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Lieutenant General Sheridan

It is sometimes said that circumstances make the man; but there must be

something in the man, or circumstances, however favorable, cannot

develop it. A poor lad, born of Irish parents in the little western town

of Somerset, Ohio, working at twenty-four dollars a year, would never

have come to the lieutenant-generalship of the United States, unless

there was something noteworthy in the lad himself.

enry Sheridan, a generous, active boy, after having studied

arithmetic, geography, and spelling at the village school, began to work

in a country store in 1843, at the early age of twelve, earning fifty

cents a week, fortunately, still keeping his home with his mother. He

was fond of books, especially of military history and biography; and

when he read of battles, he had dreams of one day being a great soldier.

Probably the keeper of the store where Philip worked, and his boyish

companions, thought these dreams useless air-castles.

After some months, quickness and attention to business won a better

position for him, where he obtained one dollar and a half a week. So

useful had he become, that at seventeen he acted as bookkeeper and

manager of quite a business for the munificent wages of three dollars a


He had not forgotten his soldier ambition, and applied to the member of

Congress from his county, Perry, for appointment to West Point. Hon.

Thomas Ritchey was pleased with the boy's determination and energy, and

though most of these places were given to those whose fathers had served

in the Mexican War, Philip was not forgotten. He took a preliminary

examination in the common branches, and much to his surprise, received

the appointment. Feeling greatly his need of more knowledge, his

room-mate, Henry W. Slocum, afterward a major-general, assisted him in

algebra and geometry. The two boys would hang blankets at the windows of

their room, and study after the usual limit for the putting out of

lights and retiring.

Graduating in 1853, he was made second lieutenant in the United States

Infantry, and assigned to Fort Duncan on the western boundary of Texas,

which at that time seemed wellnigh out of the world. Here he came much

in contact with the Apache and Comanche Indians, warlike and independent


One day, as Sheridan was outside the fort with two other men, a band of

Indians swooped down upon them. The chief jumped from his horse to seize

his prisoners, when Sheridan instantly sprang upon the animal's back,

and galloped to Fort Duncan. Hastily summoning his troops, he rushed

back to save his two friends. The enraged chief sprang toward him, when

a ball from Sheridan's rifle laid him dead upon the ground. His ready

thought had saved his own life and that of his friends.

Two years later he was made first lieutenant, and sent to Oregon as

escort to an expedition surveying for a branch of the Pacific Railway.

The region was wild and almost unknown, yet beautiful and full of

interest. This life must have seemed inspiring compared with the quiet

of the Somerset store.

Chosen very soon to take charge of an Indian campaign, his fearlessness,

his quick decision and cautiousness as well, made him a valuable leader.

The Indians could endure hardships; so could Sheridan. Sometimes he

carried his food for two weeks in his blanket, slung over his shoulder,

and made the ground his bed at night. The Indians could scale rocks and

mountains; so could the young officer.

A severe encounter took place at the Cascades, on the Columbia River,

April 28, 1856, where, by getting in the rear of the Indians, he

completely vanquished them. For this strategy, he was especially

commended by Lieutenant-General Scott. However, he won the confidence of

the Indian tribes for probity and honesty in his dealings with them.

When the Civil War began, he was eager to help the cause of the Union,

and in 1861 was made captain and chief quartermaster in south-western

Missouri, on the staff of Major-General Curtis. He was quiet and

unassuming, accurate in business matters, and thoroughly courteous.

Perhaps now that he had learned more of army life by nine and a half

years of service, he was less sanguine of high renown than in his boyish

days; for he told a friend that "he was the sixty-fourth captain on the

list, and with the chances of war, thought he might soon be major."

It required executive ability to provide for the subsistence of a great

army, but Sheridan organized his depots of supplies and transportation

trains with economy and wisdom, for the brave men who fought under

Sigel. With a high sense of honor, Sheridan objected to the taking of

any private property from the enemy, for self-aggrandizement, as was the

case with some officers, and asked to be relieved from his present


Fortunately he was appointed on the staff of General Halleck in

Tennessee, a man who soon learned the faithfulness and ability of his

captain; and when the Governor of Michigan asked for a good colonel for

the Second Michigan Cavalry, Sheridan was chosen. After sharing in

several engagements around Corinth, he was attacked July 1, 1862, at

Booneville, by a force of nine regiments, numbering nearly five thousand

men. He had but two regiments! What could he do? Selecting ninety of his

best men, armed with guns and sabres, he sent them four miles around a

curve to attack the enemy's rear, and promised to attack at the same

time in front. When the moment came, he rushed upon the foe as though he

had an immense army at his back, while the handful of men in the rear

charged with drawn sabres. The Confederates were thrown into confusion,

and, panic-stricken, rushed from the field, leaving guns, knapsacks, and

coats behind them. Sheridan chased them for twenty miles.

