Childhood & Early Life
According to Philip Sheridan, he was born in Albany in the state of New York, on 6th March 1831. His parents were John and Mary Meenagh Sheridan, who were Irish Catholic immigrants from the parish of Killinkerein County Cavan, Ireland. He was the third of six children.
As a boy, he worked in town general stores. Eventually, he became a head clerk and bookkeeper for a dry goods store.
He obtained an appointment to the United States Military Academy from one of his customers, Congressman Thomas Ritchey, in 1848. He graduated in 1853, 34th in his class of 52 cadets.
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After being commissioned as a brevet second lieutenant, Philip Sheridan was assigned to the 1st U.S. Infantry Regiment at Fort Duncan, Texas. He was later transferred to the 4th U.S. Infantry Regiment at Fort Reading, California. His service with the 4th Infantry was mostly in the Pacific Northwest.
In 1855, he started with a topographical survey mission to the Willamette Valley. He got involved in the Yakima War and Rogue River Wars during this time. This helped him in gaining experience in leading small combat teams.
In March 1861, he was promoted to first lieutenant, just before the Civil War began. Two months later, he was promoted to captain.
His early role in the Civil War was mostly administrative. But as he displayed a good performance, he was soon promoted to colonel and put in command of the 2nd Michigan Cavalry on 27th May 1862. After he took part in several raids and skirmishes, he was eventually promoted to brigadier general in July 1862. Eventually, he was promoted to major general.
Sheridan was unable to win the Battle of Chickamauga in September 1863. However, his assault on Missionary Ridge below Chattanooga Tenn in November eventually brought his fighting in the West to a good end. General Ulysses Grant was very impressed by the victory. In the spring of 1864, he was called East where he headed the cavalry of the Army of the Potomac.
After the Battle of the Wilderness, he led a raid towards Richmond that resulted in the destruction of a lot of Confederate supplies and rolling stock. It also resulted in the death of the South’s cavalry leader, General J. E. B. Stuart. His death proved to be a great victory for the Union.
Due to his success, Philip Sheridan was next sent to the Shenandoah Valley of northern Virginia. His main target was the 15,000 Confederate cavalry troop, under General Jubal Early. As the Confederacy relied on the fertile valley for their food, Sheridan was ordered to destroy the farmlands as well.
During September and October 1864, Sheridan’s force of 40,000 infantry and cavalry focused on turning the farmlands into barren waste. Crops and barns were destroyed and burnt, and livestock captured by his men.
Though the Confederate forces launched a surprise attack on his army when Sheridan was absent, he eventually returned and managed to destroy the Confederate forces. The Union troop was now in control of the Shenandoah Valley as well as the Confederacy’s food supply.
In March 1865, Sheridan along with his cavalry rejoined the Army of the Potomac in Petersburg, Virginia, where Lee’s army had put up a resistance against Grant’s siege since August the previous year. Sheridan was eager to drive away Lee from Petersburg.
Grant ordered him and his cavalry of 12,000 men to capture a railroad known as Five Forks. As Lee’s army depended on the railroad for supplies, any disruption would obviously put an end to his stock of food.
Though Confederate General George Pickett tried to stop him, Sheridan’s forces succeeded in capturing the rail line. The battle, which resulted in the deaths, disablement, and capture of around 5,000 soldiers, ended up as a victory for the Union, who now controlled the rail line that was supplying to Petersburg.
The Union Army broke through the Confederate lines, though Lee was able to somehow escape with his battered force. He tried to meet up with other Confederate forces, but after being pursued by Grant, Sheridan and other Union troops, he was eventually surrounded and forced to surrender on 9th April 1865. This resulted in the end of the Civil War.