January 29, 1865: D.H. Hill complains “There is something terribly wrong in our cavalry organization”

Major-General Daniel Harvey Hill was well known for his acerbic personality.  In the winter of 1865, Hill commanded the Confederate force defending Augusta, Georgia.  Hill could not keep idle in the face of a perceived problem.  On January 29, 1865, the problem Hill perceived was the performance of the cavalry.  That morning he sent a message to Brigadier-General Alfred Iverson, complaining about withdrawals in the face of Federal advances:

Your communication of yesterday, hour not named, has just been received. Please name the hour in all dispatches. Your precipitate retirement under the belief of your being pressed by overwhelming numbers has led to much embarrassment. No ground ought to have been lost without being disputed, as delay is everything to us. Major-General Smith has gone down to Brier Creek and has been ordered to assume command until I go to the front. Veteran troops will soon be in position on that line and then you must be thrown across the creek on our right flank. You must now guard the telegraph line by Millen; it is the only communication with the west and south. You must keep scouts on the river to watch it. The flag of truce was a mere Yankee trick. I have always forbidden its reception unless coming from the commanding general. The Yankees wished to find out who was in command. The engineers with negro force have been sent to the lower crossings. The fortifications must be according to their views.

The flag of truce mentioned was likely the same mentioned by Lieutenant-Commander Stephen Luce with his gunboat on the Savannah River at Sister’s Ferry.

Not content with “schooling” Iverson, Hill went one rung up the chain to Iverson’s boss – Major-General Joseph Wheeler:

I heard last night from General Iverson. He wrote from Brannon’s Bridge on Brier Creek. He had come back at a single bound from below Springfield to Brier Creek. How is the enemy to be delayed by such operations? How are we to get information of his movements? I have known nothing in the war so remarkable as this movement. Surely it is the duty of the cavalry to delay and harass the enemy, and if this be not done the most serious disasters may and, in fact, must occur.

And that was not enough, in Hill’s view, to resolve the matter.  The theater commander needed to know of these infractions.  So a letter went to Lieutenant-General William Hardee in Charleston, which also mentioned other “needs” and progress on other matters:

General Iverson wrote on Thursday that he was about to withdraw from below Springfield, that the Fourteenth Corps was before him. On Friday morning he wrote from Buck Creek, some thirty or forty miles in his rear. On Friday he continued his retreat and crossed Brier Creek. I have never known anything like it in my life. It has caused me great annoyance and embarrassment. The information from Iverson is absolutely nothing. I don’t know whether there is any serious advance or not. It would be fatal to neglect these sensational reports and yet very vexatious to be deceived by them. There is something terribly wrong in our cavalry organization. They never think of delaying the Yankees by fighting them. The simple business is to get out of their way. Eighteen hundred men of Lee’s corps are looked for to-day. Have been delayed three days at Mayfield waiting for transportation. There is the greatest inefficiency or basest treachery in our railroad department. General Beauregard orders me to send you 3,000 men upon your requisition, if there be no advance upon Augusta. I think that the movement will be upon both sides of the river and that their supplies will come by river. I need an ordnance officer very much.

Get the impression nothing in Hill’s eyesight was running very well?

Hill’s complaints about the cavalry, in general, throughout the war are well known.  But his chief complaint about Iverson’s was the lack of aggressiveness and inability to inform as to the Federal intentions.

But while Hill may have had plenty of faults himself, one of those was not the ability to admit a mistake or oversight. On January 30, he tried to make amends with Iverson:

Your falling back so far did seem to me most extraordinary. You may have been justified by the nature of the country, but I still think that, under your instructions, you committed an error. It certainly has caused me no little annoyance and embarrassment. However, as I knew you personally, and did not know your command, I thought it must be due to the material with which you were dealing. In this I may have done them, as well as you, injustice. If so, I am sorry for it. But my experience with the cavalry in this war has not been favorable, and I have made no secret of my opinion. I hope to be on Brier Creek this week and to have an interview with you.

But while the interaction between Hill and Iverson is at one level humorous, it points to a larger issue within the Confederate forces arrayed against Sherman.  In order to confront the wide-ranging, fast marching forces, the Confederates needed well-lead, well-equipped, well-mounted cavalry forces.  Despite what you may have read recently about “shock troops” (er… someone really needs to look up what “shock troops” really means, BTW) employed to parry Sherman’s march, there simply was not a body of cavalry in South Carolina capable of performing the mission in width and breadth.  The problem Hill identified had multiple causes.  Not the least of which was the dwindling number of seasoned, veteran cavalrymen.  Even with the transfer of South Carolina troops to defend their home state, many of the troopers who’d established their reputation in Virginia were absent.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part II, Serial 99, pages 1056-7 and 1064.)


Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

6 thoughts on “January 29, 1865: D.H. Hill complains “There is something terribly wrong in our cavalry organization”

  1. Shock troops were those who were (like Terry’s Tx Rangers) used for stealth attacks. The Germans in WW1 used such troops to break through the lines ahead of any major assaults.

    1. And can you provide any examples where those “shock troops” were used in a “stealth attack” (a term not used at the time, BTW), in advance of a major assault?

  2. The Germans used simular tactics called Hutier Infiltration Tactics where the shock troops would break through the lines ahead of the advance and disrupt any counter moves and do as much damage as possible.

  3. There are those men, then and today, who lack the gene that supports a sense of personal shame. After GB, Iverson should have felt such deep embarrassment and shame that he would walk into the woods alone, and never again be seen. Yet here he is “commanding” Confederate cavalry.

    no shame..

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