Joseph Wheeler was born near Augusta, Georgia, on September 10, 1836. An 1859 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, he resigned from the Army to join the Confederate forces in 1861 and rose rapidly to the rank of lieutenant general. Nicknamed "Fighting Joe," Wheeler was considered by General Robert E. Lee to be one of the two most outstanding Confederate cavalry leaders and saw action in many campaigns, including the opposition to Sherman's advance on Atlanta.
After the war he became a planter and a lawyer. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives during 1881-1882, 1883, and 1885-1900; there he strove to heal the breach between the North and the South and championed economic policies that would help the South. In 1898 Wheeler volunteered for the Spanish-American war. He was appointed major general of volunteers by President McKinley, saw action as a cavalry commander in Cuba, and was a senior member of the peace commission. He later commanded a brigade in the Philippine Insurrection in 1899-1900, where he was commissioned a brigadier general in the U.S. Regular Army.
Wheeler was also the author of several books on military history and strategy and civil subjects. He died on January 25, 1906, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.