Philip H. Sheridan

From New World Encyclopedia

Philip Sheridan
March 6, 1831 – August 5, 1888
Philip Sheridan.jpg
Philip Sheridan
Nickname Little Phil
Place of birth Albany, New York
Place of death Nonquitt, Massachusetts
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1853-1888
Rank General of the Army of the United States
Commands held Cavalry Corps (Army of the Potomac), Army of the Shenandoah, U.S. Army
Battles/wars Perryville, Stones River, Chattanooga, Overland Campaign, Valley Campaigns of 1864, Appomattox Campaign, Indian Wars


Philip Henry Sheridan (March 6, 1831 – August 5, 1888) was a career U.S. Army officer and a Union general in the American Civil War. His career was noted for his rapid rise to major general and his close association with Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, who transferred Sheridan from command of an infantry division in the Western Theater to lead the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac in the East. In 1864, he defeated Confederate forces in the Shenandoah Valley and his destruction of the economic infrastructure of the Valley, called "The Burning" by residents, was one of the first uses of scorched earth tactics in the war. In 1865, his cavalry pursued Gen. Robert E. Lee and was instrumental in forcing his surrender at Appomattox.

Sheridan prosecuted the latter years of the Indian Wars of the Great Plains, tainting his reputation with some historians, who accuse him of racism and genocide. Both as a soldier and private citizen, he was instrumental in the development and protection of Yellowstone National Park.


Sheridan claimed he was born in Albany, New York,[1] the third child of six by John and Mary Meenagh Sheridan, immigrants from the parish of Killinkere, County Cavan, Ireland. He grew up in Somerset, Ohio. Fully grown, he reached only 5 feet 5 inches (1.65 m) tall, a stature that led to the nickname, "Little Phil." Abraham Lincoln described his appearance in a famous anecdote: "A brown, chunky little chap, with a long body, short legs, not enough neck to hang him, and such long arms that if his ankles itch he can scratch them without stooping."[2]

Sheridan worked as a boy in town general stores, and eventually as head clerk and bookkeeper for a dry goods store. In 1848, he obtained an appointment to the United States Military Academy from one of his customers, Congressman Thomas Ritchey; Ritchey's first candidate for the appointment was disqualified by failing mathematics skills and a "poor attitude."[3] In his third year at West Point, Sheridan was suspended for a year for fighting with a classmate, William R. Terrill.[4] The previous day, Sheridan had threatened to run him through with a bayonet in reaction to a perceived insult on the parade ground. He graduated in 1853, 34th in his class of 52 cadets.[5]

Sheridan was commissioned as a brevet second lieutenant and was assigned to the 1st U.S. Infantry regiment at Fort Duncan, Texas, where his duties consisted mainly in battling Indians along the Rio Grande, then to the 4th U.S. Infantry at Fort Reading, California. Most of his service with the 4th U.S. was in the Pacific Northwest, starting with a topographical survey mission to the Willamette Valley in 1855, during which he became involved with the Yakima War and Rogue River Wars, gaining experience in leading small combat teams, being wounded (a bullet grazed his nose on March 28, 1857, at Middle Cascade, Oregon Territory),[5] and some of the diplomatic skills needed for negotiating with Indian tribes. He lived with a mistress during part of his tour of duty, an Indian woman named Sidnayoh (called Frances by her white friends), daughter of the chief of the Klickitat Tribe. Sheridan neglected to mention this relationship in his memoirs.[6] He was promoted to first lieutenant in March 1861, just before the Civil War, and to captain in May, immediately after Fort Sumter.[5][7]

On June 3, 1875, Sheridan married Irene Rucker, a daughter of Army Quartermaster General Daniel H. Rucker. She was 22, he 44. They had four children: Mary, born in 1876; twin daughters, Irene and Louise, in 1877; and Philip, Jr., in 1880. After the wedding, Sheridan and his wife moved to Washington, D.C. They lived in a house given to them by Chicago citizens in appreciation for Sheridan's protection of the city after the Great Chicago Fire in 1871.[8]

Philip Sheridan suffered a series of massive heart attacks two months after sending his memoirs to the publisher. Although only 57, hard living and hard campaigning and a lifelong love of good food and drink had taken their toll. Thin in his youth, he had reached over 200 pounds. After his first heart attack, the U.S. Congress quickly passed legislation to promote him to general and he received the news from a congressional delegation with joy, despite his pain. His family moved him from the heat of Washington and he died in his vacation cottage at Nonquitt, Massachusetts. His body was returned to Washington and he was buried on a hillside facing the capital city near Arlington House in Arlington National Cemetery.[9] His wife Irene never remarried, saying, "I would rather be the widow of Phil Sheridan than the wife of any man living."[10]

