Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Sheridan, Philip Henry

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SHERIDAN, Philip Henry, soldier, b. in Albany, N. Y., 6 March, 1831; d. in Nonquitt, Mass., 5 Aug., 1888. After attending the public school he was entered as a cadet in the United States military academy, 1 July, 1848. On account of a quarrel with a cadet file-closer in 1850, whose conduct toward him he deemed insulting, he was suspended from the academy for a year, but returned, and was graduated, 1 July, 1853, standing thirty-fourth in a class of fifty-two, of which James B. McPherson was at the head. Gen. John M. Schofield and the Confederate Gen. John B. Hood were also his classmates. On the day of his graduation he was appointed a brevet 2d lieutenant in the 1st infantry. After service in Kentucky, Texas, and Oregon, he was made 2d lieutenant in the 4th infantry, 22 Nov., 1854, 1st lieutenant, 1 March, 1861, and captain in the 13th infantry, 14 May, 1861. In December of that year he was chief quartermaster and commissary of the army in southwestern Missouri. In the Mississippi campaign from April to September, 1862, he was quartermaster at Gen. Halleck's headquarters during the advance upon Corinth. It then became manifest that his true place was in the field. On 20 May, 1862, he was appointed colonel of the 2d Michigan cavalry, and on 1 July was sent to make a raid on Booneville, Miss. He did excellent service in the pursuit of the enemy from Corinth to Baldwin, and in many skirmishes during July, and at the battle of Booneville.

In reward for his skill and courage he was appointed, 1 July, a brigadier-general of volunteers and on 1 Oct. was placed in command of the 11th division of the Army of the Ohio, in which capacity he took part in the successful battle of Perryville, on 8 Oct., between the armies of Gen. Buell and Gen. Bragg, at the close of which the latter retreated from Kentucky. In this action Sheridan was particularly distinguished. After the enemy had driven back McCook's corps and were pressing upon the exposed left flank of Gilbert, Sheridan, with Gen. Robert B. Mitchell, arrested the tide, and, driving them back through Perryville, re-established the broken line. His force marched with the array to the relief of Nashville in October and November. He was then placed in command of a division in the Army of the Cumberland, and took part in the two days' battle of Stone River (or Murfreesboro), 31 Dec., 1862, and 3 Jan., 1863. Buell had been relieved from the command of the army on 30 Oct., and Rosecrans promoted in his place. The Confederate army was still under Bragg. The left of Rosecrans was strong, and his right comparatively weak. So the right was simply to hold its ground while the left should cross the river. The project of Bragg, well-conceived, was to crush the National right, and he almost succeeded. Division after division was driven back until Cheatham attacked him in front, while Cleburne essayed to turn his flank, and Sheridan was reached; the fate of the day seemed to be in his hands. He resisted vigorously, then advanced and drove the enemy back, changing front to the south (a daring manœuvre in battle), held the overwhelming force in check, and retired only at the point of the bayonet. This brilliant feat of arms enabled Rosecrans to form a new line in harmony with his overpowered right. Sheridan said laconically to Rosecrans, when they met on the field, pointing to the wreck of his division, which had lost 1,630 men: “Here are all that are left.” After two days of indecision and desultory attempts, Bragg abandoned Murfreesboro and fell back to Tullahoma, while Rosecrans waited for a rest at that place.

Sheridan's military ability had been at once recognized and acknowledged by all, and he was appointed a major-general of volunteers, to date from 31 Dec., 1862. He was engaged in the pursuit of Van Dorn to Columbia and Franklin during March, and captured a train and many prisoners at Eaglesville. He was with the advance on Tullahoma from 24 June to 4 July, 1863, taking part in the capture of Winchester, Tenn., on 27 June. He was with the army in the crossing of the Cumberland mountains and of the Tennessee river from 15 Aug. to 4 Sept., and in the severe battle of the Chickamauga, on 19 and 20 Sept. Bragg manœuvred to turn the left and cut Rosecrans off from Chattanooga, but was foiled by Thomas, who held Rossville road with an iron grip. During the battle there was a misconception of orders, which left a gap in the centre of the line which the enemy at once entered. The right being thus thrown out of the fight, the centre was greatly imperilled. For some time the battle seemed irrecoverably lost, but Thomas, since called “the Rock of Chickamauga,” held firm; Sheridan rallied many soldiers of the retreating right, and joined Thomas; and, in spite of the fierce and repeated attacks of the enemy, it was not until the next day that it retired upon Rossville, being afterward withdrawn within the defences of Chattanooga, whither McCook, Crittenden, and Rosecrans had gone. Rosecrans was superseded by Thomas, to whom was presented a problem apparently incapable of solution. He was ordered to hold the place to the point of starvation, and he said he would. The enemy had possession of the approaches by land and water, men and animals were starving, and forage and provisions had to be hauled over a long and exceedingly difficult wagon-road of seventy-five miles.

