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Union Major General, American Civil War, b. 1831 d. 1888.

Sheridan is known as the third general of the triumvirate of "unconditional surrender" generals late in the American Civil War which also included Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman. While many leaders on the Union side early in the war practiced careful tactics to the point of their operations being watchable shows for polite citizens looking on from picnics in the hills, Sheridan and company took to winning the war at any price. Sheridan was said to "love a good fight" and did not back down or retreat when casualties began to mount. He became known as "Little Phil" and was hated by southerners as much as Sherman thanks to his "scorched earth" policy, leaving towns and railroads in flames whenever he passed through.

Sheridan stated his place of birth as Albany, New York but records of the time show no hard evidence of this and it is widely believed he was born aboard a ship bearing immigrants from Ireland en route to the United States. His life brought him to West Point, where he graduated in 1853 after a number of controversial years there. He was nearly dismissed from the Academy twice and seemed to be in the crosshairs of any trouble that arose.

His first assignment during the War Between the States was in the western theatre. By June of 1862 he had risen in rank from a captain to brigadier general after victories at Boonesville, Missouri, Stone's River and Perrysville. In December of 1862 he rose to the rank of major general, commanding an army of volunteers at the battles of Chickamauga and Missionary Ridge, amongst others.

Having caught the eye of and seriously impressed Generals Grant and Meade, Sheridan was given command of the Army of the Potomac's cavalry under Grant and Meade, and then in August of 1864 Sheridan took command of the Army of the Shenandoah. There he managed only to completely drive the Confederate Army out of the Shenandoah Valley and became one of the only generals to inflict serious defeat on Jubal Early, the famed Confederate general and raider who at times seemed invincible to the Union. Sheridan's army had engaged Jubal Early at Cedar Creek and were beginning to suffer heavy losses before Sheridan, appearing at the scene after an arduous twenty mile ride, rallied his troops to victory.

For the remainder of the war, Sheridan, now a major general in the regular army, defeated the Confederates at Petersburg, Five Forks and was an important part of the Virginia campaign that lead to Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox.

Although Sherman is best remembered as a villian to the south, Sheridan may have been the more vicious general. He was accused of using his influence in the Army to continue to retaliate against the southern states after the war ended. He succeeded Sherman as commander-in-chief of the Army in 1883, five years before his death in 1888.

Philip Henry Sheridan was born on March 6th, 1831 and spent much of his youth in Perry County, Ohio. His military studies began when he entered the U.S. academy at West Point in 1848, but he didn't graduate until 1853 because he was suspended in 1852 for getting into a fight with another cadet. His fellow graduates included James B. McPherson, who would become a brilliant Union general, and John Bell Hood, who would become a Confederate officer.

Sheridan was a much better soldier and officer than a student. Despite his low graduation rank, he proved himself to be a very sharp and brave (but also stubborn) junior officer in the early years of the Civil War at the battles of Murfreesboro, Chicamauga, and Chattanooga. He was limited to leading small regular units until Ulysses S. Grant took over the army in 1864 and promoted Sheridan to cavalry commander.

Many in Washington doubted Sheridan's ability to lead on a large scale. President Abraham Lincoln is reported to have commented:

"I will tell you just what kind of a chap (Sheridan) is. He is one of those long-armed fellows with short legs that can scratch his shins without having to stoop over."

However, Sheridan rapidly distinguished himself, vastly improving the Union cavalry and making many spectacular raids against the Confederate Army.

As Sheridan gained larger military responsibilities, his victories grew. He laid waste to the Shenandoah Valley; not content with merely defeating the Confederates in battle, he burned barns and crops and slaughtered livestock.

Though ruthless, he had a remarkable ability to rally his men. When he was in charge of the army at Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864, the Union troops were caught in a surprise attack and the survivors were left fragmented and terrified. Sheridan rode along the lines and rallied his men to victory. His work at Cedar Creek earned him a commission as major general and a personal congratulations from Lincoln.

On April 9th, 1865, Sheridan's cavalry played a crucial role in General Lee's surrender at Richmond. The Confederacy crumbled, and wherever Sherdian and General Sherman went, the beautiful South was left a smoking ruin. The lands destroyed by Sheridan and his men would not fully recover for close to a century.

After the war, Sheridan was appointed military commander over Louisiana and Texas. President Johnson worried about what Sheridan would do as commander over civilians, and less than a year after his appointment he was removed from that duty and sent to supervise the Army along the U.S.-Mexico border.

At this point, Sheridan became leader of military actions against the native Comanches and Kiowa. He spearheaded efforts to exterminate the buffalo, which he knew the native American tribes depended on for survival.

In 1875, a bill came before the Texas legislature that would have protected the buffalo, but Sheridan made an impassioned, racist speech against the plan:

"(Buffalo hunters) are destroying the Indians' commissary, and it is a well-known fact that an army losing its base of supplies is placed at a great disadvantage. Send them powder and lead, if you will, but for the sake of a lasting peace, let them kill, skin, and sell until the buffaloes are exterminated. Then your prairies can be covered in speckled cattle, and the festive cowboy, who follows the hunter as a second forerunner of advanced civilization."

The joint assembly was so moved that they killed the bill. Millions of buffalo were slaughtered and left to rot on the prairies, and the Kiowa and Commanches and other tribes suffered and starved to death and were led off to the reservations.

Later in his career, Sheridan seems to have had some inkling of what he had done to the native American tribes:

"We took away their country and their means of support, broke up their mode of living, their habits of life, introduced disease and decay among them, and it was for this and against this that they made war. Could anyone expect less?"

 

Career landmarks:
  • 1853: graduation from West Point
  • 1861: U.S. Civil War begins
  • 1864: General U.S. Grant appointed overall commander of the U.S. Army. Grant then appointed Sheridan cavalry commander and promoted him to brigadier general (one star). Later that year, he gets command of the Army of the Shenandoah Valley.
  • 1865: Civil War ends.
  • 1865: Sheridan promoted to Major General (two stars) and sent to the Mexican border.
  • 1867: Appointed military commander of Texas and Louisiana
  • 1867: Removed from command of TX and LA. Remains in command of the U.S. Army southwest district.
  • 1869: Promoted to Lieutenant General (three stars)
  • 1883: Takes over overall command of the U.S. Army
  • 1888: Promoted to Four-star general. Dies that year at Nonquitt, Massachusets on the 5th of August.

References: this is based on notes and textbook photocopies I kept for a school paper, but my bibliography is lost to the sands of time. Poo.

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