Philip Sheridan, Jr., followed in his father's footsteps and graduated near the bottom of the West Point class of 1902. He served as a cavalry lieutenant, a military aide to President Theodore Roosevelt, and in Washington with the general staff. He was also felled by a heart attack, at age 37, in 1918.[11]

Civil War

Western Theater

In the fall of 1861, Sheridan was ordered to travel to Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, for assignment to the 13th U.S. Infantry. He departed from his command of Fort Yamhill, Oregon, by way of San Francisco, across the Isthmus of Panama, and through New York City to home in Somerset for a brief leave. On the way to his new post, he made a courtesy call to Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck in St. Louis, who commandeered his services to audit the financial records of his immediate predecessor, Maj. Gen. John C. Frémont, whose administration of the Department of the Missouri was tainted by charges of wasteful expenditures and fraud that left the status of $12 million in doubt.[12]

In December, Sheridan was appointed chief commissary officer of the Army of Southwest Missouri, but convinced the department commander, Halleck, to give him the position of quartermaster general as well. In January 1862, he reported for duty to Maj. Gen. Samuel Curtis and served under him at the Battle of Pea Ridge before being replaced in his staff position by an associate of Curtis's. Returning to Halleck's headquarters, he accompanied the army on the Siege of Corinth[13] and served as an assistant to the department's topographical engineer, but also made the acquaintance of Brig. Gen. William T. Sherman, who offered him the colonelcy of an Ohio infantry regiment. This appointment fell through, but Sheridan was subsequently aided by friends (including future Secretary of War Russell A. Alger), who petitioned Michigan Governor Austin Blair on his behalf. Sheridan was appointed colonel of the 2nd Michigan Cavalry on May 27, 1862, despite having no experience in the mounted arm.[14]

A month later, Sheridan commanded his first forces in combat, leading a small brigade that included his regiment. At the Battle of Boonville, July 1, 1862, he held back several regiments of Brig. Gen. James R. Chalmers's Confederate cavalry, deflected a large flanking attack with a noisy diversion, and reported critical intelligence about enemy dispositions.[15] His actions so impressed the division commanders, including Brig. Gen. William S. Rosecrans, that they recommended Sheridan's promotion to brigadier general. They wrote to Halleck, "Brigadiers scarce; good ones scarce. ... The undersigned respectfully beg that you will obtain the promotion of Sheridan. He is worth his weight in gold." The promotion was approved in September, but dated effective July 1 as a reward for his actions at Boonville.[16] It was just after Boonville that one of his fellow officers gave him the horse that he named Rienzi (after the skirmish of Rienzi, Mississippi), which he would ride throughout the war.[17]

Sheridan was assigned to command the 11th Division, III Corps, in Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Ohio. On October 8, 1862, Sheridan led his division in the Battle of Perryville. Ordered not to provoke a general engagement until the full army was present, Sheridan nevertheless pushed his men far beyond the Union battle line, to occupy the contested water supply at Doctor's Creek. Although he was ordered back by III Corps commander, Maj. Gen. Charles Gilbert, the Confederates were incited by Sheridan's rash movement to open the battle, a bloody stalemate in which both sides suffered heavy casualties.[18]

On December 31, 1862, the first day of the Battle of Stones River, Sheridan anticipated a Confederate assault and positioned his division in preparation for it. His division held back the Confederate onslaught on his front until their ammunition ran out and they were forced to withdraw. This action was instrumental in giving the Union army time to rally at a strong defensive position. For his actions, he was promoted to major general on April 10, 1863 (with date of rank December 31, 1862) and given command of the 2nd Division, IV Corps, Army of the Cumberland. In six months, he had risen from captain to major general.[19]

The Army of the Cumberland recovered from the shock of Stones River and prepared for its summer offensive against Confederate General Braxton Bragg. Sheridan's was the lead division advancing against Bragg in Rosecrans's brilliant Tullahoma Campaign.[20] On the second day of the Battle of Chickamauga, September 20, 1863, Sheridan's division made a gallant stand on Lytle Hill against an attack by the Confederate corps of Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, but was overwhelmed. Army commander Rosecrans fled to Chattanooga without leaving orders for his subordinates, and Sheridan, unsure what to do, ordered his division to retreat with the rest of the army. Only Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas's division stood fast. Receiving a message from Thomas about the desperate stand his men were making alone on the battlefield, Sheridan ordered his division back to the fighting, but they took a circuitous route and did not arrive before the Union army was defeated. Nevertheless, Sheridan's attempt to return probably saved his career, unlike those of Rosecrans and some of Sheridan's peers.[21]

