SOPO Editor’s Note: Carswell McClellan, cousin of famous General George McClellan and a Third Corps staff officer during the Civil War, was unimpressed by the memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant and Phil Sheridan immediately upon reading them. He was upset with their portrayal of his Army of the Potomac, and he set out to do something about it. McClellan wrote two books, The Personal Memoirs and Military History of U.S. Grant Versus the Record of The Army of the Potomac in 1887 and Notes on the Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan in 1889, shortly after each man’s memoirs were published. Carswell examines the statements of Grant and Sheridan and compares them to the records available at the time to see if they hold up. Oftentimes they don’t. In this excerpt from Notes on the Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan, Carswell critiques Sheridan’s actions at the Battle of Five Forks, particularly his relief of Gouverneur K. Warren after the victory was won.
Carswell McClellan’s Critique of Sheridan’s Removal of Warren at Five Forks:
In the History of the Second Army Corps, the author, General Francis A. Walker, referring to the removal of General Warren from his command after the battle of Five Forks, Va., April 1, 1865, remarks: —
What is infinitely to be regretted is, that the brilliant and fortunate successor of Grant and Sherman did not, when the heat of action had passed, when the passions of the moment had cooled, himself seize the opportunity which his own power and fame afforded him, to take the initiative in vindicating the reputation of one of the bravest, brightest, and most spirited of the youthful commanders of the Union Armies. It would not have diminished the renown which Sheridan won at Yellow Tavern, Cedar Creek, and Five Forks, had he welcomed an early occasion to repair the terrible injury which one hasty word, in the heat of battle, had done to the position, the fame, and the hopes of the man who snatched Little Round Top from the hands of the exulting Confederates.
Neither General Adam Badeau, sixteen years after the battle of Five Forks, nor General Grant, five years later, nor General Sheridan, two years later still, have been able to comprehend this fact stated by General Walker; and yet, General Badeau, unquestionably speaking for, and of, his principals, with due rhetorical introduction announces that, “no one but a hero is fit to command armies.”
Imaginings of Deity take many an awkward and grotesque shape while worship advances from fetichism to enlightened adoration, and between the denial of the valet and the verdict of history there are many varying and often contradictory applications of the title Hero. In the quotation just made, General Walker has suggested one line of thought connecting generalship with heroism. General Badeau, more in accord with so-called practical conceptions, somewhat limits his ideal by the dogma, “in military matters nothing which is successful, is wrong.” As yet another perception, the words of the late Mr. Chas. Gibbons, of Philadelphia, are suggestive. Said Mr. Gibbons: —
Heroism is not an uncommon virtue. There are others more rare and no less essential in forming the character of a great soldier. All American soldiers North and South, have proved themselves heroes, but we cannot expect to find in every one a Thomas, a Washington or a Meade. Such men are not common in any country. They seem to be set for special occasions and as examples. They do not thrust themselves into notice. They do not come swaggering into the history of the times. They are not vain-glorious nor envious. They “bear their faculties” meekly, and are guided by a better cynosure than their own personal renown.
It is purposed to glance briefly at the account now given by General Sheridan of the part taken by General Warren, with the Fifth Army Corps, in the battle of Five Forks. While General Sheridan’s final statements and arguments add nothing to assertions already often repeated, a consideration of the method and circumstance of their persistent presentation may throw light upon the character of the heroism of that officer and his consequent right to command the following of soldiers, or the attention of the public, to the prejudice of an illustrious contemporary.
In his account of the operations of March 30, 1865, General Sheridan’s first reference to General Warren mentions (Vol 2. p. 146) the hasty call he made at the headquarters of that officer in the afternoon, after his visit to General Grant’s headquarters, and states that he found General Warren “speaking rather despondently of the outlook, being influenced no doubt by the depressing weather.” The remark is worthy of note only because it is the first of a series of statements. Considering the condition of affairs at General Grant’s headquarters, as described by General Sheridan, there is not much to occasion surprise or comment in the statement. General Sheridan continues: “From Warren’s headquarters I returned by the Boydton Road to Dinwiddie Court House, fording Gravelly Run with ease.” The brevity and, in connection with succeeding assertions, the evident intent of this statement, call to mind certain portions of the evidence given before the court of inquiry ultimately convened as one of the results of the operations under consideration. On pages 1034–5 of the Proceedings of the Warren Court of Inquiry, the following is recorded in the testimony of General U. S. Grant: —
Cross-examination by Mr. Stickney, counsel for the applicant:
- When you say “previous conduct,” you mean, of course, your understanding of his previous conduct? — A. Certainly; of course, always my understanding.
- You would admit quite as readily as any other man in the world that you might have made a mistake in your judgment upon those past matters? — A. I am not ready to admit that; no, sir.
- What you claim is not that you cannot make a mistake, but that you did not make a mistake? — A. I have no doubt I made many mistakes, but not in that particular.
- In this particular you do not think you did make one? — A. No.
On page 57 of the same record — General Sheridan being under examination by Mr. Stickney — we find:
- What papers have you referred to in making up this statement which was read before the court? — A. I have taken copies from the original papers in the War Department.
- Have you had or used any other papers than these copies now in your possession in preparing your present statement ? — A. None that I know of except an extract from the report of General Pickett.
- Did you have a pamphlet of General Warren, among other things? — A. Yes; sir, I did not consult it, I never read it.
- You did not use that then ? — A. No, sir.
A recent critic has said in laudation of General Grant:—”To any one who knew much of Grant’s peculiar mental traits, it would be quite easily believed that when Grant had asserted either matter of fact or of opinion he quite naively assumed that the burden of proof was on him who questioned it. . . His quiet but undoubting confidence in himself was one of the conditions of his great successes.” As the century opened, many were, in like manner, enraptured by Napoleon — the self-crowned Emperor of the Continent — because he “appeared to be of bronze.” To-day, there are few who doubt that but for the character evinced in that same much lauded “monumental” carriage the pathway of the Emperor of France would not have led through Moscow to St. Helena. It is something other than naive self confidence that — relying upon the support of credulous popular prejudice acquired — stolidly ignores all argument, or fact substantiated, in correction of its assumptions.
