I’ve been doing a good bit of research lately on Colonel Benjamin F. Davis and the cavalry breakout from the siege of Harper’s Ferry in September 1862. I was reviewing one of my favorite cavalry studies on the war yesterday morning, and saw a note I’d made when I initially read the book. I made the note because the book mentioned something I hadn’t seen in any other source on Civil War cavalry.
You see, Alfred Pleasonton wasn’t Hooker’s first choice to command the newly-created Cavalry Corps after George Stoneman left the Army of the Potomac. Hooker initially offered the post to Major General Winfield Scott Hancock. Much like Philip Sheridan, Hancock was a career infantry officer, not a cavalryman. He did have an excellent reputation by that point in the war, however, and among those who encouraged him to accept the position were Davis and John Buford. Hancock reluctantly agreed to accept the position, but circumstances intervened before he could notify General Hooker. When Major General Darius Couch asked to be relieved of command of II Corps, Hancock was the senior division commander, and assumed command of the Corps. The Cavalry Corps command went to Pleasonton.
Now, all of the above is related in a much more entertaining fashion in Eric’s The Union Cavalry Comes of Age. I bring it up, because the note set me to wondering: how different might things have been had Hancock instead of Pleasonton led the Union cavalry during the Gettysburg campaign? Would Hancock have retreated at Brandy Station? Would he have kept better tabs on Lee’s forces moving north? And, since there’s been a bit of discussion lately on the Union pursuit of Lee at the end of the campaign, how different might the Union pursuit have been if the cavalry had been led by a more aggressive commander?
This, of course, isn’t getting me any closer to finishing the Harper’s Ferry project (sorry Brian), but it did get me thinking so I thought I’d share it with you all. I’m not too much for revisionist history, but it did make me scratch my head and ponder a bit. And who knows it might even generate a comment or two.