Gen. Grant was then invested with the command of all the southern armies contained in the new military division of the Mississippi, embracing the departments of the Ohio, the Cumberland, and the Tennessee. He reached Chattanooga on 23 Oct., and the condition of affairs was suddenly changed. He ordered the troops relieved by the capture of Vicksburg to join him, and Sherman came with his corps. Sheridan was engaged in all the operations around Chattanooga, under the immediate command and personal observations of Gen. Grant, and played an important part in the battle of Mission Ridge. From the centre of the National line he led the troops of his division from Orchard Knob, and, after carrying the intrenchments and rifle-pits at the foot of the mountain, instead of using his discretion to pause there, he moved his division forward to the top of the ridge and drove the enemy across the summit and down the opposite slope. In this action he first attracted the marked attention of Gen. Grant, who saw that he might be one of his most useful lieutenants in the future — a man with whom to try its difficult and delicate problems. A horse was shot under him in this action, but he pushed on in the pursuit to Mission Mills, with other portions of the army of Thomas harassing the rear of the enemy, for Bragg, having abandoned all his positions on Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga Valley, and Missionary Ridge, was in rapid retreat toward Dalton.

After further operations connected with the occupancy of east Tennessee, Sheridan was transferred by Grant to Virginia, where, on 4 April, 1864, he was placed in command of the cavalry corps of the Army of the Potomac, all the cavalry being consolidated to form that command. Here he seemed in his element; to the instincts and talents of a general he joined the fearless dash of a dragoon. Entering with Grant upon the overland campaign, he took part in the bloody battle of the Wilderness, 5 and 6 May, 1864. Constantly in the van, or on the wings, he was engaged in raids, threatening the Confederate flanks and rear. His fight at Todd's Tavern, 7 May, was an important aid to the movement of the army; his capture of Spottsylvania Court-House, 8 May, added to his reputation for timely dash and daring; but more astonishing was his great raid from the 9th to the 24th of May. He cut the Virginia Central and the Richmond and Fredericksburg railroads, and made his appearance in good condition near Chatfield station on 25 May. In this raid, having under him kindred spirits in Merritt, Custer, Wilson, and Gregg, he first made a descent upon Beaver Dam on 10 May, where he destroyed a locomotive and a train, and recaptured about 400 men who had been made prisoners. At Yellow Tavern, on 11 May, he encountered the Confederate cavalry under J. E. B. Stuart, who was killed in the engagement. He next moved upon the outer defences of Richmond, rebuilt Meadow's bridge, went to Bottom's bridge, and reached Haxall's on 14 May. He returned by Hanovertown and Totopotomoy creek, having done much damage, created fears and misgivings, and won great renown with little loss. He led the advance to Cold Harbor, crossing the Pamunky at Hanovertown on 27 May, fought the cavalry battle of Hawes's Shop on the 28th, and held Cold Harbor until Gen. William F. Smith came up with the 6th corps to occupy the place. The bloody battle of Cold Harbor was fought on 31 May and 3 June. Setting out on 7 June, Sheridan made a raid toward Charlottesville, where he expected to meet the National force under Gen. Hunter. This movement, it was thought, would force Lee to detach his cavalry. Unexpectedly, however, Hunter made a detour to Lynchburg, and Sheridan, unable to join him, returned to Jordan's point, on James river. Thence, after again cutting the Virginia Central and Richmond and Fredericksburg railroads and capturing 500 prisoners, he rejoined for a brief space the Army of the Potomac. In quick succession came the cavalry actions of Trevillian station, fought between Wade Hampton and Torbert, 11 and 12 June, and Tunstall station, 21 June, in which the movements were feints to cover the railroad-crossings of the Chickahominy and the James. There was also a cavalry affair of a similar nature at St. Mary's church on 24 June. Pressed by Grant, Lee fell back on 28 July, 1864.

