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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 111

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This is the grave of Phil Sheridan.

Born in 1831 in Albany, New York, Sheridan’s family moved to Ohio when he was young. He was a very lucky young man. He worked as a bookkeeper as a teenager but got to know his local congressman, who set him up with an appointment at West Point, only after the congressman’s first choice was rejected by the Military Academy. He was pretty mediocre at West Point and was nearly kicked out for threatening to bayonet a classmate. During the 1850s, he was mostly assigned in the Pacific Northwest, dealing with genocide against Native Americans there, especially the wars against native peoples in Washington in the mid-1850s. He would learn valuable lessons there and later would become one of the people most responsible for the post-Civil War genocidal campaigns.

Sheridan was a first lieutenant when the Civil War began but he rose very fast. He served as a staff officer for Henry Halleck where he proved very capable in cleaning up the mess left by John C. Frémont’s disastrous term in Missouri. He longed for combat however. Luckily, he got to know William Tecumseh Sherman and impressed by the young officer, Sherman got him appointed as colonel in the 2nd Michigan Cavalry in 1862. He performed so well in his first battle, the Battle of Booneville in Mississippi, that General William Rosecrans had him promoted to brigadier general. Also impressing at the Battle of Perryville and the Battle of Stones River, Sheridan was promoted to major general in April 1863, six months after his initial promotion to captain. Such was the Civil War. He sent his troops farther forward and more effectively at the Battle of Chattanooga than any other general and this very much impressed Ulysses S. Grant. When Grant was called to Virginia, he brought Sheridan with him. He was originally hamstrung by George Meade’s general incompetency, but Grant spoke up for him and Sheridan played a key role through much of the Overland Campaign. Grant gave Sheridan command of the Army of the Shenandoah in 1864 over the objections of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. There, he stopped the armies of Jubal Early at Cedar Creek. In doing so, he engaged in the total war tactics Sherman was making famous in Georgia. Finally, Sheridan’s troops captured 20 percent of the traitor Lee’s remaining army on the road of Appomattox, helping to seal the fate of the treasonous South.

After the war, Sheridan was appointed military governor of Texas and Louisiana, where he vigorously pursued Reconstruction policies. But his real postwar significance was his role in the genocide against Native Americans on the Plains. Sheridan and Sherman, believing in the efficacy of their total warfare developed in the Civil War, used the same tactics to defeat the last resisting tribes. That made sense from a military perspective. The difference between the tribes and the South is that the tribes were seen as subhuman by many Americans, especially on the frontier and that included Sheridan. Also, whereas the Civil War had developed into a war for the freedom of African-Americans, these were wars to pacify and exterminate people of color. Sheridan helped pioneer the military strategy of exterminating the bison; in fact, when Texas considered ending that policy and conserving some bison, Sherman personally testified against it. In 1868 and 1869, he led attacks on the winter quarters of the Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Comanche, killing anyone who resisted, as well as their livestock and horses, effectively destroying their ability to resist and even survive. Following the 1870 Marias Massacre, when Sheridan sent troops to punish group of Blackfeet that ended up attacking a completely different group of Blackfeet and massacring over 200 people, there was serious outrage against the inhumanity of the wars Sheridan was pursuing. When Grant instituted his Peace Policy as a response, it was Sheridan and Sherman’s turn to be infuriated. Neither could understand why the tactics that made them so popular in 1864 and 1865 were seen as outrageous in 1870. But at least some Americans, mostly in northeastern cities, felt that the nation should not exterminate indigenous peoples. Cucks.

Sheridan also took it upon himself to fight for the protection of Yellowstone National Park from development, testifying against an 1882 plan to give a railroad the chance to develop a bunch of the park for tourism. When poachers (both white for the market and indigenous for food) kept killing the last big game in the park, Sheridan ordered the 1st U.S. Cavalry to patrol the park, where it remained until the creation of the National Park Service in 1916.

A short and tubby man, Sheridan was 5’5 and weighed 200 pounds. This was not good. He suffered a series of heart attacks in 1888 and died that summer.

Phil Sheridan is buried on the confiscated lands of the traitor Lee, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia. Even better, his is the grave right in front of the traitor’s mansion, a tomb that emphatically states Sheridan’s role in the conquest of the South.

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  • rwelty

    this is one interpretation of Sheridan. there are others which are not so positive about his performance as cavalry commander of the Army of the Potomac.

  • Anna in PDX

    “threatening to bayonet a classmate” I wonder what the argument was about. Maybe his height?
    Thanks so much for those final paragraphs about Arlington Cemetery that you always do. I love reading it over and over. I particularly love this one with the added detail.

