Joseph Wheeler (1836-1900)

Joseph Wheeler was born near Augusta, Georgia, on September 10, 1836, the youngest of four children (two boys and two girls) of Joseph and Julia Wheeler. He was christened in St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Augusta.

After the death of his mother, Julia, in 1842 he was raised by aunts in Connecticut and New York.

Wheeler entered the U. S. Military Academy at West Point at age 17. Robert E. Lee was Superintendent of West Point at that time. He graduated from a five year program at West Point in June 1858. Ironically his lowest grades were in cavalry tactics. He was breveted a 2nd Lieutenant and assigned to Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania for cavalry training. He was promoted to the full rank of 2nd. Lt. In two months.

In September 1859 Wheeler was assigned to a regiment of mounted rifles at Fort Craig, New Mexico. There he gained experience in the tactics of mounted infantry, traveling light and ranging far.

In June 1860, Wheeler was assigned to escort duty for a wagon train traveling from Hannibal, Missouri, to Fort Craig, New Mexico. Wheeler was left behind the main wagon train to escort an ambulance carrying a mother and her new baby attended by a surgeon and a wagon driver. When the ambulance was attacked by a small band of marauding Indians, Wheeler shot down one with his musket and charged them on horseback, blazing away at them with his Colt pistol, succeeding in putting the Indians to flight. From this event he received the nickname, "Fightin' Joe," which stuck with him the rest of his life.

On January 9, 1861, Georgia seceded from the Union. Like most of the officers of his mounted cavalry regiment, Wheeler sympathized with the South. He resigned his commission in the U. S. Army and headed to his family in Augusta, hoping to receive a commission with the Georgia regiments that were forming. On February 23, 1861, with the help of his brother William, he received a commission as a First Lt. in the Georgia Forces. His initial duty in Pensacola, Florida, as an artillery officer brought him the favorable attention of Confederate General Braxton Bragg and Confederate politician and General Leroy Pope Walker.

In September 1861 Leroy Pope Walker succeeded in getting 1st Lt. Wheeler promoted to full Colonel, a rather controversial jump of four ranks and on September 4 Col. Wheeler was made commander of the 19th Alabama Infantry Regiment.

Col. Wheeler and the 19th Alabama distinguished themselves at the Battle of Shiloh (April 6-7, 1862). Wheeler distinguished himself in conducting rear guard operations as the Army of Mississippi retreated from Shiloh to Corinth, and then to Tupelo. His command was expanded to include not only the 19th Alabama, but also the 25th and 26th Alabama, and the 4th Mississippi. (April to August 1862)

On August 28, 1862, Col. Wheeler was given three cavalry regiments and assigned to the command of General William J. "Old Reliable" Hardee in the Army of Mississippi. In September 1862 he distinguished himself as a cavalry leader in raids into Tennessee and Kentucky. Wheeler's cavalry destroyed Union General Buell's railroad and telegraph lines North of Nashville He also distinguished himself as very effective in routine cavalry functions such as covering the front and flanks of an army from surprise, intelligence gathering, and delaying actions against enemy advances. Wheeler was given part of N. B. Forrest's cavalry during this time.

In October 1862 Wheeler developed tree-felling tactics in delaying Union Army advances gaining his men the nickname of "the Lumberjack Cavalry." He also further developed the use of mounted infantry and was the first to use it extensively.

October 6, 1862, At Perryville, Kentucky, on October 6, 1862, Wheeler commanded a cavalry brigade under General Hardee.

Wheeler was appointed Chief of Cavalry for the Army of Mississippi on October 13, 1862, and was promoted to Brigadier General, CSA, at the age of 26, on October 30.

Brigadier General Wheeler received orders to take charge of all cavalry under General Joseph E. Johnston including the forces of the famous Nathan Bedford Forrest and John Hunt Morgan (November 14, 1862). From December 1862 to January 1863, Wheeler's cavalry wreaked havoc with Union General Rosecrans' supply train in Tennessee, burning over 450 Union supply wagons and capturing over 2400 Union prisoners. This left Rosecrans' forces temporarily ineffective.

In February 1863 Wheeler's forces burned bridges and captured and destroyed a union gunboat and four transports on the Cumberland River in Tennessee, gaining the additional nickname, "the Horse Marines."

Wheeler earned his second star on May 1, 1863, promoted to the rank of Major General, CSA by the Confederate Congress on the recommendation of General Braxton Bragg.

In May 1863 Major General Wheeler published a manual entitled, Cavalry Tactics, which proved very valuable in systematizing Bragg's cavalry. It was also adopted by General Johnston's Army of Tennessee. The manual advocated mounted infantry over heavy cavalry.

On June 27, 1863, Wheeler experienced a near disaster trying to rescue Forrest from being cut-off by Union forces at Duck River, near Shelbyville, Tennessee. Wheeler personally led a small cavalry charge against Union forces to drive them back across the bridge at Duck River, then had to plunge on horseback 15 feet down into a sweeping current while under fire to escape.

