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Volume 30, No. 1 – January 2017

The President’s Message:

January 11, 2017 Program:

Joseph Rose will be our speaker for the January meeting.  His topic is: Grant Under Fire: An Exposé of Generalship & Character in the American Civil War.  Was Ulysses S. Grant a brilliant and unparalleled general who won the American Civil War, a magnanimous and incorruptible man, and an honest and accurate chronicler of history? Or was he remarkably untruthful, careless, persistent, indolent, aggressive, unjust, biased, impetuous, and lucky?

A stringent and detailed examination of Grant’s generalship and character in the war has long been necessary. Standard histories and biographies, founded on a lengthy succession of biased and erroneous writings, have much of it wrong. Many of these inaccuracies originated with the General himself, in his official reports, in his Personal Memoirs, and in his other writings. While Grant possessed many positive attributes and achieved valuable objectives, his reputation as a military mastermind with a virtuous character is hopelessly exaggerated. Grant Under Fire: An Exposé of Generalship & Character in the American Civil War, thoroughly establishes this.


December 14, 2016 Program:

MacomberWe had the honor, once again, to have as our speaker for the Holiday Dinner Party, renown author and historian Robert N. Macomber.  His topic, designed specially for our group was titled Confederate Generals in Union Blue — 33 Years Later!  Four former Confederate generals volunteered for service in the Spanish-American War and were chosen by President William McKinley, himself a combat veteran of the War Between the States.  They were Thomas Rosser, Matthew Butler, Fitzhugh Lee, and Joe Wheeler.  The presentation was about the two most famous, Lee and Wheeler, both of whom became major generals in the US Army thirty-three years after they’d fought to defeat it.


Fitzhugh “Fitz” Lee was the grandson of "Light Horse Harry" Lee of Revolutionary War fame, a nephew of Robert E. Lee. His father, Sydney Smith Lee, was a US naval officer who served under Commodore Perry in Japanese waters and rose to the rank of Captain; then joined the CSN for the Civil War. Fitz Lee

Fitz Lee graduated from the USMA in 1856 and served as a cavalryman out west, at one point in a regiment under his uncle Robert.  He joined the CSA, fought with the Army of Northern Virginia, and rose in the cavalry ranks to Major General; widely regarded as one of the CSA’s best cavalrymen.  He surrendered with the army at Appomattox, after leading the last Confederate cavalry charge of the war. 

After the war, Fitz Lee was, like his uncle, a voice for reconciliation.  He became governor of Virginia in 1886, a friend of President Grover Cleveland in the 1880s, and became influential in the Democratic Party. During Cleveland’s second term, Fitz was appointed US Consul-General in April 1896, during the bloody Cuban revolution for independence from Spain; a very hot diplomatic post.

WheelerAlthough of New England ancestry, Joseph Wheeler was born near Augusta, Georgia and spent most of his early life growing up with relatives in Connecticut.  He was the grandson of Brigadier General William Hull, a veteran of the American Revolution who was court-martialed for surrendering at Detroit early in the War of 1812.

Despite his northern upbringing, Wheeler was appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point from the state of Georgia.  He always considered himself a Georgian and Southerner.  He graduated from the USMA in 1859 (19th out of 22 cadets).  He was posted in the cavalry in New Mexico fighting Indians, where he got the nickname “Fighting Joe.”

He joined the CSA and first served under Bragg at the siege of Pensacola, then fought in the Western Theater for the rest of the war.  He was wounded three times and had 16 horses shot out from under him.  He was captured in Georgia while trying to protect Jefferson Davis escape.

After the war, Wheeler was a gentleman farmer and lawyer in northern Alabama.  He won a congressional seat in 1882, which he held until 1900.  He became very influential in Democrat politics in the 1880s and 1890s.  He also was a voice for reconciliation.

USS MaineAs a veteran of Antietam, President McKinley knew the horrors of combat, and tried to dampen the shouts for war both before and after USS Maine was destroyed.  But, two months after that terrible explosion in which 266 American sailors died, Congress voted for war.  McKinley plunged into his work as commander-in-chief with a will.  One of his primary goals was to unite the country around the war effort, using this new conflict to bring the South back into the national fold.  Two of the four former Confederate generals who had volunteered McKinley knew personally, his consul-general in Havana Fitz Lee, and the well-known congressman Joe Wheeler.  Not only were they Southerners, but they were Democrats.