The insinuation in the manner of General Sheridan’s statement that he forded Gravelly Run with ease late in the afternoon of March 30, while a good illustration of the pertinacity in which he rivaled his friend and commander General Grant, cannot be classed as ingenuous or heroic. It was indelibly in evidence before the Warren Court of Inquiry (Record pp. 155–7) that, on the night of March 31, Gravelly Run, at the crossing of the Boydton Road, had been swollen by rain till it was flowing bank-full and was not fordable for infantry, but that the necessary bridging was pushed with such energy that the march of General Ayres’s division to the relief of General Sheridan was in no way retarded thereby. Of this fact General Sheridan could not plead ignorance. On page 90 of the record of the court, we find that request was made by the President of the court that the Secretary of War would authorize the court record to be printed from day to day, assigning the following as one reason for the application : —
Lieutenant-General Sheridan is represented by counsel; and as his public duties will not permit of his attendance through all the sessions of the court, the printing of the record from day to day will be of service to him in enabling him intelligently to aid the court in its inquiry, as well as to all concerned.
After a characteristic account of the action between his cavalry command and the forces under General Pickett, on March 31, General Sheridan (Vol. 2. p. 154) continues: —
By following me to Dinwiddie the enemy’s infantry had completely isolated itself, and hence there was now offered the Union troops a rare opportunity. Lee was outside of his works, just as we desired, and the general-in-chief realized this the moment he received the first report of my situation: General Meade appreciated it too from the information he got from Captain Sheridan, en route to army headquarters with the first tidings, and sent this telegram to General Grant:
“Headquarters of the Army of the Potomac,
“March 31, 1865. 9.45 P. M.
“Would it not be well for Warren to go down with his whole corps and smash up the force in front of Sheridan? Humphreys can hold the line of the Boydton Plank Road, and the refusal along with it. Bartlett’s Brigade is now on the road from. G. Boisseau’s, running north, where it crosses Gravelly Run, he having gone down the White Oak Road. Warren could go at once that way, and take the force threatening Sheridan in rear at Dinwiddie, and move on the enemy’s rear with the other two.
“G. G. Meade, Major-General.”
An hour later General Grant replied in these words:
“Headquarters Armies of the United States,
“Dabney’s Mills, March 31st, 1865. 10.15 P. M.
“Commanding Army of the Potomac. “Let Warren move in the way you propose, and urge him not to stop for anything. Let Griffin go on as he was first directed. “U. S. Grant, Lieutenant-General.”
These two despatches were the initiatory steps in sending the Fifth Corps under Major-General G. K. Warren, to report to me. . .
In explanation of General Grant’s reference to General Griffin, General Sheridan adds in a foot-note: “Griffin had been ordered by Warren to the Boydton Road to protect his rear.”
Again General Sheridan has neglected the record printed, at public expense, in great part for his convenience and benefit, even to the extent of a very imperfect rendering of General Meade’s despatch of 9:45 p.m.—see record page 125.
At about five o’clock p. m. of March 31, General Warren received from General Meade’s headquarters a despatch, dated 4:30 p. m., in which he was directed to secure his position on the White Oak Road; informed that it was “believed that Sheridan is pushing up”; and authorized, if he thought it worth while, to push a small force down the White Oak Road to “try to communicate with Sheridan; but they must take care not to fire into his advance.” Before this despatch was received the attention of General Warren, and of his command, had been attracted by the sound of General Sheridan ‘s engagement, and, as the firing was heavy and evidently receding in the direction of Dinwiddie Court House, General Warren, not in consequence of the despatch, but—to use his own expression—in consequence of his duty as a soldier to send re-enforcement, if he could, in the direction of a portion of our Army that was evidently hard pressed, on his own responsibility ordered General Bartlett to march at once toward the firing and attack the enemy in the rear ( Record, pp. 232, 720, 768, 1175). General Bartlett obeyed this order promptly. At 5:45 p. m. General Warren received another despatch from General Meade’s headquarters, dated 5:15 p. m., directing him to “push a brigade down the White Oak Road to open it for General Sheridan, and support the same if necessary.” General Warren answered by the following report: —
5:50 p. m. March 31.
I have just seen an officer and a sergeant from General Sheridan who were cut off in an attack by the enemy and escaped. From what they say, our cavalry was attacked about noon by cavalry and infantry and rapidly driven back, two divisions, Crook’s and Devin’s, being engaged. The firing seems to recede from me toward Dinwiddie. I have sent General Bartlett and my escort in that direction, but I think they cannot be in time.
I hear cannonading that I think is from near Dinwiddie C. H.
Resp’ly G. K. Warren, Maj. Gen.
This was received at General Meade’s headquarters, probably about 6:20 p. m., and was undoubtedly the subject of General Meade’s missing despatch of 6:35 p. m. to General Grant, the receipt of which is acknowledged in General Grant’s telegram of 8:45 p. m. to General Meade. Captain M. V. Sheridan (Record, page 212.) testified that he reached General Meade’s headquarters, en route to General Grant with General Sheridan’s message, about 7:30 p. m., and this agrees with General Meade’s despatch to General Grant dated 7:40, March 31. It is evident therefor that General Warren at 5:50 p. m. sent to the headquarters of the Armies the first information of General Sheridan’s discomfiture, and at the same time gave assurance of aid promptly attempted in the most effectual manner. Although ignored by the officer who in defiance of orders neglected to open the Brock Road for General Warren on May 7, 1864, and who ordered two divisions of his command to march away from the sound of General Warren’s opening battle on the morning of May 8, 1864, the record is established beyond possibility of candid question.