During the Battle of Chattanooga, at Missionary Ridge on November 25, 1863, Sheridan's division and others in George Thomas's army broke through the Confederate lines in a wild charge that exceeded the orders and expectations of Thomas and Ulysses S. Grant. Just before his men stepped off, Sheridan told them, "Remember Chickamauga," and many shouted its name as they advanced as ordered to a line of rifle pits in their front. Faced with enemy fire from above, however, they continued up the ridge. Sheridan spotted a group of Confederate officers outlined against the crest of the ridge and shouted, "Here's at you!" An exploding shell sprayed him with dirt and he responded, "That's damn ungenerous! I shall take those guns for that!" The Union charge broke through the Confederate lines on the ridge and Bragg's army fell into retreat. Sheridan impulsively ordered his men to pursue Bragg to the Confederate supply depot at Chickamauga Station, but called them back when he realized that his was the only command so far forward. General Grant reported after the battle, "To Sheridan's prompt movement, the Army of the Cumberland and the nation are indebted for the bulk of the capture of prisoners, artillery, and small arms that day. Except for his prompt pursuit, so much in this way would not have been accomplished."[22] Grant found an exceptional soldier in Sheridan and requested his assistance back in the Eastern Theater.[23]

Overland Campaign

1864 Overland Campaign, from the Wilderness to crossing the James River. ██ Confederate ██ Union
Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan and his generals in front of Sheridan's tent, 1864. Left to right: Wesley Merritt, David McM. Gregg, Sheridan, Henry E. Davies (standing), James H. Wilson, and Alfred Torbert.

Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, newly promoted to be general-in-chief of all the Union armies, summoned Sheridan to the Eastern Theater to command the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac. Unbeknownst to Sheridan, he was actually Grant's second choice, after Maj. Gen. William B. Franklin, but Grant agreed to a suggestion about Sheridan from Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck. After the war, and in his memoirs, Grant claimed that Sheridan was the very man he wanted for the job. Sheridan arrived at the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac on April 5, 1864, less than a month before the start of Grant's massive Overland Campaign against Robert E. Lee.[24]

In the early battles of the campaign, Sheridan's cavalry was relegated by army commander Maj. Gen. George G. Meade to its traditional role—screening, reconnaissance, and guarding trains and rear areas—much to Sheridan's frustration. In the Battle of the Wilderness (May 5 and May 6, 1864), the dense forested terrain prevented any significant cavalry role. As the army swung around the Confederate right flank in the direction of Spotsylvania Court House, Sheridan's troopers failed to clear the road from the Wilderness, losing engagements along the Plank Road on May 5 and Todd's Tavern on May 6 through May 8, allowing the Confederates to seize the critical crossroads before the Union infantry could arrive.[25]

When Meade reprimanded Sheridan for not performing his duties of screening and reconnaissance as ordered, Sheridan went directly to Meade's superior, General Grant, recommending that his corps be assigned to strategic raiding missions. Grant agreed, and from May 9 through May 24, sent him on a raid toward Richmond, directly challenging the Confederate cavalry. The raid was less successful than hoped; although his soldiers managed to kill Confederate cavalry commander Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart at Yellow Tavern on May 11, the raid never seriously threatened Richmond and it left Grant without cavalry intelligence for Spotsylvania and North Anna. Historian Gordon C. Rhea wrote, "By taking his cavalry from Spotsylvania Court House, Sheridan severely handicapped Grant in his battles against Lee. The Union Army was deprived of his eyes and ears during a critical juncture in the campaign. And Sheridan's decision to advance boldly to the Richmond defenses smacked of unnecessary showboating that jeopardized his command."[26]

Rejoining the Army of the Potomac, Sheridan's cavalry fought to a technical victory at Haw's Shop (May 28), but one with heavy casualties and one that allowed the Confederate cavalry to obtain valuable intelligence about Union dispositions. It seized the critical crossroads that triggered the Battle of Cold Harbor (June 1 to June 12) and withstood a number of assaults until reinforced. Sheridan then proceeded on a raid to the northwest to break the Virginia Central Railroad and to link up with the Shenandoah Valley army of Maj. Gen. David Hunter. He was intercepted by the Confederate cavalry under Maj. Gen. Wade Hampton and defeated at the Battle of Trevilian Station, failing in all of the objectives of the raid.[27]

History draws decidedly mixed opinions on the success of Sheridan in the Overland Campaign, in no small part because the very clear Union victory at Yellow Tavern, highlighted by the death of Jeb Stuart, tends to overshadow other actions and battles. In Sheridan's report of the Cavalry Corps' actions in the campaign, discussing the strategy of cavalry fighting cavalry, he wrote, "The result was constant success and the almost total annihilation of the rebel cavalry. We marched when and where we pleased; we were always the attacking party, and always successful." A contrary view has been published by historian Eric J. Wittenberg, who notes that of four major strategic raids (Richmond, Trevilian, Wilson-Kautz, and First Deep Bottom) and thirteen major cavalry engagements of the campaign, only Yellow Tavern can be considered a Union victory, with Haw's Shop, Trevilian Station, Meadow Bridge, Samaria Church, and the Wilson-Kautz raid defeats in which some of Sheridan's forces barely avoided destruction.[28]

