Philip Henry Sheridan

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Philip Henry Sheridan, 1831–88, Union general in the American Civil War, b. Albany, N.Y. Although not a brilliant general, Sheridan's flair for leadership and his ready fighting ability made him the outstanding Union cavalry commander.

During the Civil War

After graduation from West Point (1853), he saw varied service on the frontier. In the Civil War, Sheridan, made colonel of the 2d Michigan Cavalry (May, 1862), took part in the Union advance on Corinth, Miss., under General Halleck and won a victory over Confederate cavalry at Booneville, Miss., on July 1, 1862. Made a brigadier general of volunteers and given command of a division of the Army of the Ohio, Sheridan distinguished himself under Don Carlos Buell at Perryville (Oct., 1862) and was promoted to major general of volunteers (Dec., 1862) for his able conduct under William S. Rosecrans at Murfreesboro.

In the Chattanooga campaign (1863) he aided George H. Thomas in holding off the Confederates at Chickamauga and had a prominent part in the Union victory at Missionary Ridge. Ulysses S. Grant recognized his ability and appointed Sheridan commander of the cavalry corps of the Army of the Potomac (Apr., 1864). In a notable raid (May 9–24, 1864) in the Wilderness campaign, he destroyed communications and supplies behind Robert E. Lee's lines and defeated J. E. B. Stuart at Yellow Tavern.

The success of the Confederate general Jubal A. Early in the Shenandoah Valley prompted Grant to give Sheridan command of the Union forces there in Aug., 1864. At Winchester (Sept. 19) and Fishers Hill (Sept. 22) Sheridan roundly defeated Early and drove him up the valley. Sheridan then slowly withdrew, systematically laying waste to the Shenandoah so that, as he reported, even a crow flying over the place would have to take his rations with him. But Early advanced again, and on the morning of Oct. 19, while Sheridan was at Winchester, 15 mi (24 km) away, he surprised the Union forces at Cedar Creek and drove them back. Upon hearing of the defeat Sheridan hurried to the field, rallied his men, and, counterattacking, won a decisive victory. (This success was highly dramatized by Thomas Buchanan Read in his poem, "Sheridan's Ride." ) Sheridan was made a major general in the regular army in Nov., 1864.

In Mar., 1865, Gen. George Custer of Sheridan's army defeated the remains of Early's command at Waynesboro. Sheridan then moved eastward, destroying Confederate communications as he went. After his victory at Five Forks (Apr. 1, 1865), he pursued Lee vigorously and cut off the Confederate retreat at Appomattox, forcing Lee's surrender.

Later Career

After commanding the Military Division of the Gulf (May, 1865–Mar., 1867), Sheridan commanded the 5th Military Dist. (Texas and Louisiana) from March until Sept., 1867, when President Andrew Johnson transferred him to the command of the Dept. of the Missouri because of differences over Reconstruction policy. There he led military operations against the Cheyennes, Comanches, and other Native American groups. In the Franco-Prussian War he was a military observer with the Prussian army. Sheridan was again sent to Louisiana in 1875, when the revolt against Republican rule created great public disturbance. On William T. Sherman's retirement (1884), Sheridan was made commanding general of the U.S. army, and shortly before his death he was promoted to general.


See his Personal Memoirs (1888).

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Philip Henry Sheridan

Philip Henry Sheridan (1831-1888), American soldier, was noted for his part in the 1864-1865 Virginia campaigns of the Civil War.

Philip H. Sheridan was born in Albany, N.Y., on March 6, 1831, the son of Irish immigrant parents who soon moved to Somerset, Ohio. At the age of 14 he went to work as a store clerk. Inspired by the Mexican War, he secured an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1848. A year's disciplinary suspension delayed his graduation until 1853. Tours of duty in California and Oregon made him into a military jack-of-all-trades and doubtless helped him develop self-reliance and resourcefulness.

Following the outbreak of the Civil War, Sheridan received a captaincy in the 13th Infantry, and after several irksome administrative assignments he was made colonel of the 2d Michigan Volunteer Cavalry. After duty in northern Mississippi he was promoted on July 1, 1862, to brigadier general. Shifted soon afterward to the infantry, he competently commanded a division during the western campaigns.

In March 1864 Sheridan was ordered to Virginia to command the cavalry corps. Following an undistinguished performance at the Battle of the Wilderness, he led a long raid against Gen. Robert E. Lee's communications, which devastated Confederate supply depots and railroads.

On August 1 Gen. Ulysses S. Grant ordered Sheridan to take command in the Shenandoah Valley and dispose of Gen. Jubal Early's force, which had nearly taken Washington in July and still lingered threateningly in the lower valley. With 40,000 infantry and cavalry Sheridan defeated Early's vastly outnumbered force three times in September and October 1864 and finally dispersed the remnant at Waynesboro in March 1865. Meanwhile he had systematically devastated the valley. Sheridan then marched unopposed through central Virginia, reaching Grant in time to participate in the final campaign against Lee.

When the war ended, Sheridan was sent to police the Texas-Mexican border. In 1867, following passage of the Reconstruction Acts, he was assigned to command the Fifth Military District, comprising Louisiana and Texas. President Andrew Johnson, believing Sheridan too heavy-handed in civil affairs, transferred him to the Department of the Missouri to direct operations against the Plains Indians. He was promoted to lieutenant general in 1869, and after succeeding Gen. William T. Sherman as general in chief, he became a full general in 1888. Sheridan completed his memoirs shortly before his death on Aug. 5, 1888, in Nonquitt, Mass.

Further Reading

For Sheridan's own account of his life see his Memoirs (1888). An excessively laudatory study is Richard O'Conner, Sheridan, the Inevitable (1953). Other studies are W.H. Van Orden, General Philip H. Sheridan (1896); John McElroy, General Philip Henry Sheridan (1896); and Joseph Hergesheimer, Sheridan: A Military Narrative (1931). For background information consult Edward J. Stackpole, Sheridan in the Shenandoah (1961).

Additional Sources

Hutton, Paul Andrew, Phil Sheridan and his army, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1985.

Morris, Roy, Sheridan: the life and wars of General Phil Sheridan, New York: Vintage Books, 1993.

Sheridan, Philip Henry, Indian fighting in the fifties in Oregon and Washington Territories, Fairfield, Wash.: Ye Galleon Press, 1987.

Sheridan, Philip Henry, Personal memoirs of P.H. Sheridan, General United States Army, New York: Da Capo Press, 1992. □

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Sheridan, Philip Henry (1831–88) US general. An aggressive Union commander in the American Civil War, he reorganized and led the cavalry of the Army of the Potomac (1864). Commanding the Army of the Shenandoah, he devastated the Shenandoah valley. In the final campaign, he forced Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox (1865).