About 6:30 p. m., General Bartlett having been gone more than an hour, General Warren received from General Webb a despatch saying: —
A staff-officer of General Merritt has made a report that the enemy has penetrated between Sheridan’s main command and your position. This is a portion of Pickett’s division. Let the force ordered to move out the White Oak Road move down the Boydton Plank Road as promptly as possible.
To this General Warren at once replied : —
I have ordered General Pearson, with three regiments that are now on the plank road, right down toward Dinwiddie C. H. I will let Bartlett work and report result, as it is too late to stop him.
At 8 p. m. General Warren received the following order from General Meade: —
Despatch from General Sheridan says he was forced back to Dinwiddie C. H. by strong force of cavalry supported by infantry. This leaves your rear and that of the Second Corps on the Boydton Plank Road open and will require great vigilance on your part. If you have sent the brigade down the Boydton plank it should not go farther than Gravelly Run, as I don’t think it will render any service but to protect your rear.
At 8:20 p. m. General Warren replied as follows: —
I sent General Bartlett out on the road running from the White Oak Road and left him there; he is nearly down to the crossing of Gravelly Run. This will prevent the enemy communicating by that road tonight. I have about two regiments and the artillery to hold the plank road toward Dinwiddie C. H.
It seems to me the enemy cannot remain between me and Dinwiddie if Sheridan keeps fighting them, and I believe they will have to fall back to the Five Forks. If I have to move to-night I shall leave a good many men who have lost their way. Does General Sheridan still hold Dinwiddie C. H.
At 8:40 p.m. General Warren received the following “confidential” despatch: —
The probability is that we will have to contract our line tonight. You will be required to hold, if possible, the Boydton Plank Road and to Gravelly Run. Humphreys and Ord along the run; be prepared to do this on short notice.
In answer General Warren sent the following: —
8:40 p. m., March 31, 1865.
Genl. Webb, C ‘h ‘f. Staff:
The line along the plank road is very strong. One division, with my artillery, I think can hold it. If we are not threatened south of Gravelly Run, east of the plank road, Genl. Humphreys and my batteries, I think, could hold this securely and let me move down and attack the enemy at Dinwiddie on one side and Sheridan on the other. From Bartlett’s position they will have to make a considerable detour to re-enforce their troops at that point from the north.
Unless Sheridan has been too badly handled I think we have a chance for an open field fight that should he made use of.
At 8.50 p. m. General Meade received instructions from General Grant to draw the Fifth Corps back to its position on the Boydton Road and send, at once, a division of the corps down that road to the relief of General Sheridan. At 9.17 p. m. General Warren received from General Meade his orders for drawing back, and instructions to send General Griffin’s division to General Sheridan. At 9.35 p. m. the orders were issued to the divisions of the corps. At 9.50 p. m. General Warren was notified that the division intended for General Sheridan’s relief should start at once. At 10 p.m. he reported to General Meade the conditions of the withdrawal of his command from the White Oak Road, and that, in order to save time, General Ayres’s division would be sent to Dinwiddie Court House in place of General Griffin’s. At 10.15 p. m. General Meade confirmed this substitution of General Ayres for General Griffin, having in the mean time sent the 9.45 p. m. despatch to General Grant, suggesting the movement indicated without reference to General Warren’s despatch of 8.40 p. m. — probably on account of General Grant’s known prejudice against that officer.
Details have here been given in order to show the character of the record ignored by General Sheridan. That record shows that General Griffin’s division was not “sent by Warren to the Boydton Road to protect his rear”, as stated by General Sheridan, but that, on the contrary, General Bartlett’s brigade of that division was kept in position to threaten the rear of the enemy confronting General Sheridan until withdrawn in compliance with peremptory orders from General Grant, and further, that, at the very time General Grant was issuing his order obliging that withdrawal, General Warren was suggesting to General Meade the proposition imperfectly quoted by General Sheridan as evidence that Generals Grant and Meade realized and appreciated the rare opportunity that had been placed within their reach by the Parthian(1) tactics of the cavalry commander. All
(1) On page 169, Vol. 2, General Sheridan, again referring to his repulse on this same March 31, states: “the turn of events finally brought me the Fifth after my cavalry, under the most trying difficulties, had drawn the enemy from his works. . .” but in his sworn statement, submitted in writing to the Warren Court of Inquiry (Record, page 51), he expresses it: “During the 31st of March, my cavalry had been Driven Back from Five Forks to within a short distance of Dinwiddie Court House. . .”
know how difficult is the task for human nature to acknowledge magnanimity in one it has injured and aspersed, but could General Sheridan have grasped the opportunity here offered to his hand, beyond all question he would have shown far higher generalship than that ascribed to him by General Grant when, confronted by General Pickett in a broken and wooded country, “he deployed his cavalry on foot, leaving only mounted men enough to take charge of the horses.”
General Sheridan quotes in full his well known despatch to General Warren, dated April 1, 1865, 3 a. m. The first thing to be noted in connection with this despatch is that it is an order addressed to a corps commander who was moving under the personal command of Major-General Meade. This was acknowledged by General Sheridan before the court of inquiry, (Record pp. 71, 80.), and one cannot but contrast this last reproduction of the order with his statements in regard to the command of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac on, and just prior to, May 8, 1864.
The next point to be noted is that the despatch was dated “3 a. m.”, and that it was received by General Warren at 4.50 a. m., as admitted (Record, p. 200) by the officer who carried the order for General Sheridan. General Sheridan says that he “never once doubted that measures would be taken to comply with” his despatch, when the record shows that it was neither delivered nor written in time to make compliance possible. In connection with this, General Meade’s despatch to General Grant dated April 1, 6 a. m., is of interest. It commences: “The officer sent to Sheridan returned between 2 and 3 a. m. without any written communication, but giving General Sheridan’s opinion that the enemy were retiring from his front. . .” This was substantially acknowledged by General Sheridan (Record, p. 79) and shows that, as a matter of fact, he concurred in the opinion expressed in General Warren’s despatch of 8.20 p. m. just quoted.