Army of the Shenandoah

Throughout the war, the Confederacy sent armies out of Virginia through the Shenandoah Valley to invade Maryland and Pennsylvania and threaten Washington, D.C. Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early, following the same pattern in the Valley Campaigns of 1864, and hoping to distract Grant from the Siege of Petersburg, attacked Union forces near Washington and raided several towns in Pennsylvania. Grant, reacting to the political commotion caused by the invasion, organized the Middle Military Division, whose field troops were known as the Army of the Shenandoah. He considered various candidates for command, including George Meade, William B. Franklin, and David Hunter, with the latter two intended for the military division while Sheridan would command the army. All of these choices were rejected by either Grant or the War Department and, over the objection of Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, who believed him to be too young for such a high post, Sheridan took command in both roles at Harpers Ferry on August 7, 1864. His mission was not only to defeat Early's army and to close off the Northern invasion route, but to deny the Shenandoah Valley as a productive agricultural region to the Confederacy. Grant told Sheridan, "The people should be informed that so long as an army can subsist among them recurrences of these raids must be expected, and we are determined to stop them at all hazards. ... Give the enemy no rest ... Do all the damage to railroads and crops you can. Carry off stock of all descriptions, and negroes, so as to prevent further planting. If the war is to last another year, we want the Shenandoah Valley to remain a barren waste."[29]

Sheridan's Ride, chromolithograph by Thure de Thulstrup

Sheridan got off to a slow start, needing time to organize and to react to reinforcements reaching Early; Grant ordered him not to launch an offensive "with the advantage against you." And yet Grant expressed frustration with Sheridan's lack of progress. The armies remained unengaged for over a month, causing political consternation in the North as the 1864 election drew near. The two generals conferred on September 16 at Charles Town and agreed that Sheridan would begin his attacks within four days.[30]

On September 19, Sheridan beat Early's much smaller army at Third Winchester and followed up on September 22 with a victory at Fisher's Hill. As Early attempted to regroup, Sheridan began the punitive operations of his mission, sending his cavalry as far south as Waynesboro to seize or destroy livestock and provisions, and to burn barns, mills, factories, and railroads. Sheridan's men did their work relentlessly and thoroughly, rendering over 400 mi.² (1036 km²) uninhabitable. Vital resources were also effectively kept from the Confederacy in the process. The destruction presaged the scorched earth tactics of Sherman's March to the Sea through Georgia—deny an army a base from which to operate and bring the effects of war home to the population supporting it. The residents referred to this widespread destruction as "The Burning." The Confederates were not idle during this period and Sheridan's men were plagued by guerrilla raids by partisan ranger Col. John S. Mosby.[31]

Although Sheridan assumed that Jubal Early was effectively out of action and he considered withdrawing his army to rejoin Grant at Petersburg, Early received reinforcements and, on October 19 at Cedar Creek, launched a well-executed surprise attack while Sheridan was absent from his army, ten miles away at Winchester. Hearing the distant sounds of artillery, he rode aggressively to his command. He reached the battlefield about 10:30 a.m. and began to rally his men. Fortunately for Sheridan, Early's men were too occupied to take notice; they were hungry and exhausted and fell out to pillage the Union camps. Sheridan's actions are generally credited with saving the day (although Maj. Gen. Horatio G. Wright, commanding Sheridan's VI Corps, had already rallied his men and stopped their retreat). Early had been dealt his most significant defeat, rendering his army almost incapable of future offensive action. The Union would now hold firm control over the Shenandoah Valley and possess greater opportunities to strike the Confederate capital at Richmond. Sheridan received a personal letter of thanks from Abraham Lincoln and a promotion to major general in the regular army as of November 8, 1864, making him the fourth ranking general in the Army, after Grant, Sherman, and Meade. A famous poem, Sheridan's Ride, was written by Thomas Buchanan Read to commemorate the general's return to the battle. Sheridan reveled in the fame that Read's poem brought him, renaming his horse Rienzi to "Winchester," based on the poem's refrain, "Winchester, twenty miles away." The poem was widely used in Republican campaign efforts and some have credited Abraham Lincoln's margin of victory to it.[32]

Sheridan spent the next several months occupied with light skirmishing and fighting guerrillas. Although Grant continued his exhortations for Sheridan to move south and break the Virginia Central Railroad supplying Petersburg, Sheridan resisted. Wright's VI Corps returned to join Grant in November. Sheridan's remaining men, primarily cavalry and artillery, finally moved out of their winter quarters on February 27, 1865, and headed east. The orders from Gen. Grant were largely discretionary: they were to destroy the Virginia Central Railroad and the James River Canal, capture Lynchburg if practicable, then either join William T. Sherman in North Carolina or return to Winchester.[33]

Appomattox Campaign

Lee's retreat in the Appomattox Campaign, April 3 – April 9, 1865.

