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One-tank road trips: Arlington National Cemetery – Part 4

Montgomery C. Meigs was a career U. S. Army officer, civil engineer, construction engineer for a number of facilities in Washington, D.C., and the Quartermaster General of the U.S. Army during and after the Civil War. He was a member of one of the most influential families in the country. Georgia-born, Meigs moved with his family to Pennsylvania as a boy. His father was a famous doctor and his grandfather a leading academician. A first cousin was a U.S. Senator and Governor of Ohio. After graduating from West Point in 1836, Meigs supervised the construction of several notable forts, bridges and public buildings, including the wings and dome of the U.S. Capitol. As QM General, he played a huge role in the Union’s ultimate ability to keep its army’s well supplied in the field. Secretary of State William Seward believed that without Meigs’s efforts, the war may easily have been lost. It was on his recommendation that the Federal government seized Robert E. Lee’s estate at Arlington as a burial ground for dead Confederate soldiers.

“Fighting Phil” Kearny died in 1862 at the Battle of Chantilly (Ox Hill to Southerners), leaving open the question if he might have conducted the affairs of the III Corps in a different manner at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg instead of eventual commander Daniel E. Sickles. The descendant of a line of wealthy New York financiers and businessmen, Kearny became an attorney. He inherited a vast fortune and decided to quit the legal profession to join the army as a lieutenant under his uncle’s command. He studied cavalry tactics at a prestigious school in France and fought in France’s war with Algiers. Kearny rode into battle with a sword in his right hand, pistol in his left, and the reins in his teeth, as was the style of the French Chasseurs. His fearless character in battle earned him the nickname “Kearny le Magnifique.” He returned to the U.S. and wrote a cavalry instruction manual. After fighting in the Mexican War, he moved with his second wife to France and fought against the Austrians at the Battle of Salerno. Despite having lost an arm, he fought valiantly in the Civil War and was noted for introducing the concept of unit patches. He died at Chantilly after ignoring calls to surrender when he wandered well ahead of his troops into the Confederate lines.

As a young boy growing up less than ten miles from Somerset, Ohio, I idolized Philip Sheridan, whose impressive equestrian statue dominates the town’s square on U.S. Route 22. I loved playing with my huge collection of 54mm plastic toy Civil War soldiers, and Little Phil led many a charge in the old sandbox under my Dad’s apple trees. Sheridan was a legend in that part of southeastern Ohio. An 1853 graduate of West Point, he served in Texas, California, and the Pacific Northwest. He initially served in a variety of staff and administrative roles in the Western Theater of the Civil War before becoming colonel of the 2nd Michigan Cavalry. He rose to command a brigade, then a division, and finally the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac. His “scorched earth” policy laid waste to vast sections of the Shenandoah Valley, and he won several important victories in the 1864 Valley Campaign that shattered Confederate opposition. The following year his troops played an important role in the Appomattox Campaign. After the war, he rose to command of the U.S. Army and guided the Indian Wars. Accused of racism and genocide by some scholars, his policies paved the way for the eventual triumph of the U.S. military. Sheridan was instrumental in the creation of Yellowstone National Park.

Roy Stone is perhaps best known today to Gettysburg buffs for the role his brigade played on the first day of the battle. His relatively inexperienced “Bogus Bucktails” held off thousands of Confederates for much of July 1 before finally falling back to Cemetery Hill. Aged Gettysburg civilian John Burns fought alongside Stone’s men on McPherson’s Ridge. The New York-born Stone had been an engineer and lumberman before the war. After a stint as major of the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves (the famed Bucktails for their penchant of pinning bucktails to their hats), he raised the 149th Pennsylvania and resumed the adornment of white deer tails. Severely wounded at Gettysburg, Stone returned to field duty in 1864 during the Overland Campaign as a brigade commander in the Fifth Corps. He was injured at the Wilderness when his horse fell on him, but many accused him of being drunk and he was removed from command during the battle. Stone later commanded a prison camp in Illinois. After the war, he resumed his engineering career and advocated modern improved red networks. He returned to the military and fought in the Spanish-American War. He constructed paved roads in Puerto Rico after the army occupied the island.