The vigor, judgment, and dash of Sheridan had now marked him in the eyes of Grant as fit for a far more important station. Early in August, 1864, he was placed in command of the Army of the Shenandoah, formed in part from the army of Hunter, who retired from the command, and from that time till the end of the war Sheridan seems never to have encountered a military problem too difficult for his solution. His new army consisted at first of the 6th corps, two divisions of the 8th, and two cavalry divisions, commanded by Gens. Torbert and Wilson, which he took with him from the Army of the Potomac. Four days later, 7 Aug., the scope of his command was constituted the Middle Military Division. He had an arduous and difficult task before him to clear the enemy out of the valley of Virginia, break up his magazines, and relieve Washington from chronic terror. Sheridan grasped the situation at once. He posted his forces in front of Berryville, while the enemy under Early occupied the west bank of Opequan creek and covered Winchester. In his division, besides the 6th corps under Wright and the 8th under Crook, Sheridan had received the addition of the 19th, commanded by Emory. Torbert was placed in command of all the cavalry. Having great confidence in Sheridan, Grant yet acted with a proper caution before giving him the final order to advance. He went from City Point to Harper's Ferry to meet Sheridan, and told him he must not move till Lee had withdrawn a portion of the Confederate force in the valley. As soon as that was done he gave Sheridan the laconic direction, “Go in.” He says in his report: “He was off promptly on time, and I may add that I have never since deemed it necessary to visit Gen. Sheridan before giving him orders.” On the morning of 19 Sept., Sheridan attacked Early at the crossing of the Opequan, fought him all day, drove him through Winchester, and sent him “whirling up the valley,” having captured 5,000 prisoners and five guns. The enemy did not stop to reorganize until he had reached Fisher's hill, thirty miles south of Winchester. Here Sheridan again came up and dislodged him, driving him through Harrisonburg and Staunton, and in scattered portions through the passes of the Blue Ridge. For these successes he was made a brigadier-general in the regular army on 10 Sept. Returning leisurely to Strasburg, he posted his army for a brief repose behind Cedar creek, while Torbert was despatched on a raid to Staunton, with orders to devastate the country, so that, should the enemy return, he could find no subsistence, and this was effectually done. To clear the way for an advance, the enemy now sent “a new cavalry general,” Thomas L. Rosser, down the valley; but he was soon driven back in confusion. Early's army, being re-enforced by a part of Longstreet's command, again moved forward with celerity and secrecy, and, fording the north fork of the Shenandoah, on 18 Oct. approached rapidly and unobserved, under favor of fog and darkness, to within 600 yards of Sheridan's left flank, which was formed by Crook's corps. When, on the early morning of the 19th, they leaped upon the surprised National force, there was an immediate retreat and the appearance of an appalling disaster. The 8th corps was rolled up, the exposed centre in turn gave way. and soon the whole army was in retreat. Sheridan had been absent in Washington, and at this juncture had just returned to Winchester, twenty miles from the field. Hearing the sound of the battle, he rode rapidly, and arrived on the field at ten o'clock. As he rode up he shouted to the retreating troops: “Face the other way, boys; we are going back!” Many of the Confederates had left their ranks for plunder, and the attack was made upon their disorganized battalions, and was successful. A portion of their army, ignorant of the swiftly coming danger, was intact, and had determined to give a finishing-blow to the disorganized National force. This was caught and hurled back by an attack in two columns with cavalry supports. The enemy's left was soon routed; the rest followed, never to return, and the valley was thus finally rendered impossible of occupancy by Confederate troops. They did not stop till they had reached Staunton, and pursuit was made as far as Mount Jackson. They had lost in the campaign 16,952 killed or wounded and 13,000 prisoners. Under orders from Grant, Sheridan devastated the valley. He has been censured for this, as if it were wanton destruction and cruelty. He destroyed the barns and the crops, mills, factories, farming-utensils, etc., and drove off all the cattle, sheep, and horses. But, as in similar cases in European history, although there must have been much suffering and some uncalled-for rigor, this was necessary to destroy the resources of the enemy in the valley, by means of which they could continually menace Washington and Pennsylvania. The illustration is a representation of “Sheridan's Ride,” a statuette, by James E. Kelly. The steel portrait is taken from a photograph made in 1884. The terms of the president's order making Sheridan a major-general in the army were: “For personal gallantry, military skill, and just confidence in the courage and patriotism of his troops, displayed by Philip H. Sheridan on the 19th of October at Cedar Run, where, under the blessing of Providence, his routed army was reorganized, a great national disaster averted, and a brilliant victory achieved over the rebels for the third time in pitched battle within thirty days, Philip H. Sheridan is appointed major-general in the United States array, to rank as such from the 8th day of November, 1864.” The immediate tribute of Grant was also very strong. In an order that each of the armies under his command should fire a salute of one hundred guns in honor of these victories, he says of the last battle that “it stamps Sheridan, what I have always thought him, one of the ablest of generals.” On 9 Feb., 1865, Sheridan received the thanks of congress for “the gallantry, military skill, and courage displayed in the brilliant series of victories achieved by his army in the valley of the Shenandoah, especially at Cedar Run.” During the remainder of the war Sheridan fought under the direct command of Grant, and always with unabated vigor and consummate skill. In the days between 27 Feb. and 24 March, 1865, he conducted, with 10,000 cavalry, a colossal raid from Winchester to Petersburg, destroying the James river and Kanawha canal, and cutting the Gordonsville and Lynchburg, the Virginia Central, and the Richmond and Fredericksburg railroads. During this movement, on 1 March, he secured the bridge over the middle fork of the Shenandoah, and on the 2d he again routed Early at Waynesboro', pursuing him toward Charlottesville. He joined the Army of the Potomac and shared in all its battles. From Grant's general orders, sent in circular to Meade, Ord, and Sheridan, on 24 March, 1865, we learn that a portion of the army was to be moved along its left to turn the enemy out of Petersburg, that the rest of the army was to be ready to repel and take advantage of attacks in front, while Gen. Sheridan, with his cavalry, should go out to destroy the Southside and Danville railroad and take measures to intercept the enemy should he evacuate the defences of Richmond. On the morning of 29 March the movement began. Two corps of the Army of the Potomac were moved toward Dinwiddie Court-House, which was in a measure the key of the position to be cleared by Sheridan's troops. The court-house lies in the fork of the Southside and Weldon railroads, which meet in Petersburg. A severe action took place at Dinwiddie, after which Sheridan advanced to Five Forks on 31 March. Here he was strongly resisted by the bulk of Lee's column, but, dismounting his cavalry and deploying, he checked the enemy's progress, retiring slowly upon Dinwiddie. Of this Gen. Grant says: “Here he displayed great generalship. Instead of retreating with his whole command, to tell the story of superior forces encountered, he deployed his cavalry on foot, . . . he despatched to me what had taken place, and that he was dropping back slowly on Dinwiddie.” There re-enforced, and assuming additional command of the 5th corps, 12,000 strong, he returned on 1 April with it and 9,000 cavalry to Five Forks and ordered Merritt to make a feint of turning the enemy's right, while the 5th struck their left flank. The Confederates were driven from their strong line and routed, fleeing westward and leaving 6,000 prisoners in his hands. Sheridan immediately pursued. Five Forks was one of the most brilliant and decisive of the engagements of the war, and compelled Lee's evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond. Sheridan was engaged at Sailor's Creek, 6 April, where he captured sixteen guns, and in many minor actions, 8-9 April, harassing and pursuing the Army of Northern Virginia, and aiding largely to compel the final surrender. He was present at the surrender at Appomattox Court-House on 9 April. He made a raid to South Boston, N. C., on the river Dan, on 24 April, returning to Petersburg on 3 May, 1865.