From June to July 1863, Wheeler permitted John Hunt Morgan to take 2000 men to raid Union forces at Louisville, Kentucky and disrupt their supply, transportation, and communication systems. Morgan, however, went further than his orders. The daring and flamboyant Morgan took his famous raiders across the Ohio River and raided across Indiana and Ohio. This threw the Union forces and state governments of Indiana and Ohio into panic and perhaps diverted Union strength from opposing Lee's advance into Pennsylvania, but resulted in Morgan and most of his men being captured when they could not escape across the Ohio into West Virginia because heavy rains upstream made the Ohio unfordable at their planned exit point, Buffington Bar.

At Chickamauga (September 19-21, 1863) Wheeler's cavalry protected Bragg's flanks and harassed Union General Rosecrans' forces withdrawing to Chattanooga.

On October 3, 1863, Wheeler's Cavalry destroyed at least 500 (Union estimate) of Rosecrans' supply wagons. Some estimate the number of union supply wagons destroyed to be as high as 1800, leaving a smoking corridor of destruction.

On October 9, 1863, Major General Wheeler encamped near Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and at nearby Courtland met and courted his future wife, the recently widowed, Mrs. Daniella Jones Sherrod, the daughter of Col. Richard Jones.

In November 1863, Wheeler assisted Longstreet at Kingston and Knoxville. Wheeler's cavalry repulsed the forces of Union General Hooker near Ringold, Georgia, on November 26, 1863.

On December 2, 1863, General Hardee temporarily replaced Bragg as Commander of the Army of Tennessee. On December 27, 1863, General Joseph E. Johnston assumed command of the Army of Tennessee and retained Wheeler as his Cavalry Commander supporting Hood's and Hardee's Corps. On February 22, 1864, Wheeler turned back federal forces at Tunnell Hill near Dalton, Georgia, delaying the Union assault on Atlanta until May. In May 1864 Wheeler again broke the federal movement into North Georgia and slowed Union General Sherman's movement toward Atlanta.

With the death of Lee's Cavalry Commander, Lt. General J. E. B. Stuart on May 12 in Virginia, Wheeler became the highest ranking cavalry officer in the Confederate Army.

On May 24, 1864, Wheeler's cavalry captured 80 Union supply wagons and captured 100 prisoners near Cassville, Georgia, receiving the personal congratulations of General Johnston.

On July 17, 1864, John B. Hood replaced Joseph E. Johnston as Commander of the Army of Tennessee. On July 29-30, 1864, Wheeler routed Sherman's Cavalry, mauling and defeating McCook at Newnan, routing and capturing Stoneman at Macon, and forcing back Garrard. For the Union this was the most disastrous cavalry defeat of the War. In all the Confederates took 3200 prisoners including Maj. General Stoneman and five Brigadier Generals in addition to numerous supply wagons and artillery batteries.

From August 10 to September 2, 1864, General Hood ordered Wheeler to raid into middle Tennessee with 2000 men, but he returned demoralized with less than one thousand and perhaps only 500 of them combat effective. Meanwhile the absence of effective cavalry at Atlanta left Hood unable to gather intelligence effectively.

From August 30 to September 1, 1864, Hardee's Corp with portions of Stephen D. Lee's Corps and units of Wheeler's Cavalry, attempted to parry a death blow to the strategic city of Atlanta, defended the remaining railroad connection to that city against overwhelming odds. On September 2, 1864, General Hood was forced to evacuate Atlanta.

On October 4, 1864, Wheeler's men felled trees near Dalton, Georgia, and used them as rafts to destroy the Chattahooche bridge at Resaca, Georgia. In October and November 1864, Wheeler's cavalry continually harassed Sherman as he marched through Georgia. Sherman, however, succeeded in leaving a wide path of path of destruction, burning towns, homes, farms, and crops, devastating the Georgia economy. On November 26, 1864, Wheeler nearly captured infamous Union cavalry general and West Point classmate, Judson "Killcavalry" Kilpatrick, at Waynesboro, Georgia much to the latter's embarrassment.

In December 1864, Wheeler came under criticism of Confederate Generals D. H. Hill and P. T. G. Beauregard, which came to the attention of President Davis. Against Wheeler's specific orders, as his cavalry, as always traveling very light, foraged for food and supplies, some stole chickens, livestock, and food and made similar depredations on an already hard pressed civilian population. General Hardee, however, came to Wheeler's defense. Most charges were proven false.

On January 28, 1865, responding to complaints that Wheeler's forces were out of control, General Beauregard's Inspector General found Wheeler's Corps lacking in discipline, organization, and leadership, but noted that the same conditions also prevailed in the commands of Forrest and Hampton. No charges were brought against Wheeler, but a recommendation was made that Wade Hampton take over his command. Beauregard stated that while Wheeler was a modest, gallant, zealous, and indefatigable officer, he was unable to control such a large cavalry force. Of course, Wheeler was only 28 years-old.