General Sheridan states: “As a matter of fact, when Pickett was passing the all-important point Warren’s men were just breaking from the bivouac in which their chief had placed them the night before. . .” The record — printed daily with special reference to General Sheridan’s convenience and benefit— shows that General Pickett’s troops began to retire soon after midnight (Record, pp. 421, 485, 497, 511, et al.) in consequence of General Bartlett’s movement upon their left and rear, and that, with the exception of the rear guard, they were in their lines at Five Forks soon after sunrise on April 1.
General Sheridan says: “By 2 o’clock in the afternoon Merritt had forced the enemy inside his intrenchments.” The record shows that the Confederate infantry lines were formed about Five Forks before 9 a. m., and that they were practically unmolested in their work of strengthening their lines until the attack at 4 o’clock p. m. General Sheridan has offered no explanation of the fact that, by his order, (Record p. 21) 12,000 infantry halted for six hours, five miles in time, and two and one half miles in distance, to the rear, and allowed this work to proceed. That six hours halt was certainly not General Warren’s blunder.
The imputation of unnecessary delay in the movement of the Fifth Corps, when at last it was ordered to the front, is repeated by General Sheridan. It is enough here to quote the words of General Warren’s counsel, Mr. Stickney: —
On this point a charge against Warren is a charge against the chief officers of his corps. . . The commanders of Warren’s divisions and brigades were men who had been well tried. They were men who could be safely trusted to bring their commands up for that attack.
The finding of the court confirms the statement.
General Sheridan states (Vol. 2. p. 162) that, though he did not know how far toward Hatcher’s Run the refused left of the enemy’s works extended, he “did know where the refusal began,” and that this “return” was the point he wished to assail. It was in evidence before the court of inquiry, and acknowledged by General Sheridan (Record, pp. 96, 97, 99, 115), that he instructed General Warren, when forming his troops for assault, that the “return” was in the near vicinity of the intersection of the Gravelly Run Church Road and the White Oak Road. Developments proved, however, that the “return” was between seven and eight hundred yards west of that intersection, and General Ayres (Record, pp. 257, 266, 270) testifies in the most precise manner that, after his change of direction to meet the fire from the “return”, General Sheridan came to him “some three times at short intervals and expressed the same fear, that he [I] had changed his [my] front too soon, and was engaging the cavalry instead of the enemy; that he [I] had changed it before he [I] got sufficiently far north.”
Continuing his account (p. 163), General Sheridan states that the deflection of General Crawford’s division “which finally brought it out on the Ford Road near C. Young’s house, frustrated the purpose he [I] had in mind when ordering the attack.” On the preceding page he states: —
I therefore intended that Ayres and Crawford should attack the refused trenches squarely, and when these two divisions and Merritt’s cavalry became hotly engaged, Griffin ‘s division was to pass around the left of the Confederate line; and I personally instructed Griffin how I wishedhim to go in, . .
It is difficult to understand how General Sheridan’s purpose was “frustrated” when, as a result of the erroneous information given by General Sheridan concerning the location of the “return”, the division of General Griffin was moved by General Warren’s order from its place in reserve to the right of General Ayres’s division, and General Warren, then overtaking the diverging division of General Crawford, performed with it the very movement General Sheridan has put such stress upon. It is unnecessary to comment upon General Sheridan’s issuing instructions to a division commander of the Fifth Corps when the corps commander was present and actively engaged in his duties, further than to again recall how bitterly he himself resented the fact that his commanding officer, General Meade, issued orders to two divisions of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac when the commander of that corps was absent from duty on the night of May 7, 1864. General Sheridan has seen fit again to arraign General Warren’s manner. As to that manner while forming his troops for the assault, it is enough to refer to the testimony of General Joshua L. Chamberlain (Record.p. 236) who knew General Warren long and well, and who states that at Gravelly Run Church he held the manner of a man intensely occupied but energetic. As to his manner in the battle, it is sufficient to quote the words of his counsel (Record, pp. 1398–9) as addressed to the court that had before it the full testimony in the case, and that sustained the counsel by its verdict. Says Mr. Stickney:—
At one time on that field a question was asked, “Where is Warren?” Where was he not? is a question which might be asked and to which no answer can be given. At every point of the battle field, at the precise place where he could be of service, at the precise time when he could be of service, by some strange chance he was at hand. Was it a chance? Or is it the fact that one man on that field had a keen eye to seize a situation, and a keen mind to devise the measures to meet it? Although many of the witnesses here testify that they did not see their own division commanders at any time during the entire day, yet so it is that nearly every single man of them saw Warren. His own evidence as to his movements on that field can be thrown out of this case, except that it is a string on which to connect the events given us by other witnesses; and we could get his movements from the stories of other witnesses. At every point his testimony is confirmed by other witnesses, if it needed confirmation.
This statement of the case is also supported by the argument of Major Gardner, counsel for General Sheridan, who (Record, p. 1538) attempts to make General Warren’s undeniable activity the basis of a charge of “great indecision in his movements.”
In view of the persistent arraignment of General Warren in this particular, some consideration of General Sheridan’s manner and method, as established before the court of inquiry, is certainly admissible. In his evidence (Record, p. 94) we find the following:—
- I will ask you the question: Had you at that time any prejudice against General Warren ?—A. No, sir.
- His reputation was that of an efficient officer, was it not? — A. I don’t know what his reputation was; I had not served with him especially.
In the testimony of General Chamberlain (Record, p. 234) we find a strange commentary on this:—
- Were you at the head of the column? — A. I was.
