By Arnold Blumberg “We have been badly used up,” a sergeant in the 5th New York Volunteer Cavalry Regiment complained in a letter to his wife on May 8, 1864, four days before J.E.B. Stuart's death. Another Union trooper, a member of the 6th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, echoed those sentiments about the just concluded operations in the Virginia Wilderness. The Federal cavalry, said the Buckeye, had been “used in such a bumbling manner” that it brought into question the leadership ability of Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan, the Army of the Potomac’s new cavalry commander, and at least partially explained why Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant had failed to decisively defeat Confederate General Robert E. Lee in their first encounter. The men’s complaints were valid. Sheridan’s debut as head of the mounted units during the fighting was far from what his superiors had expected of him. Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck, Union Army chief of staff, in March 1864 had suggested to Grant that Sheridan lead the Federal cavalry corps in the eastern theater. “The very man I want,” Grant replied. Sheridan had served under Grant and Halleck in the western theater of the war, and they had been duly impressed with Little Phil’s performance. But the early achievements of Sheridan in his new role were less than reassuring when measured against what an experienced cavalry commander might have accomplished under the same circumstances. Even before Sheridan’s shortcomings were revealed on


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