "bodyguard" for an infantry general. The officer, desiring for certain reasons to secure a modification of the order, sounded General Sheridan, who simply turned to him and in a low but distinct tone said : "Give my compliments to General X. and say that I have been placed in command of the cavalry of this army, and by ___ I want it all."

The 15,000 "paper strength" of the corps was sifted to 12,424 effectives. There were three divisions, subdivided into seven brigades. General A. T. A. Torbert was assigned to command the First Division, with General G. A. Custer, Colonel T. C. Devin, and General Wesley Merritt as brigade commanders ; General D. McM. Gregg to the Second Division, with General H. E. Davies and Colonel J. Irvin Gregg to brigades; General J. H. Wilson to the Third Division, with Colonels J. B. McIntosh and G. H. Chapman to brigades.

To each division were attached two batteries of horse Artillea reserve.

Sheridan's lieutenants were well chosen. Torbert had already distinguished himself as an infantry commander ; Gregg had come from the regular cavalry and possessed the confidence of the whole corps for good judgment and coolness; Wilson, promoted from the corps of engineers, was very quick and impetuous ; Merritt was a pupil of the Cooke-Buford school, with cavalry virtues well proportioned, and to him was given the Reserve Brigade of regulars-the Old Guard.

Custer was the meteoric sabreur; McIntosh, the last of a fighting race; Deven, the "Old War Horse" ; Davies, polished, genial, gallant; Chapman, the student-like; Irvin Gregg, the steadfast. There were, besides, Graham, Williston, Butler, Fitzhugh, Du Pont, Pennington, Clark, Randolph, Brewerton, Randol, Dennison, Martin, all tried men of the horse Artillery.

The campaign was opened May 3d - 4th, 1864,