- About what hour in the morning was it when you met General Sheridan? — A. I think it was seven o’clock.
- What was the conversation? — A. . . General Sheridan asked me where General Warren was. I told him I understood him to be at the rear of the column with the rear division.
- Give the whole conversation, the words, as accurately as you can?—A. The general made a reply which showed that he was annoyed.
- I want the words? — A. He said,” That is where I should expect him to be”, or words to that effect.
Now, the most singular feature of this whole case, the most remarkable point in it, is the fact that a witness [i.e. Sheridan] comes here and says: “Although I was in command of the United States forces in the field on that day, I saw only the attack of General Ayres on that earthwork at the end; I know nothing of Griffin’s movements; I know nothing of Crawford’s movements; I do not know that Crawford became engaged with Munford, or that he had any fighting at any point in the woods; I do not know any thing of what the commander of the Fifth Corps did during the operations of that day; and I cannot give” — for those are his words—“I cannot give any account of my own personal movements after Ayres’s assault. Yet I have had the glory of that day for sixteen years. And I still claim it!”
If ever a soldier in military history has taken such a position before, it is beyond my knowledge. If any enemy of General Sheridan should tell such a story against him no one would credit it; but it is the statement of the man himself as to his own movements, made before a military court. And there we must leave him.
- And what do you claim was Warren’s sin of omission or commission in relation to that going off to the right? — A. If there was anybody in the wide world that should have made an effort to prevent that, General Warren was the man.
- Undoubtedly. Now do you know whether he made any effort or not ?—A. I don’t know. I did not realize any.
- Did you ask him what he had done? — A. I could not find him.
Q- Did you ask him afterwards when you did find him?— A. No, sir.
- Did you ask any one at the time you relieved him?—A. No, sir.
- Did you try to get any information of any one at the time you relieved him?—A. No, sir; I had all I wanted.
Turning now to page 366 of the Record, we find the testimony of General Fred. T. Locke, Assistant Adjutant-General Fifth Army Corps, as to his interview with General Sheridan on the White Oak Road near Five Forks, while General Warren was pushing forward with his troops toward the Gilliam Field and to the assault of the last lines attempted to be held by the enemy: —
- Did you report to General Sheridan? — A. I gave him the message which General Warren had directed me to give him.
- Give your words as nearly as you can. — A. That we had gained the enemy’s rear, and had taken over 1,500 prisoners, and that he was pushing in a division as rapidly as he could.
- Give Sheridan’s answer. — A. General Sheridan turned around on his horse, he raised his right hand in this manner, and says: “Tell General Warren, by G—! I say he was not at the front. That is all I have got to say to him.”
- Did he give you any orders or instructions for General Warren?—A. Not a word.
- What was his manner? — A. Very excited.
General Locke wrote in his note book the words of General Sheridan’s reply to General Warren’s message, and confirmed his memorandum by reference to Captain Melcher who was present at the interview. Further comment on General Sheridan’s manner would seem to be unnecessary.
One other point, however, should be briefly noted in the words of Mr. Stickney: —
General Sheridan’s statement is that this resolution to relieve General Warren was taken by him after the battle was over [Memoirs. Vol. 2, p. 165], in view of the new conditions that arose at the end of the engagement. We have the testimony of Colonel Brinton [Record, p. 303] to the effect that, in the Sydnor field, when the action was not more than one hour in progress, General Sheridan met General Griffin; that he shouted out the question, “Where is Warren?” Without waiting for an answer, he turned to General Griffin and said, “General Griffin, I put you in command of the Fifth corps.” That is confirmed by General Chamberlain’s testimony [Record, pp. 277–8] in the most explicit manner.
It is also supported by General Griffin’s official report of April 29, 1865.
Space allows but little further reference to General Sheridan’s Memoirs. He says: —
Years after the war, in 1879, a Court of Inquiry was given General Warren in relation to his conduct on the day of the battle . . . . . Briefly stated, in my report of the battle of Five Forks there were four imputations concerning General Warren. The first implied that Warren failed to reach me on the 1st of April, when I had reason to expect him; the second, that the tactical handling of his corps was unskilful; the third, that he did not exert himself to get his corps up to Gravelly Run Church; and the fourth, that when portions of his line gave way he did not exert himself to restore confidence to his troops. The court found against him on the first and second counts, and for him on the third and fourth.
He concludes his remarks with the assertion that his course with regard to General Warren is plainly justifiable in the view of all who are disposed to be fair-minded, and quotes from General Sherman’s review of the Proceedings of the Warren Court, words with which he is convinced the judgment of history will accord.
This conclusion calls for a reference, as brief as possible, to General Warren’s repeated applications for redress, and the results that followed.
On page 170 of Benet’s Military Law and Courts-martial, we find: —
The articles of war contain full authority for protecting the rights and interests of inferiors, by giving to all officers and soldiers the right of appeal, and requiring superiors, in positive and unequivocal terms, to follow certain prescribed modes for the doing justice to the appellant.
And again on page 176: —
This is the only case—the redressing of wrongs—in which an appeal can be made to a higher tribunal, under the articles of war; thus exhibiting special jealousy for the rights of inferior officers and soldiers, by making in their favor a marked exception to the ordinary course of military trials.
Following the letter of the law, the aggrieved party must first make due application for redress to his commanding officer. General Warren received the order of General Sheridan relieving him from the command of the fifth Army Corps and directing him to report to General Grant, at 7 p. m. April 1, 1865. Before leaving the field, General Warren made personal application to General Sheridan for a reconsideration of the order. On the testimony of General Sheridan’s own aide (Record p. 1058) that officer’s answer was: “Reconsider? H—! I don’t reconsider my determination.” This, of course, relieved General Warren from the necessity of further reference to General Sheridan. On April 9, 1865, however, he appealed (Record. pp. 13–17) to General Grant for a court of inquiry. General Grant replied: “It is impossible at this time to give the court and witnesses necessary for the investigation.” Early in 1866, General Warren again urged the matter upon General Grant’s attention, through the personal efforts of Senator E. D. Morgan. General Grant again declined “on account of expenses of court, witnesses etc.” On May 1, 1866, General Warren made application to the President of the United States, but without result, although Mr. Stanton at first promised that the request should be granted. Because of his positive decision upon the applications already made, no further effort was put forth during the presidency of General Grant, but on November 18, 1879, General Warren again urged his suit through the Hon. Geo. W. McCrary, Secretary of War. This application was endorsed as follows:—
Headquarters of the Army,
Washington, D. C., Dec. 2, 1879.
