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self in the last charge. During the retreat he was chosen to cover the rear and check pursuit. From Shiloh Beauregard led the Confederate forces to the fortified town of Corinth, in northern Mississippi, and here Wheeler found plenty of work to do, being in command in front of the town, where he was kept busy in fighting. The siege ended in an evacuation of the city under cover of night, Wheeler again covering the rear and having some sharp fighting with the Federal advance.
Until this period of the war Wheeler had an infantry command, and it was not until July, 1862, that he was given an opportunity to show his genius as a cavalry leader. He was now sent to West Tennessee with a cavalry brigade to mislead the enemy, while General Bragg, then in command, was moving his forces from Tupelo, Mississippi, to Chattanooga. Wheeler did his best to keep the Federal troops busy by sharp skirmishes and sudden attacks on outposts, through which he interrupted the communication between Bolivar and Jackson, Tennessee.
During the remainder of the summer Wheeler, Forrest, and Morgan made things lively in Tennessee and Kentucky, and when, in the late summer, Bragg began his famous expedition northward, Wheeler was his main reliance to disturb the enemy. Both armies headed in September for Louisville, Bragg's to capture that important city if possible, Buell's to save it from capture, and in all haste the soldiers in blue and grey streamed northward over the roads of the two States, each army seeking to outstrip the other in speed.
At Munfordville, in Kentucky, the two lines of march came together, and both armies strove eagerly to
reach this point first. Wheeler, sent with his cavalry brigade to delay Buell's march, rode to Bowling Green, threw himself across his path, and did everything he could to annoy and delay him, checking him to such an extent that Bragg was first at the junction, and captured the fort at Munfordville with its valuable armament and four thousand prisoners. Buell in the end succeeded in saving Louisville from capture, but his enemy was meanwhile raiding the State at will and gathering a rich harvest of spoil from the fields and towns.
The armies met in battle at Perryville on October 8, in which engagement Wheeler commanded the cavalry and showed his usual daring and alertness. He had the busiest time of his life during Bragg's subsequent retreat, in which, as chief of cavalry, he covered the rear, a service in which he had much earlier experience. During the thirteen days of the retreat, Wheeler, at the head of his active troopers, fought no less than twenty-six engagements, averaging two for each day, and enabled Bragg to withdraw his men and spoils in safety. For this useful service he was given the rank of brigadier-general.
He was no less alert in December, when Bragg lay intrenched at Murfreesboro, and Rosecrans, who had superseded Buell, was marching upon him from Nashville. The new Federal commander found he had a veritable hornet in Joe Wheeler, who swept around into the rear of his army, attacked troops and supply trains, and in the short interval of twenty-four hours captured four hundred wagons, took over a thousand prisoners, destroyed a million dollars' worth of property, and seized many fresh horses to mount his men. During the battle that followed he commanded the cavalry and showed such gallantry that the Congress at Richmond gave him a vote of thanks.
Wheeler was promoted major-general in January, 1863, and was engaged in numerous fights during the following months, his activity being something phenomenal. His first exploit was early in February, when, at the head of a cavalry division, with Forrest as one of his brigadiers, he made a vigorous effort to recapture Fort Donelson, which Grant had taken early in his career. The garrison was weak, and he might have been successful but for the aid to the fort of gunboats on the Cumberland. Wheeler's loss in this attempt was estimated at six hundred men. He lost others in later fights, but succeeded in causing great annoyance to the Federal forces. His greatest service to the Confederate cause, however, was during and after the battle of Chickamauga.
He commanded a corps of cavalry in that battle, and took part in what is considered the most desperate cavalry fight of the war, contributing his full share to the Federal defeat. After the battle and when Rosecrans was cooped up in Chattanooga, threatened by Bragg on the surrounding hills, Wheeler was sent north at the head of about four thousand mounted men to do what he could in the way of cutting off supplies from the beleaguered army.
Crossing the Tennessee on September 30, he rode north on a nine days' raid, in which he was opposed by strong forces under Crook, McCook and Mitchell, yet succeeded in making such havoc as to threaten Rosecrans and his men with starvation.
His first success was in the Sequatchie Valley, where he struck a supply train of nearly one thousand wagons on its way to Chattanooga and burned it before McCook, with two cavalry regiments, could come to its assistance. McCook reached the ground too late to save the train and fought with Wheeler until night, when the active raider slipped away over the mountains in the darkness and fell upon another supply train at McMinnville. This was captured, with six hundred men, and a large quantity of supplies was here destroyed.
As before, he was overtaken after the mischief was done, General Crook riding upon him with two thousand men. Wheeler had other business than to stand and fight, and rode briskly away towards Murfreesboro, his rear guard being overtaken by the second Kentucky cavalry under Colonel Long. Wheeler's men greatly outnumbered Long's, and they dismounted and fought till dark, when they sprang upon their horses and rode away at top speed, hoping to seize and hold Murfreesboro, a very important point in Rosecrans's line of communication.
Wheeler's plans here miscarried. Murfreesboro was too strong to be taken except by siege, and he had a relentless pursuer on his track in George Crook. So he was soon up and away again, turning southward, burning bridges, capturing trains, tearing up rails, and destroying stores as he went. At Farmington he was struck by Crook, who cut his force in two, capturing four guns and two hundred men, with other spoil, and driving him in confusion south.
Wheeler reached Pulaski that night, crossed the Tennessee with some loss, and made his way back to Bragg's head-quarters. He had lost about half his force, but his prisoners nearly equalled his losses, and he had destroyed National property of various kinds to the value of perhaps three million dollars. The destruction of supplies in this bold raid left the army at Chattanooga, now under General Thomas, in a very serious state, which was not removed until after Grant's arrival and Hooker's expedition to restore the broken lines.
In November Wheeler was despatched to the assistance of Longstreet, then besieging Burnside in Knoxville, but he was back again in time to aid in covering Bragg's retreat from Missionary Ridge and to take an active part in the battle of Ringgold.
We next hear of active service by Wheeler's cavalry in 1864, when Sherman had begun his march for Atlanta. In this long overland march, with its many battles and flank movements, Wheeler was almost incessantly occupied, fighting weekly or daily during June and July. In the end of July he defeated a raid under McCook and others, in which ten thousand men were engaged. Of these he captured more than three thousand. After taking part in the battles around Atlanta, he set out on August 9 on one of his accustomed raids into Tennessee, in which he cut Sherman's communications, captured seventeen hundred cattle, took many prisoners, and destroyed a vast quantity of supplies.
When Sherman began his memorable march to the sea Wheeler was almost alone in his front, doing the little damage he could to check his march. The most efficient service he rendered was in the successful defence of Macon and Augusta, with their valuable workshops and ordnance factories. He hung again on Sherman's front in his march through the Carolinas, and was in at the death of the last Southern army, fighting with his old courage at the battles of Averasboro and Bentonville and sharing in the surrender