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Joseph Wheeler (September 10, 1836 – January 25, 1906) was an American military commander and politician. He has the rare distinction of serving as a general during war time for two opposing forces: first as a noted cavalry general in the Confederate States Army in the 1860s during the American Civil War, and later as a general in the United States Army during both the Spanish-American War and Philippine-American War near the turn of the century. For much of the Civil War he served as the senior cavalry general in the Army of Tennessee and fought in most of its battles in the Western Theater.

Between the Civil War and the Spanish-American War, Wheeler served multiple terms as a United States Representative from the state of Alabama.

Early Life

Although of New England ancestry, Joseph Wheeler was born near Augusta, Georgia and spent most of his early life growing up with relatives in Connecticut. However, he was appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point from the state of Georgia and always considered himself a Georgian and Southerner.

Wheeler entered West Point in July 1854, barely meeting the height requirement at the time for entry. He graduated on July 1, 1859, placing 19th out of 22 cadets, and was commissioned a brevet second lieutenant in the 1st U.S. Dragoons. He attended the U.S. Army Cavalry School located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and upon completion was transferred on June 26, 1860, to the Regiment of Mounted Rifles stationed in the New Mexico Territory. It was while stationed in New Mexico and fighting in a skirmish with Indians that Joseph Wheeler picked up the nickname "Fighting Joe." On September 1, 1860, he was promoted to the rank of second lieutenant.

The Civil War Years

At the start of the Civil War, Wheeler entered the Confederate Army on March 16 as a first lieutenant serving in the Georgia state militia artillery, and then was assigned to Fort Barrancas off of Pensacola, Florida, reporting to Maj. Gen. Braxton Bragg. His resignation from the U.S. Army was accepted on April 22, 1861. He was ordered to Huntsville, Alabama, to take command of the newly formed 19th Alabama Infantry Regiment and was promoted to colonel on September 4, 1861.

Wheeler and the 19th Alabama fought well under Bragg at the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862. During the Siege of Corinth in April and May, Wheeler's men on picket duty clashed repeatedly with Union patrols. Serving as acting brigade commander, Wheeler burned the bridges over the Tuscumbia River to cover the Confederate withdrawal to Tupelo, Mississippi.

Wheeler transferred to the cavalry branch and commanded the 2nd Cavalry Brigade of the Left Wing in the Army of Mississippi from September to October 1862. During the Kentucky Campaign, Wheeler aggressively maintained contact with the enemy. He began to suffer from poor relations with the Confederacy's arguably greatest cavalryman, Nathan Bedford Forrest, when Bragg reassigned most of Forrest's men to Wheeler, Forrest was sent to Murfreesboro to recruit a new brigade. Wheeler fought at the Battle of Perryville in October and after the fight performed an excellent rearguard action protecting the army's withdrawal. He was promoted to brigadier general on October 30 and led cavalry belonging to the Second Corps of the Army of Tennessee from November to December. During action at La Vergne, Tennessee, on November 27, Wheeler was wounded by an artillery shell that exploded near him.

In December 1862, the Union Army of the Cumberland began to advance from Nashville against Bragg's army and Wheeler, now commanding all of the Army of Tennessee's cavalry, skirmished aggressively to delay their advance. He drove into the rear of the Union army, destroying hundreds of wagons and capturing more than 700 prisoners. After the Battle of Stones River, as Bragg's army withdrew to the Duck River line, Wheeler struck the Union supply lines at Harpeth Shoals on January 12–13, burning three steamboats and capturing more than 400 prisoners. Bragg recommended that Wheeler be promoted as a "just reward"[9] and he became a major general on January 20, 1863.

Wheeler led the army's Cavalry Corps from January to November 24, then again from December to November 15, 1864. For his actions on January 12–13, 1863, Wheeler and his troopers received the Thanks of the Confederate Congress on May 1, 1863.

In February 1863, Wheeler and Forrest attacked Fort Donelson at Dover, Tennessee, but they were repulsed by the small Union garrison. Forrest angrily told Wheeler "Tell [General Bragg] that I will be in my coffin before I will fight again under your command." Bragg dealt with this rivalry in the Tullahoma Campaign by assigning Wheeler to guard the army's right flank while Forrest guarded the left. A Union cavalry advance on Shelbyville on June 27 trapped Wheeler and 50 of his men on the north side of the Duck River, forcing Wheeler to plunge his horse over a 15 foot embankment and escape through the rain-swollen river.