This deed of valor won the admiration of General Grant, who commended

him to the War Department for promotion. He was at once made

brigadier-general. Perhaps the boyish dreams of being a great soldier

would not turn out to be air-castles after all. Men love to fight under

a man who knows what to do in an emergency, and Sheridan's men, who

called him "Little Phil," had the greatest faith in him.

In the fall, he was needed to defend Louisville against General Bragg.

This Confederate officer had been told that he would find recruits and

supplies in abundance if he would come to Kentucky. He came therefore,

bringing arms for twenty thousand men, but was greatly disappointed to

find that not half that number were willing to cast in their lot with

the Secessionists. General Buell, of the Union army, received, on the

contrary, over twenty thousand new soldiers here. Bragg prepared to

leave the State, sending his provision train ahead, and made a stand at

Perryville, Kentucky. Here Sheridan played "a distinguished part,

holding the key of the Union position, and resisting the onsets of the

enemy again and again, with great bravery and skill, driving them at

last from the open ground in front by a bayonet charge. The loss in

Sheridan's division in killed and wounded was over four hundred, but his

generalship had saved the army from defeat."

Bragg determined now to make one great effort to hold Tennessee, and

Dec. 31, 1862, gave battle at Stone River, near Murfreesboro'. General

Rosecrans had succeeded Buell as commander of the Army of the

Cumberland. Being a Romanist, high mass was celebrated in his tent just

before the battle, the officers, booted and spurred, standing outside

with heads uncovered. The conflict began on the right wing, the enemy

advancing six lines deep. Our troops were mowed down as by a scythe.

Sheridan sustained four attacks of the enemy, and four times repulsed

them, swinging his hat or his sword, as he rode among his men, and

changing his front under fire, till, his ammunition exhausted, he

brought out his shattered forces in close column, with colors flying.

Pointing sadly to them, he said to Rosecrans, "Here is all that are

left, General. My loss is seventeen hundred and ninety-six,--my three

brigade commanders killed, and sixty-nine other officers; in all

seventy-two officers killed and wounded." The men said proudly, "We came

out of the battle with compact ranks and empty cartridge-boxes!"

Even after this Sheridan recaptured two pieces of artillery, and routed

the same men who had driven him. For noble conduct on the field he was

made major-general of volunteers.

General Rosecrans says of him in his official report, "At Stone River he

won universal admiration. Upon being flanked and compelled to retire, he

withdrew his command more than a mile, under a terrible fire, in

remarkable order, at the same time inflicting the severest punishment

upon the foe. The constancy and steadfastness of his troops on the 31st

of December enabled the reserve to reach the right of our army in time

to turn the tide of battle, and changed a threatened rout into a


General Rosecrans showed himself dauntless in courage. When a shell took

off the head of his faithful staff-officer, Garesche, riding by his

side, to whom he was most tenderly attached, he only said, "I am very

sorry; we cannot help it. This battle must be won." Dashing up to a

regiment lying on the ground waiting to be called into action, he said,

while shot and shell were whizzing furiously around him, "Men, do you

wish to know how to be safe? Shoot low. But do you wish to know how to

be safest of all? Give them a blizzard and then charge with cold steel!

Forward, men, and show what you are made of!"

After the day's bloody battle, the troops lay all night on the cold

ground where they had fought. "When," says the heroic General Rousseau,

"I saw them parch corn over a few little coals into which they were

permitted to blow a spark of life; when they carved steak from the loins

of a horse which had been killed in battle, and ate, not simply without

murmuring, but made merry over their distress, tears involuntarily

rolled from my eyes."

At midnight it rained upon the soldiers, and the fields became masses of

mud; yet before daylight they stood at their guns. "On the third day,"

says Rosecrans, "the firing was terrific and the havoc terrible. The

enemy retreated more rapidly than they had advanced. In forty minutes

they lost two thousand men." All that night the Federals worked to

entrench the front of the army. Saturday hundreds of wounded lay in the

mud and rain, as the enemy had destroyed so many of our hospital tents.

