Phil Sheridan’s parents John and Mary Meenagh Sheridan had emigrated from Co Cavan. Philip Henry Sheridan was once described by Abraham Lincoln as ‘A brown, chunky little chap, with a long body, short legs, not enough neck to hang him, and such long arms that if his ankles itch he can scratch them without stooping.’ Still, ‘Little Phil’ rose to tremendous power and fame before his untimely death of a heart attack at age 57.
In his memoirs, Sheridan writes:
‘My parents, John and Mary Sheridan, came to America in 1830, having been induced by the representations of my father’s uncle, Thomas Gainor, then living in Albany, NY, to try their fortunes in the New World: They were born and reared in the Co Cavan, where from early manhood my father had tilled a leasehold on the estate of Cherrymoult; and the sale of this leasehold provided him with means to seek a new home across the sea. My parents were blood relations—cousins in the second degree—my mother, whose maiden name was Minor, having descended from a collateral branch of my father’s family. Before leaving Ireland they had two children, and on the 6th of March, 1831, the year after their arrival in this country, I was born, in Albany, NY, the third child in a family which eventually increased to six—four boys and two girls.’
Perryville was his first engagement as an infantry leader under the command of Major General Don Carlos Buell. While the Confederate troops won a tactical victory, the action forced them to retreat to Tennessee where Sheridan gained major kudos for his performance at the pivotal Battle of Stones River (Murfreesboro).
He is most famous for his destruction of the Shenandoah Valley in 1864, called ‘The Burning’ by its residents. He was also the subject of an extremely popular poem entitled ‘Sheridan’s Ride’, in which he (and his famous horse, Rienzi) save the day by arriving just in time for the Battle of Cedar Creek.
Like Patrick Cleburne, Sheridan rose very quickly in rank. In the fall of 1861, Sheridan was a staff officer for Maj. Gen. Henry Halleck. He later became quartermaster general in the Army of Southwest Missouri. With the help of influential friends he was appointed Colonel of the 2nd Michigan Cavalry in May, 1862. His first battle, Booneville, MS, impressed Brig. Gen. William S. Rosecrans so much that he himself was promoted to Brigadier General. After Stones River he was promoted to Major General.
In 1871, the general oversaw military relief efforts during the Great Chicago Fire. He became the Commanding General of the United States Army on 1 November 1883, and on 1 June 1888, he was promoted to General of the Army of the United States – the same rank achieved by Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman.
Sheridan is largely responsible for the establishment of Yellowstone National Park – saving it from being sold to developers.
In August 1888, Sheridan died after a series of massive heart attacks. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
‘The Bold Fenian Men (Down By The Glenside)’ sang by Ken Curtis (John Ford’s son-in-law) in the 1950 John Ford movie ‘Rio Grande’ starring John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara and J. Carrol Naish as Gen. Philip Sheridan.