Lawyer, United States Congressman, General
Joseph Wheeler was born in Augusta, Georgia, in 1836. He was educated in New England and graduated from West Point Military Academy. He served his military apprenticeship in Kansas and New Mexico in the Regular Army until the secession of his native state brought him home and to the Confederate Army. He distinguished himself and earned the name "Fighting Joe" while serving with the 19th Alabama Infantry as the leader of a cavalry brigade at the Battle of Shiloh. Due to his impressive show of military know-how and bravery, he rose rapidly to the rank of lieutenant general by age 28 and established a brilliant record as a commander of the cavalry. During the course of the Civil War he was wounded three times, participated in over 500 skirmishes and led 127 battles.
For Wheeler, the postwar period was one of transition to a new life. He married Daniella Jones Sherrod in 1866 and later moved to Wheeler, Alabama, named in his honor. In the years following, he assumed roles of lawyer, planter, and politician. Between 1881 and 1889, he served several terms as a Democratic U. S. Congressman from Alabama. As an elected official he believed that railroad, factory, and industry-building would make the South "more prosperous and more united, more Christian and more enlightened." His chief public contribution was his tireless effort for reconciliation between North and South. In his life and conduct, in speeches and letters he advocated the reintegration of the Confederacy into the Union.
In 1898, at age 62, he was again in uniform. President McKinley accepted his offer to serve in the United States Army in the Spanish-American War. He was appointed major general and commanded a cavalry unit of volunteers in Cuba. He also led American Forces in the Philippine Insurrection of 1900 and retired from military duty shortly thereafter.
General Wheeler died while visiting his sister in New York in 1906. Buried with full honors in Arlington National Cemetery, his epitaph reads, "He Fought a Good Fight."
General Wheeler's plantation home, Pond Spring, near Hillsboro, Alabama, was given by the Wheeler family to the state and will be developed and maintained by the Alabama Historical Commission.