Phillip Henry Sheridan
1831 - 1888
Phillip Henry Sheridan, diminutive U.S. Army general who in 1888 became the nation’s fourth highest ranking general in history, died August 5, 1888. He was 57.
Sheridan was born March 6, 1831, but his birthplace is still a mystery since no records exist to document a location. His childhood was spent in Somerset, Ohio, and in 1848 he secured an appointment to West Point.
Sheridan took five years to graduate because of a disciplinary action involving an altercation with another cadet. He was suspended for a year, and did not get his commission until 1853, graduating 34th out of 52 cadets.
In 1861, at the outbreak of the Civil War, Sheridan was still a second lieutenant. But he soon convinced his superiors that he was a valuable field officer, and by May 1862, he had been promoted to colonel and commander of the 2nd Michigan Cavalry.
In July 1862, Sheridan showed his talent for trickery when he fooled a much larger Confederate force at Booneville, Mississippi into thinking that he was being reinforced. In fact, he kept using the same soldiers to load and disembark from a train, giving the appearance that his troops were being reinforced with hundreds of fresh soldiers. The ruse worked and helped defeat the rebel army. For this action, Sheridan was promoted to brigadier general.
The battle of Stones River in Tennessee was Sheridan’s next major encounter with Confederate forces. His defensive action in holding back General Braxton Bragg’s army gave new life to Union troops under the command of General Rosecrans. Sheridan earned his second star.
Major General Sheridan was appointed Chief of Cavalry of the Army of the Potomac. Sheridan’s victory at Cedar Creek resulted in the death of one of the south’s greatest cavalry officers, J.E.B. Stuart.
Sheridan’s final contributions during the war involved forcing Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia out of its Petersburg entrenchment and cutting off Lee’s retreat near Appomattox Courthouse, forcing Lee to surrender to Grant.
After the war, Sheridan was dispatched to Texas to avert war with Mexico. He also led reconstruction efforts in Louisiana and in 1867 was sent west to corral Indians onto reservations.
In 1869, Sheridan received another promotion to lieutenant general. Headquartered in Chicago, he helped in getting Yellowstone established as the nation’s first national park. He also was the commanding officer in helping Chicagoans get through the disastrous fire of 1871 which destroyed the city.
In 1875, Sheridan married Irene Rucker, 22 years his junior. They had four children.
When General of the Army William Tecumseh Sherman retired in 1883, Sheridan was his successor as the nation’s top military officer.
In 1888, in ill health after several heart attacks, Sheridan was promoted to four star general by President Grover Cleveland. Sheridan became only the fourth man to achieve this rank, in company with Washington, Grant and Sherman.
Later that year, on August 5, 1888, Sheridan died in Nonquit, Massachusetts where he had built a summer home in 1887. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.