Sheridan interpreted Grant's orders liberally and instead of heading to North Carolina in March 1865, he moved to rejoin the Army of the Potomac at Petersburg. He wrote in his memoirs, "Feeling that the war was nearing its end, I desired my cavalry to be in at the death."[34] His finest service of the Civil War was demonstrated during his relentless pursuit of Robert E. Lee's Army, effectively managing the most crucial aspects of the Appomattox Campaign for Grant.[35]

On the way to Petersburg, at the Battle of Waynesboro, March 2, he trapped the remainder of Early's army and 1,500 soldiers surrendered. Sheridan was countered by George Pickett on March 31 at Dwindle Courthouse, but on April 1, he cut off Gen. Lee's lines of support at Five Forks, forcing Lee to evacuate Petersburg. During this battle he ruined the military career of Maj. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren by removing him from command of the V Corps under circumstances that a court of inquiry later determined were unjustified.[36]

Sheridan's aggressive and well-executed performance at the Battle of Sayler's Creek on April 6 effectively sealed the fate of Lee's army, capturing over 20% of his remaining men and forcing him to abandon the defense of Richmond.[37] President Lincoln sent Grant a telegram on April 7: "Gen. Sheridan says 'If the thing is pressed I think that Lee will surrender.' Let the thing be pressed." At Appomattox Court House, April 9, 1865, Sheridan, after 3 days of riding fiercely to the scene, blocked Lee's escape, forcing the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia later that day. Grant summed up Little Phil's performance in these final days: "I believe General Sheridan has no superior as a general, either living or dead, and perhaps not an equal."[38]


Sheridan portrait by Mathew Brady or Levin C. Handy.

After the surrender of Lee, and of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston in North Carolina, the only significant Confederate field force remaining was in Texas under Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith. Grant appointed Sheridan commander of the Military District of the Southwest on May 17, 1865,[5] with orders to defeat Smith without delay and restore Texas and Louisiana to Union control. However, Smith surrendered before Sheridan reached New Orleans. Grant was also concerned about the situation in neighboring Mexico, where 40,000 French soldiers were propping up the puppet regime of Austrian Archduke Maximilian, and gave Sheridan permission for a large Texas occupation force. Sheridan assembled 50,000 men in three corps, quickly occupied Texas coastal cities, spread inland, and began to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border. The Army's presence, U.S. political pressure, and the growing resistance of Benito Juárez induced the French to abandon their claims against Mexico and Napoleon III withdrew his troops in 1866.[39] Sheridan later admitted in his memoirs that he had supplied arms to Juárez's forces: "... supplied with arms and ammunition, which we left at convenient places on our side of the river to fall into their hands."[40]

On July 30, 1866, while Sheridan was in Texas, a white mob broke up the state constitutional convention in New Orleans. Thirty-four blacks were killed. Shortly after Sheridan returned, he wired Grant, "The more information I obtain of the affair of the 30th in this city the more revolting it becomes. It was no riot; it was an absolute massacre."[41] In March 1867, with Reconstruction barely started, Sheridan was appointed military governor of the Fifth Military District (Texas and Louisiana). He severely limited voter registration for former Confederates and then required that only registered voters (including black men) be eligible to serve on juries.

An inquiry into the deadly riot of 1866 implicated numerous local officials and Sheridan dismissed the mayor of New Orleans, the Louisiana attorney general, and a district judge. He later removed Louisiana Governor James M. Wells, accusing him of being "a political trickster and a dishonest man." He also dismissed Texas Governor James W. Throckmorton, a former Confederate, for being an "impediment to the reconstruction of the State," replacing him with the Republican who had lost to him in the previous election. Sheridan had been feuding with President Andrew Johnson for months over interpretations of the Military Reconstruction Acts and voting rights issues, and within a month of the second firing, the president removed Sheridan, stating to an outraged Gen. Grant that, "His rule has, in fact, been one of absolute tyranny, without references to the principles of our government or the nature of our free institutions."[42]

If Sheridan was unpopular in Texas, neither did he have much appreciation for the Lone Star State. In 1866 newspapers quoted him as saying, "If I owned both Texas and Hell, I would rent Texas and live in Hell,"[43] a statement which he repeated in later years in various forms.