Wheeler and his troopers guarded the army's left flank at Chickamauga in September 1863, and after the routed Union Army collected in Chattanooga, Gen. Bragg sent Wheeler's men into central Tennessee to destroy railroads and Federal supply lines in a major raid. On October 2 his raid at Anderson's Cross Roads (also known as Powell's Crossroads) destroyed more than 700 Union supply wagons, tightening the Confederates siege on Chattanooga. Pursued by his Union counterparts, Wheeler advanced to McMinnville and captured its 600-man garrison. There were more actions at Murfreesboro and Farmington, but by October 9 Wheeler had safely crossed the Tennessee River at Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The extensive raid caused the mounted arm of the army to miss the battles for Chattanooga (November 23–25). Wheeler covered Bragg's retreat from Chattanooga following the Union breakthrough at Missionary Ridge on November 25 and received a wound in his foot as his cavalry and Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne's infantry fought at the Battle of Ringgold Gap on November 27. Wheeler and his men also supported Lt. Gen. James Longstreet's ultimately unsuccessful efforts during the Knoxville Campaign from November 4 to December 23, 1863.

During Union Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman's Atlanta Campaign Wheeler's cavalry corps screened the flanks of the Army of Tennessee as Gen. Joseph E. Johnston drew back from several positions toward Atlanta. In July, Sherman sent two large cavalry columns to destroy the railroads supplying the defenders of Atlanta. With fewer than 5,000 cavalrymen, Wheeler defeated the enemy raids, resulting in the capture of one of the two commanding generals, Maj. Gen. George Stoneman. In August, Wheeler's corps crossed the Chattahoochee River in an attempt to destroy the railroad Sherman was using to supply his force from Chattanooga. Wheeler's men captured the town of Dalton, but he was unable to defeat the Union garrison protected in a nearby fort. Wheeler then took his men into East Tennessee, crossing the Tennessee River above Knoxville. His raid continued to the west, causing minor interruptions in the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad and then continued south through Franklin until he re-crossed the Tennessee at Tuscumbia. Wheeler's raid was described by historian Ed Bearss as a "Confederate disaster" because it caused minimum damage to the Union while denying Gen. John Bell Hood, now in command of the Army of Tennessee, the direct support of his cavalry arm. Without accurate intelligence of Sherman's dispositions, Hood was beaten at Jonesborough and forced to evacuate Atlanta. Wheeler rendezvoused with Hood's army in early October after destroying the railroad bridge at Resaca.

In late 1864, Wheeler's cavalry did not accompany Hood on his Franklin-Nashville Campaign back into Tennessee and was virtually the only effective Confederate force to oppose Sherman's March to the Sea to Savannah. However, his resistance to Sherman did little to comfort Georgia civilians and lax discipline within his command caused great dissatisfaction. Robert Toombs was quoted as saying, "I hope to God he will never get back to Georgia." Maj. Gen. D. H. Hill wrote that "the whole of Georgia is full of bitter complaints of Wheeler's cavalry."

Wheeler and his men continue to attempt to stop Sherman in the 1865 Carolinas Campaign. He defeated a Union cavalry force under Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick at Aiken, South Carolina, February 11. He was replaced as cavalry chief by Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton and fought under him at the Battle of Bentonville on March 19–20, 1865. While attempting to cover Confederate President Jefferson Davis's flight south and west in May, Wheeler was captured at Conyer's Station, now the city of Conyers, just east of Atlanta. He had intended to reach the Trans-Mississippi and Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, still resisting out west, and had with him three officers from his staff and 11 privates when he was taken prisoner. Wheeler was imprisoned for two months, first at Fort Monroe and then in solitary confinement at Fort Delaware, where he was paroled on June 8, 1865. .

During his career in the Confederate States Army, Wheeler was wounded three times, lost 36 staff officers to combat, and a total of 16 horses were shot from under him. Military historian Ezra J. Warner believed that Wheeler's actions leading cavalry in the conflict "were second only to those of Nathan Bedford Forrest".


After the war, Wheeler became a planter and a lawyer near Courtland, Alabama, where he married and raised a family. His home, Pond Spring, in an area now known as Wheeler, Alabama, is a historic site owned by the Alabama Historical Commission.

In 1880, Wheeler was elected from Alabama as a Democrat to the United States House of Representatives. Wheeler's opponent, Greenback incumbent William M. Lowe, contested the election, and after a contentious legal battle which lasted over a year, Lowe was declared the winner and assumed the seat on June 3, 1882. Lowe, however, served only four months before dying of tuberculosis. Wheeler won a special election to return and serve out the remaining weeks of the term.

Wheeler supported the election of Luke Pryor in 1882 and did not run for reelection, but was elected again in 1884, and re-elected to seven subsequent terms before resigning in 1900. While in Congress, Wheeler strove to heal the breach between the North and the South and championed economic policies that would help rebuild the southern states.

