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Philip Henry Sheridan
Philip Henry Sheridan, Commander-in-chief of the United States Army, and the last and most brilliant of the great generals of the North, was born at Albany, N. Y. March 6, 1831. He had few advantages of early education and training, but in 1848 he obtained a cadetship at West Point. Sheridan's hot blood and impulsive temperament were manifested even in his student days, and a quarrel with a comrade resulted in his suspension for a year. He was consequently unable to graduate in 1852, as he should have done, but in the following year he concluded his studies and was appointed a brevet second lieutenant of infantry. In 1854 he was assigned to the First Infantry in Texas, and the same year he received his commission as second lieutenant of the Fourth Infantry. With the latter regiment he served during the next six years in Washington Territory and Oregon. In the attack upon the Indians at the Cascades, Washington Territory, in April, 1856, the United States troops landed under fire, and routed and dispersed the enemy at every point. General Scott drew special attention to Sheridan's bravery on this occasion.
Grant, who had now become lieutenant-general, established his head-quarters in Virginia in March, 1864. He was very badly off for an energetic commander of cavalry there, and discussed the matter with General Halleck. The latter at once suggested Sheridan, remembering his splendid dash and bravery at Missionary Ridge. "The very man!" exclaimed the laconic Grant, and Sheridan accordingly became commander of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac. Sheridan's progress during the campaign of 1864 was like a whirlwind. His troops covered the front and flanks of the infantry through the battle of the "Wilderness" until May 8th, when the greater part of the force was withdrawn, and next morning Sheridan started on a raid against the enemy's points of communication with Richmond. Getting within the Confederate lines he dashed upon the outworks of Richmond itself, where he took one hundred prisoners, and thence moved to Haxall's Landing, from which point he returned to the Northern army, having destroyed many miles of railroad track, besides trains and a great quantity of rations, and liberated Union soldiers. This expedition included repulses of the enemy at Beaver Dam and Meadow Bridge, and the defeat of the enemy's cavalry at Yellow Tavern, where their best cavalry leader, J. E. B. Stuart, was killed. From May 27th to June 24th Sheridan was engaged in almost daily engagements and skirmishes, harassing the enemy, and, with that good fortune which sometimes attends the most daring soldiers, resisting all attempts to defeat or capture him.
The Middle Department and the Department of West Virginia, Washington, and Susquehanna were constituted the "Middle Military Division" in August, 1864, and General Grant put Sheridan in command of the same. He chafed for opportunities of further distinguishing himself and justifying his appointment; but the enemy, under General Early, had been reinforced, and for six weeks Sheridan was kept on the defensive near Harper's Ferry. At length, when Early's forces had been diminished, Sheridan expressed such confidence of success if he were allowed to attack, that Grant gave him permission in only two words of instruction, "Go in!" Sheridan went in, attacking Early with great vigor, on September 19th, at the crossing of the Opequan. After a severe battle the enemy was routed; Sheridan captured three thousand prisoners and five guns, and sent Early, as he expressed it, "whirling through Winchester." Next day President Lincoln, on Grant's recommendation, appointed the victorious soldier a brigadier-general in the regular army. Taking up the pursuit of Early in the Shenandoah Valley, Sheridan found him on the 20th strongly posted on Fisher's Hill, just beyond Strasburg. Quietly moving Crook's command through the wood, he turned the enemy's left on the 22d, and drove him from his stronghold, capturing sixteen guns.
The losses of Sheridan and those of Early in these two battles were almost precisely equal, being about fifty-four hundred men each; but the Northern general had captured many guns and small arms. Sheridan continued the pursuit up the valley, but finding it impracticable to proceed either to Lynchburg or Charlottesville, he returned through the valley, devastating it on his way and rendering it untenable for an enemy's army. By Sheridan's successes Grant obtained the unobstructed use of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, whereas his defeat would have exposed Maryland and Pennsylvania to invasion.
Sheridan's next operations, however, were the most important, as they have become the most renowned, in his career. Passing through Strasburg, he posted his troops on the further bank of Cedar Creek, while he himself, on October 16th, went to Washington, in response to a request from Secretary Stanton, for consultation. Before the sun rose on the morning of the 19th, Early, who had been reinforced, surprised, during a fog, the left of the Union army and uncovered the position also of the Nineteenth Corps, capturing twenty-four guns and about fourteen hundred prisoners. General Wright succeeded in retaining his grasp on the turnpike by moving the Sixth Corps to its western side and the cavalry to its eastern; but the whole army in the process had been driven back beyond Middletown.