During the Grant administration, while Sheridan was assigned to duty in the West, he was sent to Louisiana on two additional occasions to deal with problems that lingered in Reconstruction. In January 1875, federal troops intervened in the Louisiana Legislature following attempts by both Republicans and Democrats to seize control by illegal means. Sheridan supported Republican carpetbagger Governor William P. Kellogg, winner of the disputed 1872 state election, and declared that all opponents of his regime were "banditti" who should be subjected to military tribunals and loss of their habeas corpus rights. The Grant administration backed down after an enormous public outcry. A headline in the New York World newspaper was "Tyranny! A Sovereign State Murdered!" In 1876, Sheridan was sent to New Orleans to command troops keeping the peace in the aftermath of the disputed presidential election.[44]

Indian Wars

The Indians on the Great Plains had been generally peaceful during the Civil War. In 1864, Major John Chivington, a Colorado militia officer, attacked a peaceful village of Arapahos and Southern Cheyenne at Sand Creek in Colorado, killing over 150 Indians. That attack ignited a general war with the Indians. The protection of the Great Plains fell under the Department of the Missouri, an administrative area of over 1,000,000 mi.² (2,590,000 km²), encompassing all land between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains. Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock was assigned to the department in 1866, but had mishandled his campaign, resulting in Sioux and Cheyenne raids of retaliation. The Indians continued to attack mail coaches, burn the stations, and kill the employees. They also raped, killed, and kidnapped a considerable number of settlers on the frontier. Under pressure from the various governors in the Great Plains, General Grant turned to Phil Sheridan.[45]

In August 1867, Grant appointed Sheridan to head the Department of the Missouri and pacify the Plains. His troops, even supplemented with state militia, were spread too thin to have any real effect. He conceived a strategy similar to the one he used in the Shenandoah Valley. In the Winter Campaign of 1868–69 he attacked the Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Comanche tribes in their winter quarters, taking their supplies and livestock and killing those who resisted, driving the rest back into their reservations. By promoting in Congressional testimony the slaughter of the vast herds of American bison on the Great Plains and by other means, Sheridan helped deprive the Indians of their primary source of food. In 1875 Sheridan's made the following statement to Congress: "For the sake of lasting peace, let them kill, skin and sell until the buffaloes are exterminated."[46] This strategy continued until the Indians honored their treaties. Sheridan's department conducted the Red River War, the Ute War, and the Black Hills War, which resulted in the death of a trusted subordinate, Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer. The Indian raids subsided during the 1870s and were almost over by the early 1880s, as Sheridan became the commanding general of the U.S. Army.[47]

There is a widely told story attributed to Sheridan during his campaign against the Indians. Comanche Chief Tosawi, or Silver Knife, reputedly told Sheridan in 1869, "Me, Tosawi; me good Injun," to which Sheridan replied, "The only good Indians I ever saw were dead." The quote was twisted into "The only good Indian is a dead Indian," a slightly more pejorative version that have been used ever since to cast aspersions on his Indian-fighting career.[48] Political scientist Mario Marcel Salas, in quoting and extrapolating information from Dee Brown's book, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, a Native American view of American history, indicates that Sheridan's statement was confirmed by Tosawi. Salas argues that regardless of which variation of the statement is correct, it taints Sheridan as a racist mass killer. Sheridan's job, according to Brown, was to hunt down and murder all Indians that would not agree to giving up their lands.[49]

Other assignments

Sheridan was promoted to lieutenant general on March 4, 1869.[5] In 1870, President Grant, at Sheridan's request, sent him to observe and report on the Franco-Prussian War. As a guest of the King of Prussia, he was present when Napoleon III surrendered to the Germans, which was gratifying to Sheridan following his experiences with the French in Mexico. He later toured most of Europe and returned to the U.S. to report to Grant that although the Prussians were "very good brave fellows [who] had gone into each battle with the determination to win, ... there is nothing to be learned here professionally." He criticized their handling of cavalry and likened their practices to the manner in which Meade had attempted to supervise him.[50]

In 1871, Sheridan was present in Chicago during the Great Chicago Fire and coordinated military relief efforts. The mayor, to calm the panic, placed the city under martial law, and issued a proclamation putting Sheridan in charge. As there were no widespread disturbances, martial law was lifted within a few days. Although Sheridan's personal residence was spared, all of his professional and personal papers were destroyed.[51]

Sheridan served as commander in chief of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS) veterans' organization from 1886 to 1888.[5]