The Hon. Secretary of War having asked my opinion of the enclosed appeal, I must say that the long-endured imputations on the fair fame of General Warren warrants the court of inquiry he has repeatedly asked for, and which had thus far been denied him.
W. T. Sherman,
On December 9, 1879, the order convening the court was issued by the Adjutant-General.
The opinions of that court, as finally laid before the President of the United States, are as follows:—
The First Imputation is found in an extract from General Grant’s report, on page 1137 of the report of the Honorable Secretary of War to the first session of the Thirty-ninth Congress, as follows (see, also, Record. p. 48):
“On the morning of the 31st, General Warren reported favorably to getting possession of the White Oak Road, and was directed to do so. To accomplish this, he moved with one division instead of his whole corps, which was attacked by the enemy in superior force and driven back on the second division before it had time to form, and it in turn forced back upon the third division; when the enemy was checked. A division of the Second Corps was immediately sent to his support, the enemy driven back with heavy loss, and possession of the White Oak Road gained.”
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
There seems to be no evidence that General Warren, on the morning of March 31, or at any other time, reported favorably to getting possession of the White Oak Road except in his despatch (V) of 4 p. m., March 30, already referred to, and the movement suggested in that was practically set aside by General Grant’s despatch (VIII) of March 30, heretofore quoted. General Warren’s report, in his despatch (LXXXIV) of 9:40 a. m., March 31, quoted above, that he had given orders to drive the enemy’s pickets off the White Oak Road or develop what force of the enemy held it, could not be fairly construed as being able to take possession of it.
With regard to that portion of the imputation contained in the statement that General Warren was directed to take possession of the White Oak Road, the following despatch from General Meade is the only one that can tear that construction:
“U. S. M. T.
“Nunan. Hdqurs. Armies U. S.
“10:30 a. m., Mar. 31, 1865.
“To Maj. Gen. G. K. Warren:
“Your despatch giving Ayres’s position is received. Gen’l. Meade directs that should you determine by your reconnoissance that you can get possession of and hold the White Oak Road, you are to do so, notwithstanding the orders to suspend operations to-day. “Alex. S. Webb
“Bv’t. M[ajor]. G[eneral]., C[hief]. of S[taff].”
And the evidence before the court shows that this order was not received by General Warren till after the fighting that resulted from the attempted reconnoissance had begun.
It is in evidence by Ayres ‘s and Crawford ‘s testimony that General Warren had in his advance two divisions, though the testimony does not clearly show how long before the attack of the enemy upon Ayres the division of Crawford reached him.
Griffin’s divison was held in reserve along the branch of Gravelly Run nearest to and northwest from the Boydton Plank Road, and it may have been so held to carry out the intentions of the following dispatch from General Meade‘s headquarters:
“Nunan. 8.32 a. m. U. S. M. T.
“Hdqrs. A. of P., 8.25, Mar. 31, 1865.
“To Maj. Gen. Warren:
“There is firing along Humphreys’s front. The Maj. Gen’l com’d’g desires you be ready to send your reserve, if it should be called for, to support Humphreys.
“There will be no movement of troops to-day.
“A. S. Webb,
“Rec. 8.40 a. m.—G. K. W.” “B. M. G.”
The court is further of the opinion that, considering the Fifth Corps constituted the extreme left wing of the armies operating against Richmond, and that the corps was in a delicate position and liable to be attacked at any moment, of which liability General Warren had been repeatedly warned, he should have been with his advanced divisions, guiding and directing them, and that he should have started earlier to the front than he did and not have waited at the telegraph office to keep in communication with General Meade’s headquarters, unless he had direct orders that morning so do to, which, however, does not appear in the evidence.
“. . . . had General Warren moved according to the expectations of the Lieutenant-General, there would appear to have been but little chance for the escape of the enemy’s infantry in front of the Dinwiddie Court House.”
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
It is supposed that “the expectations of the lieutenant-general,” referred to in this imputation, are those expressed in his despatch to General Sheridan of 10.45 p. m. of March 31, 1865, as follows:
“March 31, 1865 —10.45 p. m.
“The 5th Corps has been ordered to your support. Two divisions will go by J. Boisseau’s and one down the Boydton Road. In addition to this I have sent Mackenzie’s cavalry, which will reach you by the Vaughan Road. All these forces, except the cavalry, should reach you by 12 to-night.
You will assume command of the whole force sent to operate with you and use it to the best of your ability to destroy the force which your command has fought so gallantly to-day.
“U. S. Grant,
In which he says, “All these forces, except the cavalry, should reach you by 12 to-night.” If this supposition be correct, the court is of opinion, considering the condition of the roads and surrounding country over part of which the troops had to march, the darkness of the night, the distance to be traveled, and the hour at which the order for the march reached General Warren, 10.50 p. m., that it was not practicable for the Fifth Corps to have reached General Sheridan at 12 o’clock on the night of March 31.
Notwithstanding that dispositions suitable for the contingency of Sheridan’s falling back from Dinwiddie might well have occupied and perplexed General Warren’s mind during the night, the court is of the opinion that he should have moved the two divisions by the Crump Road in obedience to the orders and expectations of his commander, upon whom alone rested the responsibility of the consequences.
