Part one in a series
At the close of the American Civil War, three men received the most accolades for contributing to the capitulation of the Confederacy: Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman and Philip Henry Sheridan. Of the three, Phil Sheridan seems to draw the most criticism.
I will admit that I am no fan of Sheridan. It is only gritted teeth will I begrudgingly and reluctantly give him credit for helping to bring about the downfall of the South. However, this may be a moot point. When I examine my bookshelves it is hard to underscore his role in the war. I own several books on Sheridan, including his memoirs as well as books concerning his post-war service. It seems that the number of literary works on Sheridan alone highlights the importance of his service to the United States during the War of the Rebellion.
Unlike Grant, whose rise began in early 1862 with the capture of Forts Henry and Donelson, Sheridan’s ascendency to the mantle of fame began in the latter stages of the war. Much attention has been given to Sheridan’s actions in Virginia in 1864 and 1865. as commander of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac and commander of the Army of the Shenandoah. During this time, Sheridan enjoyed two key advantages that guaranteed his success: the respect of a benevolent benefactor (Grant) who always took his side when a controversy arose and the blessing of skilled and reliable subordinates.
But in the early fall of 1863 such notions were foreign to Sheridan. At the time, he was a Major General commanding a division in William S. Rosecrans’ Army of the Cumberland. Sheridan had cut his teeth at division command first at Perryville in October 1862 and again at the end of the year and early in the new at Stones River. As August turned to September, Little Phil could not imagine that the next three months would be pivotal in the shaping of his military career.