Sheridan, Philip H.

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Sheridan, Philip H. (1831–1888), Civil War general and frontier army commander.Sheridan was born in Albany, New York; his Irish Catholic family soon moved to Somerset, Ohio, where his father worked as a laborer. Receiving only modest schooling, Sheridan still obtained an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy, graduating in 1853. Typical frontier assignments found him posted as lieutenant of infantry in Oregon in 1861.

After the outbreak of the Civil War, Sheridan served first in the western theater, demonstrating skills as an operational combat commander in several positions. After starting as a cavalry commander, Sheridan led an infantry division in the Battle of Perryville, Kentucky (8 October 1862) and the Battle of Stones River, Tennessee (31 December 1862–3 January 1863), and was promoted to major general in the volunteers. In the Battle of Chickamauga, Georgia (19–20 September 1863), a Confederate attack battered Sheridan's division, and it suffered heavy casualties. Under the eye of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, Sheridan performed well in the fighting around Chattanooga, Tennessee, including an outstanding role in the victorious Union assault in the Battle of Missionary Ridge (25 November 1863).

In 1864, Grant as general in chief selected Sheridan to lead the cavalry corps of the Army of the Potomac in the eastern theater. During May and June 1864, Sheridan's cavalry participated in raids supporting the Union offensive toward Richmond, Virginia. Grant next assigned Sheridan to command the Federal Army of the Shenandoah, with about 40,000 soldiers. As part of the new economic warfare, Sheridan devastated crops in the Shenandoah Valley (the Confederacy's “breadbasket”); he also defeated the Confederate army operating under Gen. Jubal A. Early. The campaign culminated at the Battle of Cedar Creek (19 October 1864), a victory that helped reelect President Abraham Lincoln and made Sheridan one of the top three Northern heroes of the war, ranking behind Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman. At the end of the war, Sheridan's victory at Five Forks (1 April 1865) prevented Robert E. Lee's army from escaping from Virginia and led to Lee's surrender at Appomattox.

After the war, Sheridan supervised Reconstruction in Louisiana and Texas, insisting on basic rights for black soldiers and freedmen. Sheridan's military government and enforcement of congressional Reconstruction policies put him at odds with President Andrew Johnson, who reassigned him to the Great Plains in 1867.

During the next decade, from the field and headquarters in Chicago, Sheridan directed major campaigns against Indian tribes in the vast area of the Military Division of the Missouri, from Montana to Texas. During the Plains Indians Wars, those campaigns included devastating clashes with the Sioux, Cheyennes, and Comanches. Sheridan employed railroads in his military operations and winter campaigns that caught the tribes off guard. He adamantly supported Grant as president, even returning for another controversial assignment in Louisiana to enforce federal laws there after the presidential election of 1876. He served as commanding general of the army from 1884 until his death in 1888.

To some, Sheridan appeared radical for his day, especially in Reconstruction politics. In many ways traditional, he also appeared innovative by using railroads in military logistics, endorsing development of western lands, supporting specialized officer training schools, and testing new firearms for the army. A great combat commander, Sheridan was determined in defense and relentless in attack. As a measure of respect, Congress voted to promote him to the four‐star rank of general of the army shortly before he died.
[See also Civil War: Military and Diplomatic Course.]

Bibliography

Raymond O'Connor , Sheridan the Inevitable, 1953;
Robert M. Utley , Frontier Regulars: The U.S. Army and the Indian, 1866–1891, 1973.
Joseph G. Dawson III , Army Generals and Reconstruction, 1982.
Paul Andrew Hutton , Phil Sheridan and His Army, 1985.
Roy Morris, Jr. , Sheridan, 1992.

Joseph G. Dawson III