It appears from the despatches and General Warren’s testimony, that neither Generals Meade, Sheridan, or Warren expressed an intention of having this column attack before daylight.
The court is further of the opinion that General Warren should have started with two divisions, as directed by General Meade’s despatch ( CIV, heretofore quoted ), as early after its receipt, at 10.50 p. m., as he could be assured of the prospect of Ayres’s departure down the Boydton Plank Road, and should have advanced on the Crump Road as far as directed in that despatch, or as far as might be practicable or necessary to fulfill General Meade’s intention; whereas the evidence shows that he did not start until between five and six o’clock on the morning of the 1st of April, and did not reach J. Boisseau’s with the head of the column until about seven o’clock in the morning.
The despatches show that Generals Meade and Warren anticipated a withdrawal during the night of the enemy’s forces fronting General Sheridan, which was rendered highly probable from the known position in their rear of a portion of the Fifth Corps (Bartlett’s Brigade) at G. Boisseau’s, and the event justified the anticipation.
“… General Warren did not exert himself to get up his corps as rapidly as he might have done, and his manner gave me the impression that he wished the sun to go down before dispositions for the attack could be completed.”
On the afternoon of April 1, the Fifth Corps was massed as follows: Crawford’s and Griffin’s divisions at the forks of the Crump Road and the main road from Dinwiddie Court House to Five Forks, and Ayres’s division on the Brooke’s Road about one-fourth of a mile east from the forks of that road and the road to Five Forks.
The distance from the position of Griffin and Crawford to the place of formation of the Fifth Corps, near Gravelly Run Church, was about 2¼ miles, and the length of the corps when spread out in column of route would be about 2¾ miles. The last file of the column required as much time to reach the place of formation as it would have taken to march about 5 miles.
General Warren received his orders near Gravelly Run Church to move up his corps at 1 p. m., and it took some time to communicate those orders to the divisions and for the movement to begin.
The route to the place of formation was along a narrow road, very muddy and slippery, somewhat encumbered with wagons and led horses of the cavalry corps, and the men were fatigued. The testimony of brigade and division commanders is to the effect that the corps in line of march was well closed up, and that no unnecessary delay was incurred.
The corps reached its destination, and was formed ready to advance against the enemy about 4 p. m.
It is in evidence that General Warren remained near Gravelly Run Church, directing the formation, explaining the mode of attack to the division and brigade commanders, with sketches prepared for the purpose.
General Warren also repeatedly sent out staff officers to the division Commanders in order to expedite the march.
The court is of the opinion that there was no unnecessary delay in this march of the Fifth Corps, and that General Warren took the usual methods of a corps commander to prevent delay.
The question regarding General Warren’s manner appears to be too intangible and the evidence on it too contradictory for the court to decide, separate from the context, that he appeared to wish “the sun to go down before dispositions for the attack would be completed;” but his actions, as shown by the evidence, do not appear to have corresponded with such wish, if ever he entertained it.
”During this attack I again became dissatisfied with General Warren. During the engagement portions of his line gave way when not exposed to a heavy fire, and simply from want of confidence on the part of the troops, which General Warren did not exert himself to inspire.”
When the Fifth Corps moved up to the attack, General Sheridan said to General Ayres, “I will ride with you.” General Warren was on the left of Crawford’s division, between Crawford and Ayres.
When General Ayres’s command struck the White Oak Road it received a fire in flank from the enemy’s “return” nearly at right angles to the road. He changed front immediately at right angles and faced the “return,” his right receiving a fire from Munford’s Confederate division of dismounted cavalry distributed along the edge of the woods to the north of the White Oak Road. There was some confusion, which was immediately checked by the exertions of General Sheridan, General Ayres, and other officers.
The evidence shows that General Warren was observant of Ayres, because he sent orders to Winthrop’s reserve brigade to form on the left of Ayres’s new line.
This necessary change of front of Ayres increased the interval between him and Crawford on his right; the latter was marching without change of direction until, as he expressed it, he would clear the right of Ayres, when he was also to change front to the left.
At this moment, Warren, who saw that Crawford, with Griffin following, was disappearing in the woods to the north of the White Oak Road, sent a staff officer to Griffin to come as quickly as he could to sustain Ayres; went himself to the left brigade of Crawford, and caused a line to be marked out facing to the west, directing the brigade commander to form on it; then went into the woods and gave orders to the right brigade of Crawford to form on the same line. When he returned to the open ground the brigade he had directed to change front had disappeared, as appears by the evidence, in consequence of orders given by an officer of General Sheridan’s staff. General Warren sent repeated orders by staff-officers to both Griffin and Crawford to change direction, and went himself to both, and finally by these means corrected, as far as was possible under the circumstances, the divergence of these two divisions.
It appears from evidence that these two divisions were operating in the woods and over a difficult country, and received a fire in their front from the dismounted cavalry of Munford, posted in the woods to the north of the White Oak Road, which led to the belief for some time, that the enemy had a line of battle in front; and this may furnish one reason why it was so difficult at first to change their direction to the proper one.
General Warren’s attention appears to have been drawn, almost immediately after Ayres received the flank fire from the “return” and his consequent change of front, to the probability of Crawford with Griffin diverging too much from and being separated from Ayres, and by continuous exertions of himself and staff substantially remedied matters; and the court thinks that this was for him the essential point to be attended to, which also exacted his whole efforts to accomplish.
