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 Columbus. 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 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.
Sheridan was commissioned as a brevet second lieutenant and was assigned to the 1st U.S. Infantry regiment at Fort Duncan, Texas, 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.
|Sheridan and Staff in 1864|
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.
|Sheridan with President Arthur at Yellowstone|