On Sunday morning it was found that the Confederates had departed,

leaving twenty-five hundred of their wounded in Murfreesboro' for us to

take care of. Burial parties were now sent out to inter the dead. The

Union loss in killed and wounded was eight thousand seven hundred and

seventy-eight; the enemy's loss ten thousand one hundred and


Sheridan's next heavy fighting was at Chickamauga. The battle was begun

by Bragg on Sept. 19, 1863. The right of our army had been broken to

pieces, but General Thomas, the idol of his men, stood on the left like

a rock, Sheridan assisting, and refused to be driven from the field.

General Henry M. Cist, in his "Army of the Cumberland" says, "There is

nothing finer in history than Thomas at Chickamauga." Sheridan lost over

one-third of his four thousand men and ninety-six officers. The Federal

loss was over sixteen thousand; the Confederate, over twenty thousand.

There were heroic deeds on this as on every battle-field. When a

division of the Reserve Corps--brave men they were, too--wavered under

the storm of lead, General James B. Steedman rode up, and taking the

flag from the color-bearer, cried out, "Go back, boys, go back, but the

Flag can't go with you!" and dashed into the fight. The men rallied,

closed their column, and fought bravely to the death. Even the

drummer-boy, Johnny Clem, from Newark, Ohio, ten years old, near the

close of the battle, when one of Longstreet's colonels rode up, and with

an oath commanded him to surrender, sent a bullet through the officer's

heart. Rosecrans, made him a sergeant, and the daughter of Secretary

Chase gave him a silver medal.

Two months later, the battle of Chattanooga redeemed the defeat of

Chickamauga. Near the town rises Lookout Mountain, abrupt, rocky cliffs

twenty-four hundred feet above the level of the sea, and Missionary

Ridge, both of which were held by the enemy. On Nov. 24, Lookout was

stormed and carried by General Hooker in the "Battle above the Clouds."

On the following day Missionary Ridge was to be assaulted. Sheridan held

the extreme left for General Thomas. Before him was a wood, then an open

plain, several hundred yards to the enemy's rifle-pits; and then beyond,

five hundred yards covered with rocks and fallen timber to the crest,

where were Bragg's heaviest breastworks. At three o'clock in the

afternoon the signal to advance--six guns fired at intervals of two

seconds--was given. As Sheridan shouted, "Remember Chickamauga!" the men

dashed over the plain at double-quick, their glittering bayonets ready

for deadly work. Says Benjamin F. Taylor, who was an eye-witness, "Never

halting, never faltering, they charged up to the first rifle-pits with a

cheer, forked out the rebels with their bayonets, and lay there panting

for breath. If the thunder of guns had been terrible, it was now growing

sublime. It was rifles and musketry; it was grape and canister; it was

shell and shrapnel. Mission Ridge was volcanic; a thousand torrents of

red poured over its brink and rushed together to its base.

"They dash out a little way, and then slacken; they creep up, hand over

hand, loading and firing, and wavering and halting, from the first line

of works to the second; they burst into a charge with a cheer, and go

over it. Sheets of flame baptize them; plunging shot tear away comrades

on left and right; it is no longer shoulder to shoulder; it is God for

us all! Under tree-trunks, among rocks, stumbling over the dead,

struggling with the living, facing the steady fire of eight thousand

infantry, they wrestle with the Ridge.... Things are growing desperate

up aloft; the rebels tumble rocks upon the rising line; they light the

fusees and roll shells down the steep; they load the guns with handfuls

of cartridges in their haste; and as if there were powder in the word,

they shout 'Chickamauga' down upon the mounters. But it would not all

do, and just as the sun, weary of the scene, was sinking out of sight,

with magnificent bursts all along the line, the advance surged over the

crest, and in a minute those flags fluttered along the fringe where

fifty rebel guns were, kennelled.... Men flung themselves exhausted upon

the ground. They laughed and wept, shook hands, embraced; turned round,

and did all four over again. It was as wild as a carnival."

Grant had given the order for taking the first line of rifle-pits only,

but the men, first one regiment and then another, swept up the hill,

determined to be the first to plant the colors there. "When I saw those

flags go up," said Sheridan afterward, "I knew we should carry the

ridge, and I took the responsibility." Sheridan's horse was shot under

him, after which he led the assault on foot. Over twelve hundred men

made Missionary Ridge sacred to liberty by their blood.

All seemed heroes on that day. One poor fellow, with his shoulder

shattered, lay beside a rock. Two comrades halted to bear him to the

rear, when he said, "Don't stop for me; I'm of no account; for GOD'S

sake, push right up with the boys!" and on they went, to help scale the


When the men were seen going up the hill, Grant asked by whose orders

that was done? "It is all right if it turns out all right," he said;

"but if not, some one will suffer." But it turned out all right, and

Grant knew thereafter how fully he could trust Sheridan.

