In a sense (of history), I have a personal recollection of General Phil Sheridan and his arrival at the battlefield at Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864 when he rallied a beaten Union Army and launched the counter attack that virtually destroyed Confederate military forces in the Shenandoah Valley. The Cedar Creek Battle Animated Map on the Civil War Trust website will allow you to follow the battle as it developed.
The 2001 reenactment of the battle was my first reenacting event portraying a Civil War Union soldier. A ‘fresh fish’ recruit, uniformed and equipped by friends in Company B, 28th Massachusetts Volunteers, I was hooked by the experience. After spending the first day and the first half of the second day of the reenactment as we were repeatedly beaten by hollering hordes clad in gray, butternut, and what-have-you, I hooped and hollered just like the rest of the army as our “Little Phil” galloped along our line, guidon raised in his fist – and then we turned and crushed the rebels in our counterattack and Jubal Early was paid for his visit to Washington D.C. in July, 1864.
Author and poet Herman Melville wrote his own tribute commemorating Sheridan’s Ride:
Sheridan at Cedar Creek (October, 1864)
Shoe the steed with silver
That bore him to the fray,
When he heard the guns at dawning --
When he heard them calling, calling --
Mount! nor stay:
Quick, or all is lost;
They’ve surprised and stormed the post,
They push your routed host --
Gallop! Retrieve the day.
House the horse in ermine --
For the foam-flake blew
White through the red October;
He thundered into view;
They cheered him in the looming,
Horseman and horse they knew.
The turn of the tide began,
The rally of bugles ran,
He swung his hat in the van;
The electric hoof-spark flew.
Wreathe the steed and lead him --
For the charge he led
Touched and turned the cypress
Into amaranths for the head
Of Philip, king of riders,
Who raised them from the dead.
The camp (at dawning lost),
By eve, recovered---forced,
Rang with laughter of the host
At belated Early fled.
Shroud the horse in sable --
For the mounds they heap!
There is firing in the Valley,
And yet no strife they keep;
It is the parting volley,
It is the pathos deep.
There is glory for the brave
Who lead, and noble save,
But no knowledge in the grave
Where the nameless followers sleep.
The little bantam rooster of an Irishman, Phil Sheridan, has passed into history, legend, and popular culture. Among the many monuments he has left us across the country, the one found in Sheridan Circle, Washington DC, is one of my favorites. The General is portrayed atop Rienzi (later renamed Winchester), the horse that carried him the some 20 miles of his ride from Winchester, Virginia to the battlefield. (You can actually visit Winchester today at the Smithsonians’s Museum of American History in Washington D.C.)
The statue is the work of Gutzon Borglum and was erected on this site along Washington DC’s Embassy Row in 1908. You can see more images and information about this and other Washington monuments at dcMemorials.com.
It turns out that Borglum did a second somewhat different statue on this theme, installed in 1923, in Chicago north of W. Belmont Avenue and west of N. Lake Shore Drive.
It turns out that in addition to being a successful commander of cavalry during and after the American Civil War, Sheridan was also instrumental in fighting the great Chicago Fire of 1871 from his Army Headquarters then located in Chicago. He gave the orders for the demolition of buildings in the path of the fire using explosives to create a firebreak that would halt the fire’s spread.
Sheridan and his famous ride were an early inspiration to filmmakers, the first film apparently being “Sheridan’s Ride” released in 1913. This prompted a satire released the following year called, “Sheridan’s Pride” in which the General’s automobile reportedly is rescued from a roadside ditch by an elephant!
Little Phil continues to appear in films about the Civil War and the Indian Wars, with the Internet Movie Data Base listing the following:
"Branded" - Call to Glory (three parts) (1966) TV episode, Played by John Pickard (as General Phil Sheridan) and A Destiny Which Made Us Brothers (1966) TV episode, Played by Andrew J. Fenady (as Gen. Phil Sheridan)
"Death Valley Days"
... aka "Call of the West" - USA (syndication title)
... aka "The Pioneers" - USA (syndication title)
... aka "Trails West" - USA (syndication title)
... aka "Western Star Theater" - USA (syndication title)
My personal favorite from the list above is from the John Ford-John Wayne film “Rio Grande” in which Wayne’s character (Colonel Yorke) served under Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley and found himself destroying the home of his wife, played by Maureen O’Hara. Sheridan issues Colonel Kirby Yorke a verbal order to cross the Rio Grande River and enter Mexico to hunt down and destroy a band of renegade Apache Indians who have used that border repeatedly to escape after raiding settlements on the US side of the river. Rio Grande (1950)
Gen. Philip Sheridan: I'm going to issue you an order and give it to you personally. I want you to cross the Rio Grande, hit the Apache and burn him out. I'm tired of hit-and-run. I'm sick of diplomatic hide-and-seek.
Sheridan’s reputation as a dogged Indian fighter is reflected in one of the few popular phrases attributed to him and used in the film "Custer of the West" (1967)
Gen. Philip Sheridan: If there's any doubt about the policy of my command, I'll give it to you in one sentence: The only good Indian is a dead Indian. Clear enough?
A number of sources report that what he actually said was “The only good Indians I ever saw were dead.” Sheridan reportedly met with Comanche Chief Toch-a-Way (Turtle Dove), at Fort Cobb in the Indian Territory in January 1869. The Chief had said, “Me Toch-a-Way, Me good Indian." Sheridan would later deny it though many of those present would confirm that he did in fact say it.
I will confess to my own personal favorite. General Sheridan took some 50,000 Union troops into Texas in 1865 to complete the Confederate surrender and restore federal control of the border with Mexco (where French forces were trying to sustain an Austrian Archduke as Emperor). A year later, in 1866, as he left having completed is duties there, Sheridan reportedly said, 'If I owned Texas and all Hell, I would rent out Texas and live in Hell.'
Top image: Sheridan's Ride by Thure de Thulstrup