Return to Military Service

In 1898, Wheeler volunteered for the Spanish-American war, receiving an appointment to major general of volunteers by U.S. President William McKinley. He assumed command of the cavalry division, which included Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders, and was nominally second-in-command of the V Corps. He sailed for Cuba and was charged with scouting for the U.S. advance by General William Rufus Shafter, overall commander of V Corps. He was ordered not to engage the enemy on his own until the American troop disembarkation had been completed.

Approaching Las Guasimas de Sevilla on June 24, American reports suggested the Spaniards were digging in with a field gun; however, Cuban scouts contradicted these, revealing the Spaniards were preparing to abandon their position. In fact, the Spanish troops at the position had received orders to fall back on Santiago. Wheeler requested the assistance of the attached Cuban forces in an immediate attack, but their commander, Col. Gonzales Clavel, refused. Wheeler decided to attack anyway, rushing his men forward with 2 guns to the front, with Colonel Young's brigade leading the advance against the Spanish columns in what came to be called the Battle of Las Guasimas, the first major engagement of the war.

During the excitement of the battle, Wheeler supposedly called out "Let's go, boys! We've got the damn Yankees on the run again!". Wheeler's forces moved to encircle the Spaniards' first battle line, assaulting its front and right flank, but were repulsed. During a pause in the fighting, both sides reinforced their positions. The Spaniards sent forward 2 companies of the San Fernando Battalion, along with the artillery. After midday the U.S. attack was renewed, but Spanish Comandante Andres Alcamiz, leading the Provisional de Puerto Rico Battalion, once again checked the American assault.

After halting the American advance, the Spanish resumed their ongoing withdrawal towards Santiago's outer defenses according to their original plans. The battle had cost U.S. forces 17 dead and 52 wounded, while Spanish forces suffered 7 dead and 7 wounded.

Wheeler fell seriously ill during the campaign and turned over command of the division to Brig. Gen. Samuel S. Sumner. Wheeler was still incapacitated in July when the Battle of San Juan Hill began but once he heard the sound of guns, the "War Child" returned to the front despite his illness. Being the senior officer present at the front he first issued orders to the 1st Division, under Jacob F. Kent, before returning to his own command. Upon taking the heights, Wheeler assured General William R. Shafter that the position could be held against a possible counterattack. He led the division through the Siege of Santiago and was a senior member of the peace commission.

Wheeler's youngest son died shortly after his return from serving in Cuba; he drowned while swimming in the ocean. When back in the United States, Wheeler commanded the convalescent camp of the army at Montauk Point, now a state park in New York.

Wheeler sailed for the Philippines to fight in the Philippine-American War, arriving in August 1899. He commanded the First Brigade in Arthur MacArthur's Second Division during the Philippine-American War until January 1900. Supposedly while serving in the Philippines, Wheeler encountered an infantryman who was complaining about the heat and being tired. Wheeler promptly dismounted, took the man's rifle and pack, told him to mount his horse, and marched the rest of the way with the infantry.

Later Years

During this period, Wheeler was mustered out of the volunteer service and commissioned a brigadier general in the regular army, both on June 16, 1900. After the hostilities ended, he commanded the Department of the Lakes until his retirement on September 10, 1900, and moved to New York.

Wheeler was the author of several books on military history and strategy, as well as about civil subjects. His first was A Revised System of Cavalry Tactics, for the Use of the Cavalry and Mounted Infantry, C.S.A. in 1863, he wrote a manual that saw use by the Confederacy. His other works include: Fitz-John Porter in 1883, The Santiago Campaign in 1898, Confederate Military History: Alabama in 1899, and Report on the Island of Guam in 1900. Wheeler also co-wrote several more books throughout the rest of his life, the last of which, The New America and the Far East: A Picturesque and Historic Description of These Land and Peoples, was published in 1907, after his death. Wheeler also appeared in an early film called Surrender of General Toral (1898) with William Rufus Shafter.

While attending the hundredth anniversary celebration of the U.S. Military Academy (West Point, New York) in 1902, Wheeler approached the old West Point hotel, where his Confederate comrades James Longstreet and Edward Porter Alexander were seated on the porch. At the festivities Wheeler wore his dress uniform of his most recent rank, that of a general in the U.S. Army. Longstreet recognized him coming near, and reportedly said, "Joe, I hope that Almighty God takes me before he does you, for I want to be within the gates of hell to hear Jubal Early cuss you in the blue uniform."

After long illness, Wheeler died in Brooklyn, New York City on January 25, 1906. He is one of the few former Confederate officers to be buried within Arlington National Cemetery.

The Children of Joseph and Daniella Wheeler

Lucy Louise
Eldest of the Siblings. Unmarried. Died 1924.

Annie Early
Born 31 July 1868, Annie Wheeler was the second child of the General. She would grow up to volunteer for the American Red Cross and would follow her Father into many different skirmishes and battles. She was known as the 'Angel of Santiago' for her work in the Spanish-American War. She also served during World War I in England and France. Annie was a well known in many places and held correspondences with many people. She was even presented to the Queen of England. Annie outlived all of her siblings, dying in 1955 after suffering an injury after a fall.