On February 11, 1865, Wheeler succeeded in driving back the cavalry forces of his frequent rival, Union General Kilpatrick, at Aiken, South Carolina.

On February 17, 1865, Wheeler was put under the command of General Wade Hampton. This reduced Wheeler's responsibility by half, but he continued to serve faithfully without bitterness or complaint. In February 1865, Wheeler's cavalry units continued to dog and harass Sherman's marauding forces as they destroyed and burned their way through South Carolina.

On February 28, 1865, the Confederate Congress awarded Wheeler his third star, promoting him to the rank of Lieutenant General.

On March 9, 1865, Lt. General Wheeler again forced Union rival Kilpatrick to flee in the night, this time in his night clothes.

On April 26, 1865, following the surrender of Lee at Appamattox, Virginia, on April 9, Johnston, again in command of the Army of Tennessee, was forced to surrender at Bentonville, near Durham, North Carolina. Wheeler issued a farewell message to his cavalry command and departed to assist President Davis, who had been forced to flee to Georgia.

During May 1865, Joe Wheeler in the company of President Davis, Vice President Alexander H. Stephens, and other Confederate Cabinet members, assisted with the care of the President's infant daughter, Winnie. On May 10, 1865, President Davis was captured at Irwinsville, Georgia. About May 13, 1865, Lt. General Joseph Wheeler was himself captured near Athens, Georgia.

From May to June 8, 1865, Wheeler was a Prisoner of War at Fort Delaware. On release from Fort Delaware, Wheeler returned to his home in Augusta, and then proceeded to Courtland, Alabama, and proposed marriage to Daniella Jones Sherrod.

From July 1865 to February 1866, Wheeler entered the carriage business in New Orleans. On February 8, 1866, Wheeler married Daniella Jones Sherrod at Courtland, Alabama.

From February 1866 to 1870, Wheeler became a partner in the carriage business in New Orleans.

The Wheelers later moved to Lawrence County, Alabama and Joseph became a planter and later a lawyer. He successfully invested in railroad stock. (1870 to 1880)

In November 1880 Wheeler was elected to the U. S House of Representatives as a Democrat in one of the most hotly contested and controversial elections in Alabama history, defeating incumbent Col. William M. Lowe. The election results were contested. Wheeler had served 10 of the 11 months that Congress was in session for that term, when Congress finally ruled that Lowe was the winner of the 1880 election. Lowe, however, died in October of 1882. Wheeler was re-elected to Congress and continued to increase his vote margins in each election thereafter.

In 1882 Wheeler defended former Union General Fitz John Porter before the U.S. House against accusations made by Union General John Pope, trying to make Porter the scapegoat for losing the 2nd Battle of Manassas. Porter was acquitted and commended by Congress.

From 1882 to 1898, Wheeler distinguished himself in Congress as a forward thinking scholar, energetic defender of constitutional liberties, and when necessary a fiery crusader for justice and fairness. He became an outspoken opponent of Spanish misrule in Cuba and an advocate for Cuban independence.

On April 26, 1898, following the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, Wheeler petitioned President McKinley to serve in the U. S. Army to liberate Cuba. McKinley, a Republican, appointed Wheeler as a Major General of Volunteers in the U. S. Army. On June 14, 1898, Wheeler sailed for Cuba with his dismounted cavalry including the "Rough Riders" under Theodore Roosevelt. On June 24, 1898, Wheeler's dismounted cavalry effected a minor victory over the Spanish at Guasimas that opened up the route to the principal Spanish defenses at Santiago. On July 1-2, 1898, Wheeler's dismounted men were at the center of the attack on San Juan Hill. Although racked with fever, on the second day he was able to direct and encourage his men, who took the heights of San Juan Hill.

After assisting in negotiating a peace treaty with the Spanish forces in Cuba, he returned to the United States in July 1898 a hero and symbol of a reunited nation.

His fellow Democrats in Congress were, however, not happy with his foreign policy views and alignments with the Republicans. Pointing to a constitutional provision that prohibited serving in Congress while holding a federal office, they tried in early 1899 to remove him; however, the attempt was voted down by a comfortable majority.

Major General Wheeler, still a Congressman, arrived for duty in the Philippines reporting to General Arthur McArthur, where he served from June 20, 1899 to January 15, 1900.

On June 16, 1900, President McKinley appointed Wheeler a Brigadier General in the Regular Army and assigned him to Chicago to command the Department of the Great Lakes. He retired in the fall of 1900.

During the last five years of his life Joseph Wheeler was involved in many speaking tours and civic projects.

On June 16, 1900, Joseph Wheeler, famed Confederate cavalry leader, highly respected Congressman, and hero of the Spanish-American War died while on a visit to his sister in Brooklyn, New York. The whole nation, North and South, mourned his passing. He is one of the few Confederate officers buried at Arlington Cemetery in Virginia.