Saturday, March 2, 2013

Philip Sheridan, born March 6, 1831



Philip Henry Sheridan claimed to have been born in Albany, New York, the third child of six by John and Mary Meenagh Sheridan, immigrants from County Cavan, Ireland.  Other accounts indicate that he may have been born at sea while his parents were immigrating from Ireland. 

He grew up in Somerset, Ohio, about 43 miles southeast of ColumbusSheridan 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 an examination of mathematics skill and a "poor attitude." In his third year at West Point, Sheridan was suspended for a year for fighting with a classmate, William R. Terrill. 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.

He was 30 years old when the Civil War began.


Lt. Sheridan
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."

Sheridan was commissioned as a brevet second lieutenant and was assigned to the 1st U.S. Infantry regiment at Fort DuncanTexas, 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), and some of the diplomatic skills needed for negotiating with Indian tribes. 

He lived with a mistress for about five years 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. 

He was promoted to first lieutenant in March 1861, just before the Civil War, and to captain in May, immediately after Fort Sumter.

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. Sheridan sorted out the mess, impressing Halleck in the process. Much to Sheridan's dismay, Halleck's vision for Sheridan consisted of a continuing role as a staff officer.


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. Sheridan soon discovered that officers were engaged in profiteering. They stole horses from civilians and demanded payment from Sheridan. He refused to pay for the stolen property and confiscated the horses for the use of Curtis's army. When Curtis ordered him to pay the officers, Sheridan brusquely retorted, "No authority can compel me to jayhawk or steal." Curtis had Sheridan arrested for insubordination but Halleck's influence appears to have ended any formal proceedings. 

Sheridan 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.  A month later, Sheridan commanded his first forces in combat, leading a small brigade that included his regiment. At the Battle of Booneville, Mississippi, 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. His actions so impressed the division commanders, including Brig. Gen. William S. Rosecrans, that they recommended Sheridan's promotion to brigadier general.
 It was just after Booneville 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.
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. Under orders from Buell and his corps commander, Maj. Gen.Charles Gilbert, Sheridan sent Col. Daniel McCook's brigade to secure a water supply for the army. McCook drove off the Confederates and secured water for the parched Union troops at Doctor's Creek. Gilbert ordered McCook not to advance any further and then rode to consult with Buell. Along the way, Gilbert ordered his cavalry to attack the Confederates in Dan McCook's front. Sheridan heard the gunfire and came to the front with another brigade. Although the cavalry failed to secure the heights in front of McCook, Sheridan's reinforcements drove off the Southerners. Gilbert returned and ordered Sheridan to return to McCook's original position. Sheridan's aggressiveness convinced the opposing Confederates under Maj. Gen. Leonidas Polk, that they should remain on the defensive. His troops repulsed Confederate attacks later that day, but did not participate in the heaviest fighting of the day, which occurred on the Union left.

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). In six months, he had risen from captain to major general.
General Sheridan
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."

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.
Sheridan and Staff in 1864
On September 19, 1864, Sheridan beat Jubal 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 miles uninhabitable. 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.

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. 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. Grant wrote to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton after he ordered a 100-gun salute to celebrate Sheridan's victory at Cedar Creek, "Turning what bid fair to be a disaster into glorious victory stamps Sheridan, what I have always thought him, one of the ablest of generals." 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.

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. On the way to Petersburg, at the Battle of Waynesboro, March 2, 1865, he trapped the remainder of Early's army and 1,500 soldiers surrendered. On April 1, he cut off Gen. Lee's lines of support at Five Forks, forcing Lee to evacuate Petersburg.  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.  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 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."

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. Sheridan was supposed to lead troops in the Grand Review of the Armies in Washington, D.C., but Grant had appointed him commander of the Military District of the Southwest on May 17, 1865,  six days before the parade, with orders to defeat Smith without delay and restore Texas and Louisiana to Union control. However, Smith surrendered before Sheridan reached New Orleans

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."  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."

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 Texas and Hell, I would rent Texas and live in Hell", a statement which he repeated in later years in various forms.
The Indians on the Great Plains had been generally peaceful during the Civil War until 1864 when raids and counteraids in Colorado ignited a war. The protection of the Great Plains fell under the Department of the Missouri, an administrative area of over 1,000,000 miles., encompassing all land between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains. Under pressure from the governors, General Grant turned to Phil Sheridan.  In September 1866, Sheridan arrived at the former Fort Martin Scott near FredericksburgTexas, where he spent three months subduing Indians in the Texas Hill Country.  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. Professional hunters, trespassing on Indian land, killed over 4 million bison by 1874, and Sheridan applauded: "Let them kill, skin and sell until the buffalo is exterminated". When the Texas legislature considered outlawing bison poaching on tribal lands, Sheridan personally testified against it, suggesting that the legislature should give each of the hunters a medal, engraved with a dead buffalo on one side and a discouraged-looking Indian on the other.

Sheridan's department conducted the Red River War, the Ute War, and the Great Sioux War of 1876-77, 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

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. 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."

In 1871, Sheridan was present in Chicago during the Great Chicago Fire, and coordinated military relief efforts. The mayor, Roswell B. Mason, to calm the panic, placed the city under martial law, and issued a proclamation putting Sheridan in charge.  Although Sheridan's personal residence was spared, all of his professional and personal papers were destroyed.

On June 3, 1875, Sheridan married Irene Rucker, a daughter of Army Quartermaster General Daniel Rucker. She was 22, and he was 44. They eventually had four children. 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.

On November 1, 1883, Sheridan succeeded William T. Sherman as Commanding General, U.S. Army, and held that position until shortly before his death. 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).

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. Barlow named Mount Sheridan, a peak overlooking Heart Lake in Yellowstone, for the general in 1871. As early as 1875, Sheridan promoted military control of the area to prevent the destruction of natural formations and wildlife. 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. 
Sheridan with President Arthur at Yellowstone
In addition, he arranged an expedition to the park for President Chester A. Arthur and other influential men.  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.
Sheridan served as the ninth president of the National Rifle Association.
Philip Sheridan suffered a series of massive heart attacks two months after sending his memoirs to the publisher. At 57 years of age, 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.  His family moved him from the heat of Washington and he died of heart failure in his summer cottage in the Nonquitt section of Dartmouth, Massachusetts on August 5, 1888.

His body was returned to Washington and he was buried on a hillside facing the capital city near Arlington House in Arlington National Cemetery.  The sculpture on the marker was executed by English sculptor Samuel James Kitson.  His wife Irene never remarried, saying, "I would rather be the widow of Phil Sheridan than the wife of any man living."

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