Joseph Jr.
The first son, Joe Jr. was born in 1872. He attended West Point and graduated in 1895. He joined the Army and was stationed at the Washington Barracks D.C.. After training at the Artillery School at Ft. Monroe in Virginia. Joe Jr. then was a Mathematics instructor at West Point before the Spanish-American War broke out. At the start of the War Joe Jr. was made an aide on his father's staff and sailed for Cuba on June 1898. The following year he was made a Major of the 34th infantry, US volunteers and left in September 1899 for the Philippines. He served in many different areas after this, finally retiring in February 1927. He died 6 August 1938.

Died at a very young age and very little is known about her.

Julia K. H.
Married William J. Harris, US Senator from North Carolina

Carrie Peyton
Married Gordon Buck

Thomas Harrison
Born 7 March 1881, Thomas was the youngest of the children. Influenced by both his father and brother, at the age of 16 Thomas chose to enroll at the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis. One year into his training the Spanish American War began. Thomas was adamant about participating in the war. Though his father, older brother, and oldest sister were all going themselves the General refused to help Thomas find a position aboard a ship. Thomas did not give up, and instead posted a letter to the Secretary of the Navy, John D. Long. Long helped him find a position aboard the USS Columbia (C-12), Which would turn out to be Thomas's first and last assignment. Although the Columbia did participate in the invasion of Puerto Rico, it was a very short and easy victory due to the Spanish not showing up. On the 7th of September 1898, Thomas and some friends were surf bathing at Montauk Point. One of his cadet friends was pulled under the water and was struggling. In an effort to save his friend Thomas dove in after him, but despite his efforts both boys drowned. Thomas's body was retrieved and brought to his Alabama home to be buried.

Pond Spring

Pond Spring was the post-Civil War home of Joseph Wheeler. Wheeler came to Alabama during the Civil War in 1863, and met the widow of Ben Sherrod, Daniella.  They married in 1866  Pond Spring was owned by his wife Daniella since she inherited the property from her previous husband

The Wheelers built their own house right next to the existing Sherrod house in the 1870s and connected the two structures via an outdoor covered walkway. The family occupied both houses while the couple were alive. The Men lived in the older Sherrod House, while the Women lived in the newer 3 story Wheeler House. The second floor of the Wheeler House has four bedrooms, one for each daughter, while their governess lived in the 3rd story attic. Daniella occupied a room downstairs, which was equipped with its own door knocker. Later on the upstairs of the Wheeler home was shared by Joe Jr. and his older sister Annie, until their deaths. Annie Early Wheeler was the last of the General's surviving children. She iived in the house until her death in 1955.

The house was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.  In 1993, General Wheeler's descendants donated Pond Spring to the state of Alabama and the Alabama Historical Commission. The home is now owned by the Alabama Historical Commission, 

The 50-acre site includes a dogtrot log house built around 1818, a circa 1830 Federal-style house, the 1880s Wheeler house, eight farm-related outbuildings, two family cemeteries, an African-American cemetery, a small Indian mound, a pond, a boxwood garden, and other garden areas.

The Wheeler Home contains many significant artifacts that belonged to General Wheeler and his family.  The collections vary from books, military artifacts from the Civil and Spanish-American Wars, and antique furniture, to family portraits, photographs, and Victorian-period decorative arts. 

Major restoration and preservation work was begun in 2000 to return the house back to the condition it was in during the 1920s.

Pond Springs is located in Northern Alabama at: 

12280 Alabama Highway 20
Hillsboro, Alabama 35643

In Memoriam

In 1925, the state of Alabama donated a bronze statue of Joseph Wheeler to the National Statuary Hall Collection at the United States Capitol. Additionally, several locations in Alabama are named after Wheeler including Joe Wheeler State Park, Wheeler Lake and Dam, and the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. Also, Joseph Wheeler High School in Marietta, Georgia, and Wheeler County, Georgia are named after him. During World War II, the United States Navy named a Liberty Ship in honor of Wheeler. Wheeler Road, a main thoroughfare through west Augusta is named after him as well. Furthermore, Joe Wheeler Electric Cooperative in northwest Alabama also honors him. Also Camp Wheeler, near Macon, Georgia (which served as an army base during both World Wars) was named for Wheeler. Wheeler Mountain, just south of Tuscumbia, in northwest Alabama, is named for him and is a foothill of the Appalacchians. Fort Jackson has a street named after him.

In recognition of Joesph Wheelers military actions for the Confederacy, we have named our Sons of the Confedeate Veterans Encampment, number 863, in his honor.