Joseph "Fighting Joe" Wheeler
(Source: The Confederate Military History)
Lieutenant-General Joseph Wheeler, soldier and statesman, beloved by his soldiers, and claimed with pride by the two great States of his birth and adoption, was characterized by President Davis as "one of the ablest, bravest and most skillful of cavalry commanders," an opinion fully concurred in by the great military leaders of the South, and since confirmed by the verdict of critical history. He was born at Augusta, Ga., September 10, 1836, and was graduated at the United States military academy in 1859, with promotion to second-lieutenant of dragoons. At first assigned to duty at the Carlisle cavalry school, he was thence transferred to New Mexico. February 21, 1861, he resigned his Federal commission, and reaching Augusta in March, he was appointed first-lieutenant, corps of artillery, C. S. A. In this service he was stationed at Pensacola, and in September was promoted to colonel of the Nineteenth Alabama infantry regiment, and to brigadier-general of cavalry in July, 1862. In the cavalry service, he won promotion to the rank of major-general and corps command early in 1863; on May 11, 1864, at the age of twenty-seven years, he was the senior cavalry general of the Confederate States; was promoted lieutenant-general, February 28, 1865; and for his services received the thanks of Congress.
From early in 1862 until the war closed he was almost constantly engaged in battle. He was wounded three times. Thirty-six of his staff officers fell by his side, six killed and thirty wounded, and sixteen horses were shot under him. Going into the battle of Shiloh in command of his regiment, he led his brigade in the vigorous attack which resulted in the capture of General Prentiss and over 2,000 men. Wheeler, taking the prisoners in charge, was highly complimented by General Bragg, and ordered to convey the captured division to the rear. But desiring to continue in the fight, he detailed Colonel Shorter for this duty, and with the balance of the brigade remained at the front, winning praise in the official reports of his superior officers. This first great battle in the West, one of the bloodiest of the war, was a severe test of the mettle of officers and men, and it is to be noted as a premonition of Wheeler's future career, that at the close of the first day he was in command at the front of the greater part of his division, under the general orders of the gallant Withers. Of his work on the second day, amid disorganization, a glimpse is given in the report of General Chalmers: "Colonel Wheeler, of the Nineteenth Alabama, was, with a small remnant of his regiment, fighting with the Mississippians, on foot himself, and bearing the colors of his command," in the last charge against the enemy. Subsequently he commanded the rear guard in the retreat to Corinth, during the siege of which he was distinguished in a fight on the Monterey road, in command of two brigades of Withers' division. After guarding the rear in the retreat to Tupelo, he was sent on a raid in West Tennessee in command of a cavalry brigade, as preliminary to the advance into Kentucky. His battles during Bragg's Kentucky campaign; his resistance to Buell's advance upon Munfordville, which enabled Bragg to capture the fort and garrison with over 4,000 prisoners; his skillful fighting and gallant charges at Perryville, driving the enemy and capturing a battery, won for him at once an enduring reputation as a cavalry leader. On July 13th Bragg appointed this young colonel chief of cavalry of the army of Mississippi, with authority to give orders in the name of the commanding general, and the duty of covering the rear of the army and holding the enemy in cheek. During the retreat he fought his men in mounted charge, dismounted behind stone fences or rail breastworks, displaying wonderful fertility of resource, and as the result of his efforts, instead of the disaster which seemed inevitable, the army reached Middle Tennessee without losing any of its immense and slow moving trains. From August 27th to October 22d his cavalry was in almost daily fighting. After this "Wheeler's cavalry" were household words, and "Little Joe" Wheeler, as his men affectionately called him, was the pride of the Central South. At Murfreesboro, a briga-dier-general in division command of all the Confederate cavalry brigades, he made a raid around the Federal army, and, in the fierce attack upon Rosecrans' left, led his men in a resistless charge over cavalry, infantry and artillery. Two weeks later, he made another raid in the enemy's rear, capturing four large transports and four hundred prisoners on the Cumberland river, and also capturing and destroying a gunboat which pursued him. General Bragg immediately asked "his promotion as a just reward to distinguished merit," and the rank of major-general was conferred. He ably covered Bragg's retreat to Chattanooga, and after distinguished service in command of the cavalry at Chickamauga, and the cooping-up of Rosecrans at Chattanooga, he arranged with Bragg for operations against the enemy's communications with Bridgeport. Burnside's army was on the south side of the Tennessee and Crook's division of cavalry at the only fordable point. Even Forrest thought the conditions too hazardous for the contemplated movement, but Wheeler contended that a bold dash would win. With appointment to chief command of the cavalry of the army of Tennessee Wheeler was ordered upon the · raid to the rear of Rosecrans, which his genius made one of the most brilliant on record. Starting with rear and flanks harassed by Burnside's cavalry, Wheeler with 3,780 men boldly forded the wide and deep river in the face of General Crook, a gallant enemy, defeated him, gained the Federal rear, brushed aside two brigades which guarded the immense trains, destroyed 1,200 loaded wagons, killed 4,000 