The following spring Sheridan was placed by Grant in command of the

cavalry of the Army of the Potomac, numbering nearly twelve thousand

men. Here he was to add to his fame in the great battles of the

Shenandoah Valley. From May to August Sheridan lost over five thousand

men in killed and wounded, in smaller battles as he protected Grant's

flank while he moved his forces to the James River, or in cutting off

Lee's supplies. Meantime General Early had been spreading terror by his

attempt to take Washington, thus hoping also to withdraw Grant's

attention from Lee at Richmond.

The time had come for decisive action. Grant's orders were, "Put

yourself south of the enemy and follow him to the death. I feel every

confidence that you will do the best, and will leave you as far as

possible to act on your own judgment, and not embarrass you with orders

and instructions." About the middle of September Grant visited Sheridan

with a plan of battle for him in his pocket, but he said afterward, "I

saw that there were but two words of instruction necessary, 'Go in.' The

result was such that I have never since deemed it necessary to visit

General Sheridan before giving him orders."

The battle of Opequan was fought Sept. 19, 1864, Early being completely

routed and losing about four thousand men, five pieces of artillery, and

nine army flags, with an equal loss of men by the Federals. The fight

was a bitter one from morning till evening, a regiment like the One

Hundred and Fourteenth New York going into the battle with one hundred

and eighty men, and coming out with forty, their dead piled one above

another! Sheridan at first stood a little to the rear, so that he might

calmly direct the battle; but at last, swinging his sword, and

exclaiming, "I can't stand this!" he rode into the conflict. The next

day he telegraphed to Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War, "We have just

sent them whirling through Winchester, and we are after them to-morrow.

This army behaved splendidly."

This battle quickened the hope and courage of the North, who begun to

see the end of the devastating war. "Whirling through Winchester" was

reported all over the land. Abraham Lincoln telegraphed, "Have just

heard of your great victory. God bless you all, officers and men!

Strongly inclined to come up and see you." Grant ordered each of his

two Richmond armies to fire a salute of one hundred guns.

The next day Sheridan passed on after Early, and gave battle at Fisher's

Hill, the Confederates losing sixteen guns and eleven hundred prisoners,

besides killed and wounded. Many of these belonged to Stonewall

Jackson's corps, and were the flower of the Southern army. "Keep on,"

said Grant, "and your good work will cause the fall of Richmond."

Secretary Stanton ordered one hundred guns to be fired by various

generals, fifteen hundred guns in all, for Fisher's Hill. Early was now

so thoroughly beaten, that the Richmond mob wrote on the guns forwarded

to him by the South the satirical sentence, "General Sheridan, care of

General Early!" Grant's orders were now to lay waste the valley, so that

Lee might have no base of supplies. Over two thousand barns filled with

grain, over seventy mills, besides bridges and railroads were burned,

and seven thousand cattle and sheep appropriated by the Union army. Such

destruction seemed pitiful, but if the war was thereby shortened, as it

doubtless was, then the saving of bloodshed was a blessing.

Oct. 15 Sheridan was summoned to Washington for consultation. Early,

learning his absence, and having been reinforced by twelve thousand

troops, decided at once to give battle at Cedar Creek. His army marched

at midnight, canteens being left in camp, lest they make a noise. At

daybreak, Oct. 19, with the well-known "rebel yell" the enemy rushed

upon the sleeping camps of the Union army. Nearly a thousand of our men

were taken prisoners, and eighteen guns. A panic ensued, and in utter

confusion, though there was some brave fighting, our troops fell back to

the rear. Sheridan, on his way from Washington, had slept at Winchester

that night, twenty miles away. At nine o'clock he rode out of the town

on his splendid black horse, unconscious of danger to his army. Soon the

sound of battle was heard, and not a mile away he met the fugitives. He

at once ordered some troops to stop the stragglers, and rushed on to the

front as swiftly as his foaming steed could carry him, swinging his hat,

and shouting, "Face the other way, boys! face the other way! If I had

been here, boys, this never should have happened." Meeting a colonel who

said, "The army is whipped," he replied, "You are, but the army isn't!"

Rude breastworks of stones, rocks, and trees were thrown up. Then came

desperate fighting, and then the triumphant charge. The first line was

carried, and then the second, Sheridan leading a brigade in person.

