Saturday, August 4, 2012

eBook Review: Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan, General, United States Army

Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan, General, United States Army - Volume 1 Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan, General, United States Army - Volume 2

Philip H. Sheridan, Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan, General, United States Army

Product Details (Volume I)

  • File Size: 393 KB
  • Print Length: 534 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publisher: Public Domain Books (March 27, 2005)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000JQU87A
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars (1 customer review)
  • Price: $0.00 


Product Details (Volume II)

  • File Size: 359 KB
  • Print Length: 522 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publisher: Public Domain Books (June 1, 2004)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000JQU87K
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars (1 customer review)
  • Price: $0.00
1. Short review: 

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked:  History that you cannot get anywhere else, especially Sheridan's coverage of the Franco-Prussian War.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? Mostly roller-coaster, but we know how the ride ends.
These books are free, and they are worth the downloads.

2.2. What I did not like:  Sheridan's writing style. His prose is gilded and pompous sounding. His writing shows the influence Grant had on him and becomes readable when he served under Grant, but out from under Grant's tutelage, he reverts to his old heathen ways.

2.3. Who I think is the audience:  History buffs.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  Yes.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book?  No. I've read all the Sheridan I can stomach.

2.6. Other:  I read Ulysses S Grant's memoirs and William T Sherman's memoirs.
     I divide Sheridan's memoirs into five parts:  1. In California and Oregon before the War; 2. The War; 3. After the War; 4. The Indian Wars; and 5. The Franco-Prussian War and a tour of Europe.

1. In California and Oregon before the War.
     Sheridan graduated from West Point in 1853. Soon he was ordered to the Pacific Northwest where he treated with and fought the local Indians in small unit actions. He campaigned summer and winter. This was important for his later campaigns against the Plains Indians.
     By Sheridan's account, he won the conflicts with the Indians single-handed. He stood short in the saddle and short on modesty.

2.  The War.
     Unlike Sherman, Sheridan did not plaster his memoirs with copies of orders. There are some, but they serve to highlight Sheridan's accounts.
     Sheridan found his unit in the Pacific Northwest divided in its loyalties when the Civil War began. Some officers resigned their commissions and went to fight for the Confederacy. Sheridan was promoted captain and ordered to report for duty in Missouri. He executed his orders by sailing from San Francisco to New York City and travelling cross-country.
     When he arrived in Missouri, General Halleck appropriated him to his staff to sort out the mess Fremont had made of Halleck's department's finances. Sheridan wanted a combat command, but he performed Halleck's accounting task so well that it looked like Halleck would keep on staff for the whole war.
     Sheridan ran afoul of General Curtis and his officers who were profiteering. Curtis tried to courtmartial Sheridan, but Halleck stepped in and saved him.
     All the while, Sheridan tried to wrangle a combat command. Sherman offered him a regiment of volunteers, but that appointment fell through. In May 1862, Sheridan was appointed to command the 2d Michigan Cavalry. He won his first battle with this unit and thereby gained a promotion to brigadier general of volunteers.
     Sheridan continued from success to success in other commands in the Western Theater, compiling a string of accomplishments that he never failed to trumpet. One instance stands as an example of his jealousy for acclaim. At the Battle of Chattanooga, his division overran a Confederate held ridge. Sheridan claimed the guns -- cannon -- the Confederates left behind, because his men had taken them. They did not stay to secure the guns but continued in pursuit of the Confederates. Other units secured the guns and were credited with their capture. Sheridan expended several dozen pages of his memoirs with sworn statements from his subordinate unit commandeers to show that his division took the guns, contrary to the official reports.
     After Chattanooga, Sheridan was given command of the Union cavalry in the Army of the Potomac. Meade, his immediate commander, wanted to use the cavalry in its traditional roles for screening and reconnaissance. Sheridan wanted to use the cavalry as a separate arm. Their dispute rose to General Grant, who persuaded Meade to give Sheridan his way. Sheridan took the Union cavalry on an extended raid around the Confederate army. Along the way, his forces defeated the Confederate cavalry and killed their commander, General J.E.B. Stuart. That's the upside. The downside is that the Army of the Potomac was effectively blind while Sheridan went raiding.
     It is worth noting that American cavalry in the Civil War was what the Europeans called dragoons. American cavalry rode to battle, dismounted, and fought with carbines. Sheridan himself wrote that, during the entire war, only once did his cavalry charge with drawn sabers.
     After commanding the cavalry army brilliantly (according to Sheridan) or with mixed results (according to Meade), Grant named him to command the Army of the Shenandoah. The Confederates used the Shenandoah Valley as a gateway to raid Maryland, Pennsylvania, and to threaten Washington, DC. The raids into Maryland and Pennsylvania did damage to the public but the Confederates trooping across the Potomac from Washington scared the bejeezus out of the politicians in Washington who demanded SOMETHING MUST BE DONE RIGHT NOW!
     Grant sent Sheridan to sweep the Confederates from the Shenandoah. Sheridan took some time getting organized, a fact that did not sit well with Grant because the politicians were pissing down his collar. In September 1864, Sheridan got going and burned the Shenandoah. Over the course of six months, he destroyed the Confederates forces opposing him. Then, in a surprise, he returned his army to the command of General Grant. Given Sheridan's ego, this is incomprehensible to me still.
     Sheridan reported that there was much spying going on in the Shenandoah, but he managed to turn this to his advantage by sowing disinformation with rebel spies.
     Grant left Sheridan in command of the forces that had comprised the Army of the Shenandoah. Sheridan headed for Petersburg, Virginia and effectively became the far right wing of Grant's army. His move meant he was perfectly positioned to cut off Lee's route of retreat, and that's what Sheridan did. Soon after followed the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse.
     Grant ordered Sheridan to Texas to defeat the last Confederate forces in the field, but Kirby Smith surrendered before Sheridan could cross the Sabine.