When the delicacy of the position in which the court—consisting of but two members, who must concur—was placed by the necessity of expressing judicial opinions upon the statements of Generals Grant and Sheridan, is taken into consideration, nothing can be more explicit than those opinions as here given. It would be impossible to pronounce against the allegations of those officers in clearer or more courteous language. Concerning the criticisms of General Warren’s personal movements on March 31, and the movements of his divisions on the early morning of April 1, it is manifest from the opinions as expressed, and from details given in the reports, that the court, conscious that the death of General Meade had deprived General Warren of a most material witness, and fully recognizing the embarrassments under which he had been called to act, simply differed from General Warren in the conclusions he arrived at, and acted upon, in the discharge of his duty as corps commander during the absence of his superior from the front and that superior’s consequent lack of full information as to the developing details of the field. General Humphreys (Va. Campaign, p. 341) has said: —
But General Warren should have moved with Griffin and Crawford as soon as practicable after receiving Meade’s order at 10.50 p. m., though it will be observed that subsequent to that hour General Meade subordinated all General Warren’s efforts to ensuring the presence of one of his divisions with General Sheridan by daylight.
There is, in neither case, any imputation cast upon General Warren’s motives, efforts, or intelligence, but simply a difference of opinion as to practicability and the necessities of the case. It is manifest that, while the death of General Meade rendered it impossible for General Warren to present direct
and positive evidence(1) that his actions upon March 31, and the night following, had been such as to satisfy the intentions and requirements of his superior and commanding officer, the facts, as established to the satisfaction of, and as stated by the court, and as indicated by General Humphreys, all strongly support that hypothesis against which no evidence stronger than mere speculation has been produced, and General Alex. S. Webb, the last Chief of Staff of the Army of the Potomac— a witness of unquestionable competence and, on this point, second in authority only to General Meade himself—states positively to the writer: “I believe General Meade was satisfied with General Warren’s movements March 31, to April 1. We who knew Warren felt that he would do his best to relieve Sheridan.”
The record of the proceedings of the court was submitted to the Honorable Robert T. Lincoln, Secretary of War, accompanied by a report from Brigadier-General D. G. Swaim, Judge-Advocate General, U. S. Army, under date of July 11, 1882. That report is notoriously something far other than a legiti-
(1) General Meade’s despatch to General Grant dated 6 a. m., April 1, 1865 (Record, p. 1254), concludes with the words, “Warren will be at or near Dinwiddie soon, with his whole corps, and will require further orders.” The following despatch (Record, p. 1288) was received by General Warren about 9 a. m. April 1:
“Headquarters Army of the Potomac.
“April 1, 6 a. m., 186.
“Maj. Gen. Warren:
“Gen’l Meade directs that in the movements following your junction with Gen’l Sheridan you will be under his orders, and will report to him. Please send a report of progress.
“Alex. S. Webb.
“B. M. G,, C. O. S.”
In the absence of evidence to the contrary, these despatches certainly indicate that General Warren —held under direct orders from General Meade up to 6 a. m. April 1—had met the intentions and expectations of his commanding officer, and had even exceeded, or anticipated, them when his whole corps had joined and reported to General Sheridan before 7 a. m. — two hours before the receipt of the 6 a. m. order sent by General Webb.
mate and legal review of the proceedings of the court. It is, in fact, an arbitrary re-trial of the case by the Judge-Advocate General in which General D. G. Swaim assumes to set aside and modify the findings and opinions of Generals C. C. Augur and John Newton.
This brings us to the report of General Sherman, so confidently referred to by General Sheridan. After reciting a brief history of the case as it seems to appear to him, General Sherman states that General Sheridan’s action in relieving General Warren was sustained by General Grant and never questioned by either President Lincoln or President Johnson and that, “There the matter ought to have ended.” General Sherman, however, could not but be aware that the action of Generals Grant and Sheridan has never yet received the presidential approval which alone could make it defensible and legal, and he neglects to state how it came that the matter was not brought to the attention of Presidents Lincoln or Johnson; and, further, the Articles of War, and his own endorsement upon General Warren’s last, and successful, application for a court, do not sustain the reconsidered opinion he here expresses — on the report of the court becoming known. General Sherman states that the findings of the court “confirm substantially what was officially reported on the dates of the occurrences,” but this, and his preceding detailed statements to the same effect, are clearly denied by the court itself.
General Sherman affirms “the patriotism, integrity, and great intelligence of General Warren,” as “attested by a long record of most excellent service,” but, with warning of dire results in future wars if General Sheridan is not “fully and entirely sustained,” He endorses General Sheridan in a course that can be justified only on the assumption that General Warren was lacking in every trait conceded and, also, was what General Sheridan’s counsel essayed to prove him — a scheming coward.
General Sherman says: —
It would be an unsafe and dangerous rule to hold the commander of an army in battle to a technical adherence to any rule of conduct for managing his command. He is responsible for results and holds the lives and reputations of every officer and soldier under his orders as subordinate to the great end — victory.
To understand that neither General Grant, nor General Sherman, nor General Sheridan believed this monstrous theory, one has but to recall their own words concerning Shiloh, Corinth, Raleigh and Todd’s Tavern. The roar of battle absolves no officer, from the commander-in-chief down, from obedience to the Constitution and to the Articles of War; nor does it release him from the obligations of honor and justice in his own person; still less does it place the reputation of any subordinate at his disposal , and to persist in wrong under such a plea is base. If the able argument made by General Warren’s counsel before the court of inquiry needed support, or confirmation, where could they be better found than in this quaint appeal unto Caesarism, — this plea in confession and avoidance—upon which General Sheridan has rested his case?
The final endorsement upon the proceedings of the court of inquiry is as follows: —
November 21, 1882.
The foregoing proceedings and report having been laid before the President, he directs that the findings and opinions of the court of inquiry be published.
Robert T. Lincoln,
Secretary of War.
In professed compliance with that endorsement, a limited number of copies of the full proceedings and report of the court were printed and to a very limited extent were distributed. At the same time, however, a pamphlet containing the report and opinion of the court, together with the reports of the Judge-Advocate General and the General of the Army, was largely printed and widely distributed. And yet, we are told that military law and military courts are established for the purpose of “arriving at the truth, that there may not in any case, be a failure of justice”!
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