Wesley Merritt

Wesley Merritt

This is the second installment of the study of lesser General's in the Commander series at GB.

Merritt, Wesley (1834-1910) A graduate of West Point in 1860 placing 22nd in a class of 41. Wesley entered the Dragoons upon graduation;was promoted to revet 2d Lieutenant dated July 1, 1860. Served on frontier duty at Ft. Crittenden*, Utah, 1860-61. Promoted to 2d Lieut. 2d Dragoons Jan. 28, 1861 and First Lieut.of the 2d Dragoons on May 13, 1861. Asst. Adjutant-General of the Utah forces June 27 to Aug. 8, '61, and as Adjutant of the 2d U.S. Cavalry, July 1, 1861 to Jan. '62; in the defenses of Washington D.C., Oct. 1861 to Mar., '62; as Aide de Camp to Brig General Philip St. George Cooke commanding the Cavalry of the AoP, Feb.- Sept. 1862, at the headquarters of Washington. Promoted Captain of the 2d U.S. Cavalry April 5, 1862 remaining in the defenses of Washington,D.C., until April 1863. April-May '63 Merritt was appointed Adjutant to General Stoneman (ordnance officer) of the first Cavalry Corps participating in the raid towards Richmond.

Shortly after Chancellorsville Merritt was promoted to command of the 2d U.S. Cavalry, of the Reserve Brigade, commanded by Brig. General Jno. Buford. As General Stoneman was relieved of command there was another re-structuring of the Cavalry Corps to the Federal Cavalry Corps, with Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton commanding. On June 29,1863 weeks after Gen. Buford's transfer to command of the First Division, and Maj. Whiting's and Maj. Starr's successive relief and demotion, Merritt was promoted Brig. General of U.S. Vols. and given command of the Reserve Brigade to include the 1st, 2d, 5th, and 6th U.S. Cavalry (the 6th U.S. Cav. unit being the most recent addition to the Regulars) as well as the 6th PA Cav Vols. whom Gen. Buford had come to admire so steadfastly as to coin them his "seventh regular cavalry".

Thus Merritt had succeeded in gaining three ranks in promotion 'for gallant and meritorious service' surrounding the Brandy Station and Upperville portion of the PA Campaign. In my next post I have cited General Pleasonton's need and reasons for the promotion of Merritt as well as Brig Gen.'s Custer and Farnsworth (the boy Generals). On June 29, '63 for reasons of heavy losses endured through the initial skirmishes and battles leading into PA, Gen. Buford dispatched Merritt and the Reserve Brigade to Mechanicstown, MD with instructions to protect and keep safe the AoPs lines of communications and its lines of retreat. On July 3rd, The Reserve Brigade (minus the 6th U.S. Cavalry already detached to work at Fairfield) was called forward and attached to General Kilpatrick's command to aid in fulfilling General Pleasonton's Orders that General Kilpatrick use all available troopers to attack the enemies lines on the right and rear.[discussion of this fateful action is lengthy and will follow in tomorrow's post]. While the results of this action were not as planned Merritt and the Reserve Brigade performed capably [Wittenberg, see below]. Merritt's command is also credited with worthy duty in pursuit of the enemy to Warrenton, Va., as well as skirmishing at Williamsport, Boonsborough, Funkstown, Falling Waters, and Manassas Gap July 18th. Lt-Colonel Eben Swift, Eighth U.S. Cavalry later makes this assessment of Wesley, "Merritt at his high prime was the embodiment of force. He was one of those rare men whose faculties are sharpened and whose view is cleared on the battlefield" [Swift].

In the interests of brevity Merritt served in the Cavalry Corps. of the AoP for the remainder of the War, and was promoted Major General of Volunteers in April 1865, second in command to Gen. Sheridan in the Appomattox Campaign, and subsequently served as a Commissioner of the surrender at Appomattox. After the War Merritt served in various capacities such as Indian fighter, superintendent of West Point, he commanded the first Philippine Expedition of 1898 Sources:

__The Civil War Dictionary__, Mark M. Boatner III, 1991, pages 544-545.

__From Everglade to Canon with the Second Dragoons, 2d U.S. Cavalry, etc__,

Theo Rodenbough, 1836-1875, D Van Nostrand, page 465.

__Merritt's Regulars on South Cavalry Field: OH, What Could Have Been__, Eric J. Wittenberg, GB Mag No. 16, Morningside House Inc, pages 111-123.

__ "General Weslet Merritt." by Lt-Colonel Eben Swift, Eighth Cavalry, from the March 1911, Journal of the United States Cavalry Association. The Photographic History of the Civil War, Vol. II, The Decisive Battles-The Cavalry; Theo. F. Rodenbough, editor, The Blue and Grey Press, pp. 276-278.

part 1 of 3


part 2: 3 July Right and Rear Attack of Lee's line

part 3: ORs cites and reports filled

Esteemed member ENordfors@aol.com contributes:


Excerpt from General Pleasonton's Report, ORs, Vol 27., Part 1, page 913:

Headquarters Cavalry Corps,

Aldie, June 22, 1863:::10 a.m.