In 1878, Sheridan would return to the plains in time to assist in the capture of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce.[43] On November 1, 1883, Sheridan succeeded William T. Sherman as Commanding General, U.S. Army, and held that position until after Geronimo had been captured. He was promoted on June 1, 1888, shortly before his death, to the rank of general in the regular army (the rank was titled "General of the Army of the United States," by Act of Congress June 1, 1888, the same rank achieved earlier by Grant and Sherman, which is equivalent to a four-star general, O-10, in the modern U.S. Army).[5]


The protection of the Yellowstone area was Sheridan's personal crusade. He authorized Lieutenant Gustavus Doane to escort the Washburn Expedition in 1870 and for Captain John W. Barlow to escort the Hayden Expedition in 1871. As early as 1875, Sheridan promoted military control of the area to prevent the destruction of natural formations and wildlife.[52]

In 1882, the Department of the Interior granted rights to the Yellowstone Park Improvement Company to develop 4,000 acres (16 km²) in the park. Their plan was to build a railroad into the park and sell the land to developers. Sheridan personally organized opposition to the plan and lobbied Congress for protection of the park; including expansion, military control, reducing the development to 10 acres (40,000 m²), and prohibiting leases near park attractions. In addition, he arranged an expedition to the park for President Chester A. Arthur and other influential men.[53] His lobbying soon paid off. A rider was added to the Sundry Civil Bill of 1883, giving Sheridan and his supporters almost everything for which they had asked. In 1886, after a string of ineffectual and sometimes criminal superintendents, Sheridan ordered the 1st U.S. Cavalry into the park. The military operated the park until the National Park Service took it over in 1916.[52]


Sheridan's headstone at Arlington National Cemetery. The inscription faces Washington, D.C.

Sheridan was well-known throughout his life for his aggressive military tactics and ability to react quickly. He was praised by important figures in the North, such as General Grant and President Lincoln, throughout his battlefield days. He was dedicated to victory and willing to face any enemy to see to the realization of that goal. Reconstruction prompted the South to view him as harsh. He detested the South himself and was not shy about admitting it. He was highly successful on the battlefield and is regarded as one of the Union's finest officers.[43]

Detail of monument to General Sheridan in Sheridan Circle, Washington, D.C.

Fort Sheridan in Illinois was named to honor General Sheridan's many services to Chicago.

The M551 Sheridan tank is named after General Sheridan.

Mt. Sheridan in Yellowstone National Park was named for Sheridan by Captain John W. Barlow in 1871.

Sheridan appeared on $10 U.S. Treasury Notes issued in 1890 and 1891.[54] His bust then reappeared on the $5 Silver Certificate in 1896. These rare notes are in great demand by collectors today.

Sheridan County, Montana, Sheridan County, Wyoming, and Sheridan County, Kansas, are named for him, as are the cities of Sheridan, Montana (in Madison County) Sheridan, Wyoming, Sheridan, Arkansas, and Sheridan, Oregon.

Sheridan Square in the West Village of New York City is named for the general and his statue is displayed nearby in Christopher Street Park. Sheridan Circle and Sheridan Street in Washington, D.C., are also named for him.

The only equestrian Civil War statue in Ohio honors Sheridan. It is in the center traffic circle on US Route 22 in Somerset, Ohio, not far from the house where Sheridan grew up.

In World War II the United States liberty ship SS "Philip H. Sheridan" was named in his honor.

Sheridan Drive in Arlington National Cemetery partially encircles the area that contains the general's gravesite.[55]