Sheridan was at Winchester at this time, on his return from Washington. Hearing the noise of battle, he dashed up the turnpike with an escort of twenty men, rallying the fugitives on his way, and after a ride of a dozen miles reached the army, where he was received with indescribable enthusiasm. This famous incident gave rise to Buchanan Read's stirring poem of Sheridan's ride, now one of the most popular pieces in the repertories of public readers, both in England and the United States. After the lapse of a few hours, spent in preparing his forces, Sheridan ordered an advance, and literally swept the enemy from the field in one of the most overwhelming and decisive engagements of the war. All the lost Union guns were retaken, and twenty-four Confederate guns and many wagons and stores were captured. Congress passed a vote of thanks to Sheridan and his troops for the "brilliant series of victories in the valley," and especially the one at Cedar Creek. Sheridan was appointed by the President a major-general in the army "for the personal gallantry, military skill, and just confidence in the courage and patriotism of your troops," as the order expressed it, "displayed by you on October 19th."
On February 27, 1865, Sheridan, with his cavalry, 10,000 strong, moved up the valley, destroying the Virginia Central Railroad, the James River Canal, and immense quantities of supplies, and defeating Early again at Waynesboro. He then made his way toward Grant's army and arrived at the White House on March 19th. In subsequent operations he acted immediately under General Grant. The final campaign of the war began, and on March 31st Sheridan was attacked by a heavy force of Lee's infantry, under Picket and Johnson; but on the following day, being reinforced by Warren, he entrapped and completely routed Picket and Johnson's forces at Five Forks, taking thousands of prisoners. Sheridan displayed great tactical skill and generalship on this occasion, and the decisive battle of Five Forks compelled General Lee to evacuate Petersburg and Richmond. Lee was soon in flight, but Sheridan was speedily on his trail, and, far away in the Northern van, he constantly harassed the enemy. Overtaking the flying army at Sailor's Creek, he captured sixteen guns and four hundred wagons, and detained the enemy until the Sixth Corps could come up, when a combined attack resulted in the capture of more than six thousand prisoners.
On April 8th Sheridan again engaged the Confederates at Appomattox Station. Early on the morning of the 9th the enemy endeavored to break through, but abandoned the attempt when Sheridan, moving aside, disclosed the infantry behind. Sheridan mounted his men and was about to charge, when the white flag betokening surrender was displayed in his front. This brought the war in Virginia to a close, though in Alabama and other districts the conflict continued to a somewhat later period. The Confederate power, however, was broken by the surrender at Appomattox Court-house, which practically ended the Civil War.
Sheridan subsequently conducted an expedition into North Carolina. On June 3, 1865, he took command of the Military Division of the Southwest, at New Orleans, and was appointed to the Fifth Military District (Louisiana and Texas) in March, 1867. President Johnson, being dissatisfied with his administration, relieved him of his appointment during the reconstruction troubles in Louisiana, and transferred him to the Department of the Missouri. He continued in command until March 4, 1869, when he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-general, and assigned the command of the Division of the Missouri, with head-quarters at Chicago.
During the Franco-German War of 1870-71 General Sheridan visited Europe, and was present as a spectator with the German forces at several celebrated engagements. He was held in high esteem by Prince Bismarck and Count Von Moltke. After the sanguinary battle of Gravelotte, which Sheridan witnessed, Bismarck returned with the King to Pont-a-Mousson, and on the evening of the next day the German Chancellor entertained at dinner General Sheridan and his American companions, "with whom he talked eagerly in good English, while champagne and porter circulated." At one point of the Franco-German War, when Bismarck was at Versailles, anxiously desiring a French government with which he could conclude a durable peace, "it almost seemed," says Mr. Lowe, in his "Life of Bismarck," "as if he had no other resource but to pursue the war on the principles laid down by General Sheridan." The American soldier had said to the Chancellor: "First deal as hard blows at the enemy's soldiers as possible, and then cause so much suffering to the inhabitants of the country that they will long for peace and press their government to make it. Nothing should be left to the people but eyes to see and lament the war."
In 1875, during the political disturbances in Louisiana, General Sheridan was sent to New Orleans, returning to Chicago on quiet being restored. On the retirement of General Sherman, in March, 1884, he was appointed Commander-in-chief of the Army of the United States. He died August 5, 1888. General Sheridan was the most brilliant cavalry officer whom America has produced. In addition to conspicuous personal bravery, he had an eagle eye for piercing through the designs of an enemy and for detecting at a glance all their weak points. He possessed wonderful energy, remained undepressed in the presence of overwhelming odds, and had a superb confidence in moments of the greatest danger. His career was one of the most romantic and adventurous called forth by the great American civil struggle.
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