    • Thomas W

      Maybe his height?

      5’5″ wasn’t especially short back then.

      • Erik Loomis

        He had nicknames based on his lack of height

        • Thomas W

          Well, the average height of a British male in the 1870s was 167 cms, which is like 3 foot 8 inches or something. I dunno.

          • medrawt

            Americans were several inches taller on average than their British counterparts in the 19th century. Average European height plummeted during the industrialization and urbanization of the era; I’d go so far as to say that prior to modern medicine and sanitation, population density was likely to be inversely proportional to average height. An Englishman of the late 1st millennium was almost as tall as he would be today, but got steadily shorter over the course of the 2nd millennium before rapidly rebounding in the 20th century.

          • reattmore

            Actually, 167 cms roughly = 5′ 5″

    • reattmore

      Sheridan’s fight was with William R. Terrill, an aristocratic Virginian, and some have suggested that the “aristocratic Virginian” part is what led to the fight. Terrill later reconciled with Sheridan, after siding with the Union in the War. He was killed in action at Perryville; two of his brothers were killed fighting for the other side.

      • Anna in PDX

        Wow I am impressed you knew this

  • Fighting Words

    “A short and tubby man, Sheridan was 5’5 and weighed 200 pounds. This was not good.”

    Hey. I resemble that remark…

    • Anna in PDX

      IKR?

      • I’m a guy @5’9″ and at 190. Glass houses are safe around me…….

        • Anna in PDX

          Well I’m the wrong gender but the right height and getting up there towards the right weight sigh. Hope I live past 57

          • Bobby Tolberto aka TDA

            Anna, be very careful with Pilar of Fire. He is trying to suck you in. His reputation is not very good, FYI.

  • Concerned Citizen

    I just want to say how much I appreciate this series of posts. This one in particular show that there’s usually a mixture of good and bad things to write about anyone, and I like how Prof. Loomis just lays it all out there.

  • Murc

    Also impressing at the Battle of Perryville and the Battle of Stones
    River, Sheridan was promoted to major general in April 1863, six months
    after his initial promotion to captain. Such was the Civil War.

    The road back down could be just as fast.

    The army shrank dramatically after the war, and there were only so many officer slots. Someone like Phil Sheridan would have been largely immune to that, of course, but there were plenty of captains and majors and colonels who suddenly found themselves lieutenants again. There was even more than one enlisted man who had been promoted up the ranks who suddenly found themselves back as an enlisted man again.

    • Thlayli

      See also: George Custer, who went from lieutenant to two-star general and back to captain, all by the age of 26.

  • Howlin Wolfe

    Sheridan is the namesake for one of my favorite places in the Black Hills of S. Dak. I didn’t know, but should have figured, that it was named for a genocidal white general. It must gall the Indians who are aware of the history of Paha sapa and the genocide that was visited upon them.

  • cpinva

    it was either Sheridan or Sherman who stated that, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.”. definitely tells you how they felt about the locals.

    • Erik Loomis

      Supposedly it is Sheridan (or maybe both of them but he was reported to have said things like this) , but he denied it later.

      • Anna in PDX

        I literally just read this quote yesterday at the end of chapter 16 of Jared Diamond’s The Third Chimpanzee. He quotes Sheridan as saying “The only good Indians I ever saw were dead.” It was the final quote of the chapter about genocide.

    • wjts

      On the other hand, Sheridan is also the one who said, “If I owned Texas and Hell, I would rent Texas and live in Hell,” which is the smartest thing anyone has ever said about Texas.

      • He explained later that on arriving to
        his posting there, tired, still in the clothes he wore that morning, tired and probably hungry, he was asked his impresssion of the Lone Star state by a journalist. Thus, his answer.

        I will go on to add as a descendant of Texans, he wasn’t far from truth, from
        my own sojourns there.

  • Scott P.

    “He was originally hamstrung by George Meade’s general incompetency”

    This statement does a great disservice to George G. Meade.

    • rwelty

      indeed. Sheridan’s performance on the road from The Wilderness to Spotsylvania courthouse deserves all the criticism it gets, and Meade’s anger was entirely justified. Sheridan’s first stint commanding the cavalry of the Army of the Potomac was not that distinguished and arguably he really screwed Meade and the Army in this specific case.

      but then Erik hates military history so we should probably shut up now.

    • Rob in CT

      Yeah, yikes.