mules, and burned and blew up three hundred ammunition wagons, while fighting both in rear and front with the Federal cavalry. Slipping off at night, he crossed Walden Ridge, and captured the fortified town of McMinnville, with 600 prisoners and the stores of the Federal left wing, which he destroyed together with several railroad trains and a wagon train, still in constant fight with his pursuers. Not yet content, on the next day he captured the forts at Stone's river, destroyed bridges and railroads for many miles, captured Shelbyville and Columbia, and then, closely followed by a Federal force of 7,500 reached the Tennessee at Mussel Shoals. To gain time to cross he led in person a fierce charge upon the enemy, and successful in this, was the last man to cross the river, under the terrific fire of the Federal advance. In conveying his thanks for this brilliant service General Bragg authorized Wheeler to designate officers for promotion, two to major-general and four to brigadier-general. The appointments he recommended were made by telegraph, and among them was that of General, now Senator Morgan, of Alabama. Subsequently General Wheeler with his cavalry led the advance of Longstreet against Knoxville, defeating Burnside's cavalry, and capturing trains, batteries and nearly a thousand prisoners, and then being recalled to Bragg's assistance, gallantly defended the rear of the Confederate army on November 26th, and cooperating with General Cleburne on the next day at Ringgold Gap, put a final check to Grant's pursuit. During 1864, throughout the operations of J. E. Johnston and Hood, he performed the duties of a lieutenant general, in command of the cavalry corps of the army of Tennessee, and was distinguished for activity and skill. Every effort of Sherman's great army to turn the Confederate flank was met and successfully baffled by Wheeler, and every change of position was made without loss under his watchful protection. Late in July, with a force of less than 5,000, he defeated 9,000 Federal cavalry under Generals Stoneman, McCook and Garrard, capturing their batteries and trains and 3,200 prisoners, including one major-general and five brigade commanders. Sherman's cavalry having been crippled, General Wheeler proceeded to attack his lines of communication, recapturing Dalton and Resaca, destroying railroad bridges, diverting to Hood the Federal supplies and capturing many prisoners, while to his rear a hundred thousand Federals formed a line of fire about the doomed city of Atlanta. In October he co-operated with Hood in the advance against Sherman's communications, and after Hood had entered Tennessee Wheeler put his little cavalry command before Sherman's 65,000 en route through Georgia. He successfully defended Macon and Augusta, and before Savannah held open the only avenue of escape for Hardee's army. As has been written by President Davis, "The report of his operations from November 14th to December 20th displays a dash, activity, vigilance and consummate skill, which justly entitle him to a prominent place on the roll of great cavalry leaders. By his indomitable energy, operating on all sides of Sherman's columns, he was enabled to keep the government and commanders of our troops advised of the enemy's movements, and by preventing foraging parties from leaving the main body, he saved from spoliation all but a narrow tract of country, and from the torch millions worth of property which would otherwise have been certainly destroyed." In 1865 he stubbornly contested Sherman's advance through the Carolinas, receiving the thanks of the State of South Carolina; on March 10th, inflicted severe punishment upon Kilpatrick's command; fought with Hardee at Averysboro, and at Bentonville, under Lieut.Gen. Wade Hampton, after a desperate struggle drove back Sherman's right wing which had seized Johnston's only line of retreat. He fought his last fight April 15th, and the 29th, after the surrender, issued his farewell address to the cavalry, summarizing their career and his own in the eloquent words: "You are the sole victors of more than two hundred severely contested fields; you have participated in more than a thousand conflicts of arms; you are heroes, veterans, patriots; the bones of your comrades mark the battlefields upon the soil of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi; you have done all that human exertion could accomplish." During three years following the war General Wheeler was in the commission business at New Orleans, leaving there in 1869 for his plantation in Lawrence county, Alabama, where he entered the practice of law, declining, in 1866, the professorship of philosophy in the Louisiana State seminary. In 1880 he was elected the representative of his district to Congress, and has ever since been regularly re-elected by his people. In Congress he has become one of the most distinguished members. Notable among his speeches in that body have been his defense of Fitz John Porter, his reply to Mr. Hepburn, of Iowa, and his arguments upon the force bill and the tariff. His whole career since the war, marked by an unfaltering allegiance to his comrades, has continued to endear him in the hearts of all survivors of the Confederate armies.
When the United States found it necessary to call a volunteer army into the field for the war with Spain, General Wheeler was commissioned major-general. In command of the cavalry division of the army under General Shafter he went to Santiago, Cuba, and was in command of the center of the line of the United States forces in the battle of July 1, 1898, when the dismounted cavalry carried the heights of San Juan. Though already attacked with fever, he went to the front, shared the dangers of his men, and by his personal heroism and wisdom in council won the admiration and love of the united nation.
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