GDG- Custer, Merritt, & Farnsworth

Matt Diestel agatematt at
Wed Jan 25 17:45:12 CST 2012

> Esteemed GDG Member Tom Ryan Contributes:

> Peter,
> This is very little in the record explaining why Pleasonton pushed for
> Custer and Merritt to be jumped from the rank of captain to BG other than
> the fact that both men have served effectively and faithfully as members of
> Pleasonton's staff.  He apparently liked their pluck and dash, especially
> Custer.  Both of these men were in some ways cut from the same mold as
> Pleasonton himself.
> Given that Pleasonton was assertive in manner and aggressive in fighting
> style, he may well have wanted these young turks to lead his brigades,
> rather than the older more settled officers -- and especially not officers
> of foreign birth since Pleasonton exhibited rabid xenophobia.
> John Farnsworth's case was different, because Pleasonton used the promise
> of
> young Farnsworth's promotion as an incentive (read bribe) for his uncle,
> also named John Farnsworth, who was serving as a congressman to expedite
> two
> of Pleasonton's requests.
> One was to have MG Julius Stahel relieved from command of the cavalry
> division attached to the Department of Washington, and the second was to
> lobby for Pleasonton's promotion from BG to MG.  In a letter to the
> congressman, Pleasonton allowed that he was planning to promote nephew John
> to a BG (that would be the quid pro quo).
> In fact, before long both of Pleasonton's desires came about.  Stahel was
> reassigned, and the MG promotion came through.  In return, Capt. Farnsworth
> soon became a BG, and put in command of a brigade in Kilpatrick's
> division -- Kilpatrick having replaced Stahel and the division detached
> from
> the Department of Washington and reassigned to the AoP.
> Pleasonton spent his entire career inflating his own accomplishments, and
> undermining anyone who he perceived blocking the path to his achieving
> higher rank.  In addition, his ego often got in the way of common sense
> actions, which led to repeated blunders while in command at various levels.
> These characteristics were frequently in evidence during the long
> Gettysburg
> Campaign.
> Regards, Tom Ryan
> P.S. Not sure what you mean by "the Cav mtn campaigns before Gtysbg."
> Please explain  Also, if you have never been to the Loudoun Valley area,
> you
> should go.  Much of it still looks like it did in 1863.  However, creeping
> development is starting to change the landscape.
>      Whatever Pleasonton's thinking and motives in the jumping over
> the-heads-of-so-many-others promotions of two of the "boy generals, Custer
> (23) and Merritt (27), both proved to be excellent cavalry leaders for the
> rest of the war as they advanced to division command under the watchful eye
> of Philip H. Sheridan.

         Have long wonder what input Merritt's old commander John Buford
(when both were with the then 2nd Dragoons in Utah in 1860) might have had
in Pleasanton's decision making process
         Of course, Farnsworth's death at Gettysburg leaves him one of the
true what might have become of him as the war marched towards its ultimate
         It should also be noted that commanding cavalry was somewhat of a
young man's game. While Pleasanton was 38, his successor Sheridan was 33
and other "youths" associated with the AOP included Randall MacKenzie, 24,
James Wilson, 26, August Kautz, 26, Judson Kilpatrick, 27 at the time they
got their first star.
    Finally, "the Cav mtn campaigns before Gtysbg." might be referring to
the Union Cavalry's attempted probes into the Blue Ridge Mountain passes to
see what the ANV was doing in the Shenandoah Valley.
                  With regards,

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