Saturday, November 23, 2013

Notes on General Sheridan: Missionary Ridge and Yakama War

Gettysburg was in the news this past week as it was the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. A few days after the famous Lincoln speech a very important Union victory took place in Tennessee that was pivotal in speeding up the end of the Civil War. On November 25, 1863 Union forces took Missionary Ridge (Battle_of_Missionary_Ridge) near Chattanooga, Tennessee. This battle gave control of Tennessee to the Union and provided the key supply route for General Sherman's March across the South in 1864.

A couple of former Washington Territory residences were major players in the Battle of Missionary Ridge, Ulysses S Grant and Philip Sheridan. Sheridan and his men were instrumental in the battle. They were assigned to take some Confederate gun pits on the valley below the ridge as a means to distract the opposing Confederate army from the main assault by General Sherman. However, once the pits were taken the Union forces were subject to fire from the ridge above. A combination of poor communication and wanting to find protection led Sheridan as well as other field commanders to advance up the ridge. The Confederate forces had built their trenches on the ridge crest instead of what is termed the military ridge line. Hence, the curve of the slope provided significant cover for advancing Union forces who then took the ridge and the route was on. 

Grant's time in Washington was rather sad. He was quarter master at Vancouver in the early 1850s and it was during that time he gained a reputation for drinking which continued at his next station. He ultimately resigned from the military only to be reinstated after the start of the Civil War.

Sheridan's first war experience was in Washington Territory. He fought in two engagements with the Yakama (tribal spelling). First near present day Toppenish and later at the Cascades on the Columbia at present day Bonneville Dam.

I've been reading Sheridan's Memoirs with attention to his brief time in Washington State and Oregon. He described his first military action, "On the second day out I struck a small body of Indians with my detachment of dragoons, but was unable to do them any particular injury beyond getting possession of a large quantity of their winter food, which their hurried departure compelled them to abandon. This food consisted principally of dried salmon-pulverized and packed in sacks made of grass-dried huckleberries, and dried camas; the latter a bulbous root about the size of a small onion, which, when roasted and ground, is made into bread by the Indians and has a taste somewhat like cooked chestnuts."

During his trip toward Washington Territory, Sheridan made an early environmental observation in relation to environmental damage and the consequences to the Pit River Indians in northern California. "In prosperity they mainly subsisted on fish, or game killed with the bow and arrow. When these sources failed they lived on grasshoppers, and at this season the grasshopper was their principal food. In former years salmon were very abundant in the streams of the Sacramento Valley, and every fall they took great quantities of these fish and dried them for winter use, but alluvial mining had of late years defiled the water of the different streams and driven the fish out. On this account the usual supply of salmon was very limited."

1 comment:

Darrell Sofield said...

Nice find about fish and mining.