Volunteer Major General Fitz Lee was given command of the Seventh Corps, a primarily state volunteer formation of three divisions staging at Jacksonville, Florida.  This force was preparing for the impending invasion of western Cuba and Havana.  It was expected to be a bloody fight, since most of the Spanish defenses were in that area.  Lee did admirable work in gathering, training, and equipping his 30,000 men, in spite of the fact the US Army was woefully unprepared for the war.  The Army went from 27,500 regular peacetime soldiers to 275,000 mostly volunteers in the space of five months; the logistics couldn’t keep up.

Volunteer Major General Joe Wheeler was assigned to command the cavalry division of the FifthShafter Corps, which was assembling at Tampa, Florida.  Most of this three-division corps was composed of regulars, with several volunteer regiments, most notable of which were the Rough Riders of Colonel Leonard Wood and Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt.  The 30,000 men in the Fifth Corps were under the command of Major General William Rufus Shafter, with Wheeler as his second-in-command.  Shafter was not a successful administrator or combat commander, but he had excellent division and brigade commanders who did their best.  The staging area at Tampa was complete chaos, with many of the newly arriving volunteer troops unfamiliar with their weapons, and some without any weapons or any other equipage.

Fifth Corps was assigned to invade eastern Cuba, capture Santiago, and assist the US Navy in the destruction of the Spanish fleet there anchored.  The invasion was a completely befuddled affair, saved from disaster by the Cuban Army, which drove off the Spanish defenders to allow the Americans to land without fighting.

Shortly thereafter, Shafter learned the Spanish and miserable logistics weren’t his only big problems.  Wheeler attacked on his own, against orders, and got the cavalry (who were without horses, another supply mess—only senior officers had mounts) into a sharp fight at Las Guasimas.  This is where American blood was first drawn by the enemy (Puerto Rican militia sent to Cuba) and it quickly got out of hand.  Finally, by force of willpower, the regular cavalrymen (most were black) overcame the defenses, whereupon Wheeler, full of excitement, forgot what war he was in and yelled to go get ‘em boys, we got them Yankees on the run!

Wheeler was a critical part of the ensuing battles, leading from the front lines in spite of being feverish, and pushing the troops forward.  In the end, he garnered the respect of the various troops, both black and white, and especially of the officers, including Roosevelt.

When the troops were finally pulled out of Cuba after the Spanish surrender, having lost far more men from tropical diseases than from enemy bullets, the corps was quarantined at Camp Wikoff on Long Island, NY, where Wheeler was put in command.

Fortunately, Fitz Lee’s Seventh Corps was never called upon to invade western Cuba, but elements of it did go on occupation duty there, and Lee himself became governor of Havana and the western end of the island.  After the Spanish-American War Fitz Lee stayed in the army.  He was named governor of Havana and western Cuba in 1899, then commanding the Department of Missouri 1900, and finally retiring in 1901.  He wrote two books about the Civil War and one about the Spanish-American War

Joe Wheeler was sent to the Philippines and commanded a brigade there in the nasty jungle war against the Filipino insurrectionists.  After serving in combat for a year, he rotated home and commanded the Department of the Lakes in the mid-West.  He retired in 1901 and moved to New York City.

Shafter retired in 1901 and moved to a 60 acres farm in Bakersfield, California.  He died there in 1906 at age 71 and is buried at San Francisco National Cemetery.

Fitz Lee died in 1905, four years after his military retirement, at age 69.  He is buried at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.

After long illness, Wheeler died in Brooklyn, NY, in 1906, at the age of 69.  He is one of the few former Confederate officers to be buried within Arlington National Cemetery.

And finally, I want to share with you this great story about Joe Wheeler:

While attending the hundredth anniversary of the U.S. Military Academy in 1902, Wheeler approached the old West Point hotel, where his Confederate comrades James Longstreet and Edward Porter Alexander were seated on the porch.  Wheeler was wearing his dress uniform of a general in the US Army.

Longstreet reportedly said, "Joe, I hope that Almighty God takes me before he does you, for I want to be within the gates of hell to hear Jubal Early cuss you in the blue uniform." (Longstreet did in fact predecease Wheeler, dying in January 1904.)  And so now you know how two famous Confederate generals became famous US Army generals thirty-three years after the Civil War!


Last changed:  12/23/16

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