  1. John H. Eicher and David J. Eicher, Civil War High Commands (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2001), 482. Sheridan claimed Albany since he was 17, but alternative possibilities include: Somerset, Ohio, on September 6, 1831; on board a ship sailing to New York from County Cavan, Ireland; Boston, Massachusetts. Roy Morris Jr., Sheridan: The Life and Wars of General Phil Sheridan (New York: Crown Publishing, 1992), 10-11. Sheridan harbored presidential ambitions from an early age and could have deliberately claimed a U.S. birthplace to retain eligibility for the office. Eric J. Wittenberg, Little Phil: A Reassessment of the Civil War Leadership of Gen. Philip H. Sheridan (Herndon: Potomac Books, 2002), 142-43. Wittenberg argues strongly for Ireland, citing a stone marker on the parents' former house and county parish records.
  2. Morris, 1.
  3. Morris, 15; John C. Fredriksen, "Philip Henry Sheridan," in Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History, eds. David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler (W. W. Norton & Company, 2000), 1760. Fredriksen claims that Sheridan lied about his age to enter the Academy.
  4. Wittenberg, 2.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 Eicher, 482-483.
  6. Morris, 27-44.
  7. John C. Fredriksen, "Philip Henry Sheridan." in Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History, eds. David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000), 1760.
  8. Morris, 350, 384.
  9. Sheridan's gravesite is in Section 2, Lot 1, of Arlington National Cemetery; Philip Bigler, In Honored Glory: Arlington National Cemetery, The Final Post, 2nd ed. (Arlington: Vandemere Press, 1994), 132.
  10. Morris, 388-93.
  11. Morris, 393.
  12. Morris, 41-46.
  13. Fredriksen, 1760-62.
  14. Wittenberg, 4-5; Morris, 41-59.
  15. Morris, 67-70.
  16. Philip H. Sheridan, Personal Memoirs of P.H. Sheridan, vol. 1. (New York: Charles L. Webster & Co., 1888), 166.
  17. Morris, 76.
  18. Wittenberg, 6-7; Morris, 89-96.
  19. Morris, 104-111, 116.
  20. Morris, 120.
  21. Wittenberg, 11; Morris, 127-36.
  22. Morris, 143-47.
  23. Fredriksen, 1761.
  24. Morris, 153, 155.
  25. Wittenberg, 24-27.
  26. Gordon C. Rhea, To the North Anna River: Grant and Lee, May 13–25, 1864 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000), 62.
  27. Morris, 172-81; Wittenberg, 33-41.
  28. Wittenberg, 50-51.
  29. Eicher, 482; Wittenberg, 58-60; Morris, 182-84.
  30. Morris, 184-96.
  31. Morris, 196-209.
  32. Wittenberg, 75-79, 82; Morris, 210-21; Eicher, 483; Fredriksen, 1762.
  33. Morris, 222-37.
  34. Morris, 239.
  35. Wittenberg, 159-60.
  36. Wittenberg, 116-31; Frederiksen, 1762.
  37. Wittenberg, 153.
  38. Morris, 254-58.
  39. Morris, 260-69.
  40. Sheridan, 405.
  41. Morris, 273-74.
  42. Morris, 286-96.
  43. 43.0 43.1 43.2 Fredriksen, 1762.
  44. Morris, 349-54, 364-65.
  45. Morris, 297-300.
  46. The Canadian Encyclopedia, Bison Back from the Brink of Extinction Retrieved October 19, 2016.
  47. Fredriksen, 1762; Morris, 309-24, 342-49, 357-64, 368, 373-76.
  48. Morris, 328.
  49. Dee Brown, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee An Indian History Of The American West (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1970), 147-174.
  50. Morris, 329-30.
  51. Morris, 335-38.
  52. 52.0 52.1 James S. MacDonald Jr., The Founding of Yellowstone into Law and into Fact Retrieved October 19, 2016.
  53. Morris, 378-79.
  54. Example notes are displayed on the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, American Currency Exhibit: Treasury Coin Note, $10, 1890, American Currency Exhibit: Treasury Coin Note, $10, 1890 Retrieved October 19, 2016.
  55. Bigler, 43.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Bigler, Philip. In Honored Glory: Arlington National Cemetery, The Final Post. 2nd ed. Arlington: Vandemere Press, 1994. ISBN 0918339685
  • Brown, Dee. Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee An Indian History Of The American West. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1970. ISBN 0805066691
  • The Canadian Encyclopedia. Bison Back from the Brink of Extinction Retrieved October 19, 2016.
  • Eicher, John H., and Eicher, David J. Civil War High Commands. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2001. ISBN 0804736413
  • Fredriksen, John C. "Philip Henry Sheridan," In Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History, edited by David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler, 1760-62. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000, ISBN 039304758X
  • Hutton, Paul Andrew. Phil Sheridan and His Army. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1985. ISBN 0803272278
  • Internet Movie Database. IMBD. IMBD Retrieved September 6, 2007.
  • Macdonald, James S., Jr. The Founding of Yellowstone into Law and into Fact Retrieved October 19, 2016.
  • Meider, Wolfgang. "'The Only Good Indian Is a Dead Indian': History and Meaning of a Proverbial Stereotype." The Journal of American Folklore 106 (1993): 38-60.
  • Morris, Roy, Jr. Sheridan: The Life and Wars of General Phil Sheridan. New York: Crown Publishing, 1992. ISBN 0517580705
  • Rhea, Gordon C. To the North Anna River: Grant and Lee, May 13–25, 1864. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000. ISBN 0807125350
  • Sheridan, Philip H. Personal Memoirs of P.H. Sheridan. Vol. 1. New York: Charles L. Webster & Co., 1888. ISBN 1582181853
  • U.S. War Dept. The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1880–1901. Retrieved October 19, 2016.
  • Wittenberg, Eric J. Little Phil: A Reassessment of the Civil War Leadership of Gen. Philip H. Sheridan. Herndon: Potomac Books, 2002. ISBN 1574885480

External links

All links retrieved November 23, 2022.

Preceded by:
William T. Sherman
Commanding General of the United States Army
Succeeded by:
John M. Schofield


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