A former reporter and AP editor examines the career of one of the Civil War’s great commanders.
An undistinguished West Point graduate, Lt. Philip A. Sheridan served eight years in the west before the outbreak of the Civil War. By the time the war ended, only Grant and Sherman outranked “Little Phil.” Battle by battle, Wheelan (Libby Prison Breakout: The Daring Escape from the Notorious Civil War Prison, 2010, etc.) charts the swift rise of the relentlessly aggressive Sheridan. Modest, energetic and brave, Sheridan was an innovator, using mounted troops both as an independent strike force and in support of infantry operations. His battlefield heroics, careful planning, use of intelligence and topographical information, and ability to improvise prompted Grant to conclude that he had “no superior as a general.” Yet Sheridan has been slighted by historians, receiving far less attention than his adversaries and even his subordinate Custer or his postwar scout William Cody. Wheelan attributes this neglect to the loss of all Sheridan’s papers in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Perhaps, but it’s also likely that his lengthy postwar career has made him a problematic subject for modern audiences. Sheridan was reviled in the South, where his strict enforcement of Reconstruction only revived memories of his wartime devastation of the Shenandoah Valley. An early proponent of total war, he believed reducing the Confederacy to poverty was the quickest way to end the bloodshed. Moreover, as commander of all U.S. troops west of the Mississippi, he used the same tactics against the Plains Indians, once notoriously remarking, “The only good Indians I ever saw were dead.” Wheelan ably defends Sheridan, emphasizing the fierce sense of duty that also accounted for his stout protection of reservation Indians from rapacious agents, freedmen from ex-Rebels, settlers from Indians and Yellowstone National Park from poachers and corporate exploiters.
A sympathetic portrait of “Grant’s most dependable troubleshooter.”