Early's army was thoroughly routed. The captured guns were all retaken,

besides twenty-four pieces of artillery and sixteen hundred prisoners.

Early reported eighteen hundred killed and wounded.

Again the whole North rejoiced over this victory. Sheridan was made a

major-general in the regular army "for the personal gallantry, military

skill and just confidence in the courage and gallantry of your troops

displayed by you on the 19th day of October at Cedar Run," said Lincoln,

"whereby, under the blessing of Providence, your 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." General Grant wrote from City Point, "Turning what bid

fair to be a disaster into a glorious victory stamps Sheridan what I

always thought him, one of the ablest of generals."

Well wrote Thomas Buchanan Read in that immortal poem, "Sheridan's


"Hurrah! hurrah for Sheridan!

Hurrah! hurrah for horse and man!

And when their statues are placed on high,

Under the dome of the Union sky,

The American soldier's Temple of Fame,

There with the glorious General's name,

Be it said in letters both bold and bright,

'Here is the steed that saved the day,

By carrying Sheridan into the fight

From Winchester, twenty miles away!'"

The noble animal died in Chicago, October, 1878.

"In eleven weeks," says General Adam Badeau, "Sheridan had taken

thirteen thousand prisoners, forty-nine battle flags, and sixty guns,

besides recapturing eighteen cannon at Cedar Creek. He must besides have

killed and wounded at least nine thousand men, so that he destroyed for

the enemy twenty-two thousand soldiers."

And now the only work remaining was to join Grant at Richmond in his

capture of Lee. He had passed the winter near Winchester, and now having

crossed the James River, April 1, 1865, was attacked by General Pickett

at Five Forks. After a severe engagement about five thousand prisoners

were taken by Sheridan, with thirteen colors and six guns. His magnetic

influence over his men is shown by an incident narrated by General

Badeau. "At the battle of Five Forks, a soldier, wounded under his eyes,

stumbled and was falling to the rear, but Sheridan cried, 'Never mind,

my man; there's no harm done!' and the soldier went on with a bullet in

his brain, till he dropped dead on the field."

From here he pushed on to Appomattox Court House, where he headed Lee's

army, and waited for Grant to come up. Richmond had surrendered to Grant

on the morning of April 3. On the 7th of April Grant wrote to Lee, "The

result of the last week must convince you of the hopelessness of further

resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia in this

struggle. I feel that it is so, and regard it as my duty to shift from

myself the responsibility of any further effusion of blood, by asking

you to surrender that portion of the Confederate States Army known as

the Army of Northern Virginia." Lee replied, "Though not entertaining

the opinion you express on the hopelessness of further resistance on the

part of the Army of Northern Virginia, I reciprocate your desire to

avoid useless effusion of blood, and therefore, before considering your

proposition, ask the terms you will offer on condition of its

surrender." The reply was the only one that could be given. "The terms

upon which peace can be had are well understood. By the South laying

down their arms they will hasten that most desirable event, save

thousands of human lives, and hundreds of millions of property not yet


At one o'clock, April 9, 1865, the two able generals met, and at four it

was announced that the Army of Northern Virginia, with over twenty-eight

thousand men, had surrendered to the Army of the Potomac. Memorable day!

that brought peace to a nation tired of the horrors of war. In July,

Sheridan assumed command of the Military Division of the Gulf. Ten years

later, June 3, 1875, when he was forty-four years old, he married Miss

Irene Rucker, the daughter of General D. H. Rucker, for years his

friend. She is a fine linguist, and a charming woman. Their home in

Chicago has many souvenirs of war times, and tokens of appreciation from

those who realize General Sheridan's great services to his country.

He was made Lieutenant-General, March 4, 1869, and when General Sherman

retired from the position of Commander-in-Chief of the Army, Nov. 1,

1883, Sheridan moved to Washington, to take his place. The office of

"Lieutenant-General" expires with General Sheridan, he being the last of

our three great and famous generals,--Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan. In

this latter city he has a home purchased by thirty-one of his leading

friends from Chicago. He is devoted to his wife and children, honest,

upright, and manly, and deserves the honors he has won.

* * * * *

General Sheridan was taken ill of heart disease about the middle of May,

1888. After three months, he died at Nonquitt, Mass., near the ocean, at

twenty minutes past ten on the evening of August 5, 1888. He left a wife

and four children, a girl of eight, a boy of six, and twin daughters of

four. After lying in state at Washington, he was buried with military

honors at Arlington Heights, on Saturday, August 11, in the midst of

universal sorrow.