General:......... I desire to inform the general commanding that the losses my command has sustained in officers require me to ask for the promotion of good commanders. It is necessary to have a good commander for the regular brigade of cavalry, and I earnestly recommend Capt. Wesley Merritt to be made a brigadier-general for that purpose. He has all the qualifications for it, and has distinguished himself by his gallantry and daring. Give me good commanders and I will give you good results...........

A. Pleasonton,

Brigadier-General, Commanding

Esteemed member ENordfors@aol.com contributes:

Greeting One and All:

As the group has been subjected to accounts of Fairfield and the July 3rd action of Farnsworth and Merritt upon Lee's flank west of the Emmittsburg Road I have omitted any lengthy discussion to prevent sleep induction. As I sat here last night thinking of a fitting way to end the discussion of Merritt within the Series of Lesser Commander's at Gettysburg I was reminded of a passage I had read in J.H. Kidd's time honored __A Cavalryman with Custer__. Most fitting as a farewell to Wesley, whose longevity remains a hallmark to us all:

JH Kidd, __A Cavalryman With Custer__, pg. 150-151: "Wesley Merritt, whom I saw then for the first time, was one of the "youngsters" who received their stars in June, 1863. He was graduated from the West Point military academy in 1860, at the age of twenty-four, and made such rapid progress in rank and reputation that he was a brigadier at twenty-seven. As a cavalry commander he was trained by John Buford. The latter was rightly called, "Old Reliable," not because of his age, but for the reason that he rarely if ever failed to be in the right place at the right moment -- solid rather than showy, not spectacular but sure. His courage and ability were both conspicuous. He belonged to the school of officers of which Thomas, Meade, Sedgwick and Gregg were exemplars, rather than to that of which Kearney, Sheridan and Custer were preeminent types."Such also was Merritt, an apt pupil of an illustrious teacher, the lineal successor of Buford. He came by natural selection to be the commander of the First division, and at the last was chief of cavalry of the Army of the Potomac, the capable successor of Pleasonton and Sheridan, a position for which he was peculiarly fitted by nature, by acquirements, and by experience. Modesty which fitted him like a garment, charming manners, the demeanor of a gentleman, cool but fearless bearing in action, were his distinguishing characteristics."

Such was the opinion of one who was there.

Humbly submitted, Ed....

Esteemed member bobandjudy@juno.com contributes:

RefBranch js Sep 73


A Working Bibliography

Alberts, Don E. "General Wesley Merritt, Nineteenth Century Cavalryman." Thesis, University of New Mexico, 1975. E181M57A5. Published by Presidial Press, 1980. See E181M498A64.

Association of Graduates. Forty-Second Annual Reunion of the Association of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy...June 12th, 1911. Saginaw, Mi: Seemann and Peters, 1911. 196 p. U410K1.
Obituary, pp. 107-117.

Cooper, Jerry. "The Army and Civil Disorder: Federal Military Intervention in American Labor Disputes, 1877-1900." PhD dss, U of Wisconsin, 1971. 463 p. UZ423C65.
See pp. 202-212, Merritt's 1894 strike duty along the Northern Pacific. See also his report of 25 Aug 1894 in 1894 Sec War Report. Vol 1, pp. 117-130. See also Greenwood Press pub, 284 p., UZ423C66.

"Death of Major General Merritt." Army and Navy Journal (10 Dec 1910): p. 408. Per.

Kelly, James E. "A Portrait of General Merritt: Recalling a Notably Wide Range of Field Service and Important Army Commands." Recruiting News (Dec 1938): pp. 2, 3 and 18. Per.

Price, George F., comp. Across the Continent with the Fifth Cavalry. NY: Van Nostrand, 1883. 706 p. 303-5CAV-1883, UH. Merritt's service during Indian Wars covered. See also biog sketch, pp. 223-229.

U.S. Military Academy. Annual Reports of the Board of Visitors.... Wash, DC: GPO, 1882-1887. U41OE4A3. Incls Merritt's years as superintendent.

______. Official Register of the Officers and Cadets of the U.S. Military Academy, 1882-1887. U410H1A1. Incls Merritt's tenure as superintendent.

U.S. War Dept. Sec War Reports, 1860-1900. Wash, DC: GPO. UA24's. Cover Merritt's entire career, incl his reports for Depts of Missouri, Dakota and the East, and reports as Supt of US Mil Academy. His Philippine expedition report of 31 Aug 1898 is in Vol 1, Part 2, of 1898 Report, pp. 39-54.

______. Dept of Dakota. Annual Reports of Wesley Merritt.... St. Paul, MN, 1891-1895. UA27D13A21.

______. Dept of Missouri. Annual Reports of Major General Wesley Merritt.... Chicago, 1895-1897. UA24A7M6.

Warner, Ezra J. Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders. Baton Rouge: LA State UP, 1964. pp. 321-322. Ref.