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After the war Sheridan was in charge of the military division of the Gulf from 17 July to 15 Aug., 1866, which was then created the Department of the Gulf, and remained there until 11 March, 1867. From 12 Sept. to 16 March he was in command of the Department of the Missouri, with headquarters at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Thence he conducted a winter campaign against the Indians, after which he took charge of the military division of the Mississippi, with headquarters at Chicago. When Gen. Ulysses S. Grant became president, 4 March, 1869, Gen. William T. Sherman was made general-in-chief and Sheridan was promoted to lieutenant-general, with the understanding that both these titles should disappear with the men holding them.

In 1870 Sheridan visited Europe to witness the conduct of the Franco-Prussian war. He was with the German staff during the battle of Gravelotte, and presented some judicious criticisms of the campaign. He commanded the western and southwestern military divisions in 1878. On the retirement of Sherman in 1883, the lieutenant-general became general-in-chief. In May, 1888, he became ill from exposure in western travel, and, in recognition of his claims, a bill was passed by both houses of congress, and was promptly signed by President Cleveland, restoring for him and during his lifetime the full rank and emoluments of general. He was the nineteenth general-in-chief of the United States army. Sheridan never was defeated, and often plucked victory out of the jaws of defeat. He was thoroughly trusted, admired, and loved by his officers and men. He bore the nickname of “Little Phil,” a term of endearment due to his size, like the “petit corporal” of Napoleon I. He was below the middle height, but powerfully built, with a strong countenance indicative of valor and resolution. Trustful to a remarkable degree, modest and reticent, he was a model soldier and general, a good citizen in all the relations of public and private life, thoroughly deserving the esteem and admiration of all who knew him. In 1879 Sheridan married Miss Rucker, the daughter of Gen. Daniel H. Rucker, of the U. S. army. He was a Roman Catholic, and devoted to his duties as such. He was the author of “Personal Memoirs” (2 vols., New York, 1888).


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