3. After the War.
     Sheridan showed great interest in events in Mexico. Although he never explicitly said so, my impression is that he wanted to invade Mexico to kick the French out. He does say that he passed firearms and ammunition to Juarez.
     In 1867, Sheridan was named military governor of Texas and Louisiana. He spent most of his term as governor in New Orleans, investigating a riot, enrolling voters, and replacing elected officials with his appointees. President Johnson spent a great deal of time undoing what Sheridan did. Finally, Thomas replaced Sheridan as military governor. In August 1867, Sheridan left to command the Department of the Missouri.
4. The Indian Wars.
     In Kansas, Sheridan quickly learned  that his forces were too few to keep the Indians pacified unless the Indians wanted to be pacified. He asked for and got state levies. He did the one thing the Indians could not do -- campaigned in the winter (see 'In California and Oregon before the War' above) -- and defeated the Indians thereby.
     His winter campaign was a logistical nightmare from start to finish. I give Sheridan credit for seeing it through. Forcing that campaign on to a successful conclusion was an act of will.
     The sad part is that it was unnecessary. The Indians said they wanted to talk. Sheridan refused. He said the deal was done and the Indians had to abide by it. A lot of Indians and a lot of soldiers died after Sheridan's refusal.
     When your choice is talk or bleed, talk.

5. The Franco-Prussian War and a tour of Europe.
     Grant promoted Sheridan to lieutenant general in 1869. He and Grant believed war between Prussia and France was imminent. Sherman asked for leave to go to Europe to observe the war. Grant gave him leave and supplied him with a letter of introduction.
     After some confusion, Sheridan arrived at King Wilhelm's headquarters in the field. King Wilhelm ordered that Sheridan be shown every courtesy possible.
     Wilhelm did not speak English and Sheridan did not speak German, so they communicated through a translator. However, Otto von Bismarck, the Prussian chancellor, and Helmuth von Moltke, the Prussian chief of staff of the army, both spoke fluent English. (Moltke married an Englishwoman.)
     Sheridan wore his uniform at the front. This was not a good idea. His uniform closely resembled the French uniform. Many times he was accosted by Prussian troops. By accosted I mean they pointed guns at him and he surrendered to them. After the first incident, he rode with a royal pass in his tunic. This did not stop the Prussians from pointing rifles at him, but it did mean they released him quicker.
     At Gravelotte, Sheridan witnessed a charge of Prussian cavalry uphill against French infantry dug into the hillside. Predictably, the French destroyed the Prussian cavalry. Sheridan opined that the Prussians misused their cavalry. Well, they certainly did that day.
      After the French emperor surrendered his forces in the field but before the capital capitulated, Sheridan toured Europe. He was feted in Istanbul, Athens, and Italy. He returned through France and rejoined the Prussian Army about the time the German Empire was declared with Wilhelm as its first Kaiser.
     Bismarck told Sheridan he did not care to march the united German armies through Paris, but the troops wanted that glory. Not to give them that honor would risk mutiny. Bismarck wanted to install the daughter of Napoleon III on the French throne. He believed he could more easily manipulate her than a new French republic.
     I have seen few accounts of the Franco-Prussian War, so I was especially interested in Sheridan's. I gleaned from his account that cavalry made no difference for either side. The Prussians outmarched the French but did not outfight them. The Prussians did not win the war; the French lost it.
     The French moves evidenced poor strategic and tactical thinking. For example, the French marched 140,000 men into Metz, a fortress designed for 25,000. So what happened inside an overcrowded, besieged fortress? They got in each other's way, sanitation failed, and food was exhausted sooner. To Marshal Bazaine's credit, he held out for two months, a month more than expected.
     One thing I wonder about. The King and the Chancellor and many other government ministers were in the field with the army. So who was running the Prussian government during the war?
     Sheridan told Grant that, in military matters, the Americans had nothing to learn from the Europeans. I think he was right. The union army had demonstrated an ability to march and fight and keep supplied under conditions far worse than any the Europeans encountered. I have never found any evidence that Moltke studied American military science, but given the breadth of his knowledge I should be astonished to find that he did not.
     Sheridan's memoirs end here.

2.7. Links:  none

2.8. Buy the books:
Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan, General, United States Army - Volume 1
Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan, General, United States Army - Volume 2

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