Commanders-in-Chief Biographies

Lieutenant General Philip Henry Sheridan
Commander-in-Chief 1886 - 1888

by Robert G. Carroon, Past Commander-in-Chief
Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States

Lieutenant General Philip Henry Sheridan was the fourth individual to serve as Commander-in-Chief of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (Loyal Legion). His term of office covered the years 1886 to 1888. In 1886, on the death of Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, who was serving as Commander-in-Chief, the Senior Vice Commander-in-Chief, Major General and President Rutherford Birchard Hayes, succeeded to the office of Commander-in-Chief. That same year at the Annual Congress of the Loyal Legion, President Hayes stepped aside and resumed his office of Senior Vice Commander-in-Chief in order that General Sheridan might be elected Commander-in-Chief. President Hayes made this generous gesture so that the Loyal Legion might have as its Commander-in-Chief one of the most popular and illustrious soldiers of the Civil War. Sheridan, the third Civil War officer to hold the rank of Lieutenant General (the others being Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman) was considered to be one of the "big three" who commanded the Union Army and was the most celebrated army officer in the United States at the time of his election.

Philip Henry Sheridan was born on March 6, 1831 in Somerset, Ohio, the son of John Sheridan and Mary Meenagh, natives of County Cavan, Ireland. He was educated in the village school and eventually secured an appointment on the nomination of Congressman Thomas Ritchey, to the United States Military Academy at West Point, entering on July 1, 1848. Sheridan gave his age as eighteen years and one month, which would have meant that he was born in 1830, but he was not pressed by the admitting officer. He passed his entrance examinations with the aid of his roommate, Henry Warner Slocum. Sheridan was an outstanding horseman at the Academy and this would prove a harbinger of his future career. Unfortunately his frequently hot temper got the better of him and, after chasing a cadet officer around the parade with a bayonet, Sheridan was suspended for a year. He re-entered and managed to graduate thirty-fourth out of forty-nine in the class of 1853, his low ranking was due to what he called, "that odious column of demerits." He counted among his classmates John M. Schofield, John Bell Hood, and James B. McPherson.

On graduation, Phil Sheridan was assigned to the First Infantry as a Brevet Second-Lieutenant and found himself, after a brief stopover at Newport Barracks, Kentucky, in Texas fighting Indians. He was promoted to full Second Lieutenant in the Fourth Infantry and from 1853 to 1861 he continued on frontier duty in Texas, California, Washington, and Oregon Territories with a very brief tour of duty as a recruiting officer at Fort Columbus in New York City. He was promoted to First Lieutenant on March 1, 1861 and Captain on May 14, 1861 in the Thirteenth Infantry and was serving at Fort Yamhill, Oregon, when he was ordered east to St. Louis.

Sheridan's Civil War career began somewhat inauspiciously as President of the Board for auditing claims at St. Louis and then as Chief Commissary of the Army of the Southwest in the Pea Ridge Campaign from December 26, 1861 to March 12, 1862. He served as Quartermaster of Major General Henry Wager Halleck's Headquarters in the advance to Cornish, Mississippi in April and May 1862. It began to appear to Sheridan and others that he was in line to be a staff officer for his entire career when he managed to wangle an appointment as Colonel commanding the Second Michigan Cavalry.

It was Sheridan's appointment to the Second Michigan that set off one of the most meteoric rises in command in the history of the United States Army. He led his regiment in pursuit of Confederates all over northern Mississippi, capturing Booneville and engaging in skirmishes in Blackland, Donaldson's Cross Roads and Baldwin. He was promoted to command of the 2nd Brigade, Cavalry Division of the Army of the Mississippi on June 11 and continued with engagements at Guntown and Rienzi (where he acquired his famous horse). On July 1, 1862 he was breveted Brigadier General of U.S. Volunteers and given command of the Third Division, Army of Kentucky leading the advance into Kentucky in September 1862. He commanded the 11th Division, 3rd Corps, Army of the Ohio at the Battle of Perryville. He then succeeded to the command of various divisions in the Army of the Cumberland in the Tennessee Campaign from November 1862 to September 1863.

Sheridan commanded the 3rd Division of the 20th Army Corps in the Battle of Murfreesboro or Stone River, Tennessee and was breveted Major-General of U.S. Volunteers, November 8, 1864. He continued in command of his division, at Chicamauga and then changed to the 2nd Division, 4th Army Corps in the Battle of Missionary Ridge. From April 1864 to April 1865 he was in general command of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac and as such participated in the Battles of the Wilderness, Spottsylvania Courthouse, Yellow Tavern, Richmond, Cold Harbor, and Trevellion Station. From August 7, 1864 to May 22, 1865, he also commanded the Middle Military Division and for a good portion of that time also the Army of the Shenandoah in which he totally subdued the Shenandoah valley fighting the battles of Opequan, Fisher's Hill, Tom's Brook, Cedar Creek and Winchester.

During the Richmond campaign of 1865, he commanded the Cavalry Corps and also several army corps and fought the battles of Dinwiddie Court House, Five Forks, Amelia Court House, Jettersville, Sailor's Creek, and Appomattox Depot. He was in command of all of the cavalry at the collapse of the insurgent army at Appamattox Court House and was present when General Robert E. Lee signed the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Following the Civil War, General Sheridan commanded the Military Division of the Southwest and the Army in Louisiana, Texas, Florida, and Mississippi. He also commanded the Army of Observation on the Rio Grande during the Mexican war for independence against Maximillian. He then commanded the Department of the Gulf and the Fifth Military District to September 1867 when he succeeded to command of the Military Division of Missouri with headquarters in Chicago. On March 4, 1869 he was promoted to Lieutenant General of the United States Army, by President Ulysses S. Grant.

General Sheridan returned to the western and southwestern military divisions in 1878 and then succeeded General Sherman as Commander-in-Chief of the Army in 1884. On June 1, 1884, he was promoted to General by Act of Congress. Like his friend Ulysses S. Grant, he wrote his memoirs (Personal Memoirs , 2 Volumes 1888) and signed the preface only three days before his death on August 5, 1888 in Nonquitt, Massachusetts.

Philip Henry Sheridan was elected a Companion of the First Class by the Commandery of Pennsylvania on May 12, 1868 and received Insignia Number 750. He was then transferred to the Illinois Commandery as he was then resident in Chicago in Command of the District of Missouri. He was actually at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, at the time he signed his application on December 9, 1867, which was transmitted to Captain Kilbourn Knox who was, at that time, aide-de-camp to the President. The Loyal Legion was honored to have as its Commander-in-Chief such an great captain of arms as General Sheridan. General Sheridan is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington Virginia.

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