      As I recall, Grant’s re-telling of the argument between Meade and Sheriden amounts to Sheridan boasting and Meade not liking it, with Grant coming in and saying eh, let Phil go back up his boasts (which, to be fair, he then pretty much did). I don’t think that makes Meade an idiot…

      • rwelty

        it doesn’t. meade was not a perfect general, and not really up to the task of catching Lee, but he wasn’t bad. Sheridan, in the Wilderness and the road to Spotsylvania Court House, was lazy and not terribly effective. the problem flowed from the fact that Grant liked Sheridan and was very indulgent. telling Sheridan he could go after Stuart, well, that meant that the cavalry wasn’t there to perform the usual scouting functions, etc. and it turned out that although Sheridan succeeded in killing Stuart, other confederate cavalry commanders were rather competent, so there wasn’t a severe falloff in the confederate command.

    • AuRevoirGopher

      Yes, that whole sentence is kind of rotten in the same way most Civil War military history is rotten. The fact that they eventually won means everything Grant, Sherman and Sheridan did in the course of the war is now considered correct. It also didn’t hurt that Grant and Sherman both wrote highly engaging, and very self-serving, memoirs that still govern how we evaluate their campaigns. The truth is, none of these guys, including Lee and all the rest, had any way of really understanding warfare on this scale. All these former captains and lieutenants were just winging it. So they all made a lot of mistakes.
      Case in point: Sheridan’s role in the Overland campaign. Grant liked his idea of assembling all the cavalry in a mass and sending it south because it was aggressive. The fact that it was mindless aggression didn’t matter. Looked great in the newspapers then, and it looks great in history books today. But the decision took an important part of the army away from the actual battle and turned it into a big fist swinging around, hitting nothing in particular. Meade was probably driven half-crazy by the thought of his army making the same mistake Lee’s did at Gettysburg, stumbling around an unfamiliar countryside with no cavalry at hand.
      Usually Grant’s aggression served the cause well, but this time it may have been a disaster.

      • rwelty

        one similarity between [email protected] and [email protected] Court House is that in both cases, the commanding generals enabled the iffy behavior of their cavalry commanders. Lee wrote the orders that let Stuart go off on his own after all…

  • Tom Riker

    I know I’m being petty about another excellent post…

    Cavalry, not Calvary.

    Please? ;)

    • Erik Loomis

      Actually, I’m annoyed I didn’t catch that myself

  • lawguy

    So what happened with you and military history?

  • sigaba

    Phil Sheridan was played by Dean Stockwell in Son of the Morning Star, the quite good ABC miniseries on Custer and the plains indian wars.

    Somewhere in there Stockwell gives Sheridan’s most famous quote: “The only good indian is a dead indian.”

    • Thomas W

      Yeah, but that’s a different type of Indian than Stockwell associated with as Kim.

      • sigaba

        Rimshot.

  • Robert William Alexander Jr.

    One other noteworthy quote is attributed to Sheridan: “If I owned Hell and Texas, I’d rent out Texas and live in Hell.”

  • CrunchyFrog

    Lots of things are named after this guy. Sheridan Road in Chicago, for example, (a major thoroughfare near the lake on the north side) was named after him after his command led relief efforts following the Chicago Fire. Sheridan Blvd in Denver metro, also a major throughfare. Sheridan, Wyoming. And so on. Unfortunately when Custer’s name was rightfully tarnished in the 70s and most of his namesake stuff renamed Sheridan’s reputation went unscathed.

    • Also, the Babylon 5 character John Sheridan is implied to be a descendant.

      • rwelty

        JMS explicitly said that this was his intent.

    • Isn’t Sheridan Boulevard. in Denver named after the playwright Richard? Other north-south thoroughfares west of Denver such as Wadsworth, Kipling, Tennyson, and Lowell are so named.

      • rm11

        The Denver street was indeed named after Phil. It went to Fort Logan, which had briefly been Fort Sheridan before that name was transferred to a newer base north of Chicago.

  • drdick52

    Good summary of his career. When I lived in Chicago, I knew one of his descendants through the Newberry Library (where I worked for a while). She was a Medieval historian and a nice person. As an expert on Native Americans and their history I always had to avoid certain issues when talking with her.

  • rm11

    One of the reasons Sheridan was dispatched to Texas at war’s end was to be a big scary name in the ultimately successful effort to bluff the French out of Mexico.

  • rwelty

    one minor nit – while Sheridan’s birthplace is generally given as Albany, NY, there is some circumstantial evidence he was actually born on the boat from Ireland, and Albany was given in order to simplify his citizenship status in the new country.

  • Eli Rabett

    For a guy who doesn’t think much about military history you manage to visit a lot of generals graves. Just sayin.

    • Anna in PDX

      He is milking a single trip to Arlington cemetery is my guess. There are a lot of them there right?

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