Major General Philip H. Sheridan
Phil Sheridan claimed to have been born in Albany, NY, on March 6, 1831 as the third child of 6 children born to John & Mary Meenaugh Sheridan, immigrants and tenant farmers from Cavin Co. in northern Ireland. Seeking better employment, his father moved the family to Summerset, Ohio where young Phil grew up and was educated. He was always amazed at the stories of wars and conflicts and became interested in the Military. By luck and being in the right place at the right time, he was given a chance to go to the United States Military Academy. As a feisty kid from the streets and the son of a middle class family of Irish emigrants, his education at such a prestigious school was challenging. He had many problems, but after being suspended a year for fighting, he graduated 34th in a class of 55 in 1853. It was a class filled with many who were destined for Civil War fame, including generals McPherson, Terrill, Hood, and Schofield,
After graduation, Sheridan’s career started out – as many did – on the frontier at a remote outpost in Texas named Fort Duncan. He then transferred to the Northwest Territories where he was just another 2nd Louie trying to keep peace and protect settlers from hostile Indians.
War broke out and, as news and rumors reached the outpost in his area, “Little Phil”, as he was known, was itching to get into the fight. Sent from one problem area to another because of his unique abilities to bring order out of chaos, he was promoted to captain and made it to the front lines in a swift succession of moves.
Advancing from Captain to General in two years, Sheridan’s rise did not fit well in the spit and polish army run by Washington or gain him ready acceptance by the officers who were sons of the privileged class. But his reputation as a resourceful, enthusiastic, “fighting” officer, who thought on his feet and commanded from the front, gained him much respect and praise from commanders such as Grant, Sherman, and even President Lincoln. Always looking to the most important tools of war, the regulars, horses, and rations, he constantly upgraded wherever possible. He was demanding of his troops, but fearless in battle himself, and understood how to command troops to win battles. He also knew what was needed at that time in the war — commanders with a warrior spirit. Distinguishing himself in battle after battle and demonstrating the aggressiveness for which he was to become famous, Sheridan advanced swiftly from one commission to another, ending up a Major General of Volunteers by April of 1863.
Having been appointed by General Grant to command of the Union’s Army of the Shenandoah in August 1864, he was instrumental in running Confederate General Jubal Early out of the Shenandoah Valley, and in laying waste the farms in it, thus depriving General Lee of many vital food supplies that sustained his army in the field. His victory at the Battle of Cedar Creek, where he rallied his routed and retreating troops to turn around and regain their camps before nightfall, is the stuff of legend, immortalized in Civil War art and poetry. His fearlessness was well known too. Mildly chastised after the battle of Five Forks for recklessly exposing himself to enemy fire, he replied, “I have never in my life taken a command into battle, and had the slightest desire to come out alive unless I won”.
True to his word and his reputation, he pushed his troops very hard to get ahead of Lee’s fleeing Army of Northern Virginia in early April 1865, preventing their escape and hastening their surrender at Appomattox Court House where he was present in the room with Generals Grant and Lee.
A relatively young man at the end of the war, his career expanded afterwards. Sent to Texas and Louisiana to bring peace to a part of the country that did not believe they had really lost the war, his strict military discipline was not liked and politics soon became an issue. He was sent to the Midwest to develop and implement a strategy to pacify the Plains and make safe the settlement of the West by pioneering white families. Eventually he went on to succeed Sherman as Commanding General of the Army in 1883.
Although not as well-known as his military exploits, he was a great lover of nature and was instrumental in forming and running Yellowstone National Park. He also used his abilities to coordinate people and supplies after the Chicago Fire.
He married after the war and had four children. He died of heart failure, at age 57, on August 5, 1888 at his summer cottage in Dartmouth, MA, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. “Little Phil”, though only 5’5” tall, was as “big” as any military leader of the time. Perhaps General Grant said it best when he remarked, “I believe General Sheridan has no superior as a general, either living or dead, and perhaps not an equal.”[
Phillip F. Sheridan
Obviously because of my name and family lineage, I chose to portray the famous military leader, Philip Henry Sheridan.
Always having an interest in history but not specifically the Civil War, I have been doing reenacting for more than 20 years.
Now retired from the construction trades where I worked as an Operating Engineer for 30 years, I find myself having more time to follow pursuits such as portraying General Sheridan.
As a member of the Confederation of Union Generals, I get to meet a large section of the public with similar interests in the Civil War, and to interact with some of the most knowledgeable of Living Historians who give the public a unique and wonderful opportunity to look back 150 years and speak with a historical persona who is as “close” to the real person as you will find.
Phil Sheridan can be contacted through this web site at Philip.Sheridan@uniongenerals.org