Alongside Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman, Philip H. Sheridan is the least known of the triumvirate of generals most responsible for winning the Civil War. Yet, before Sherman’s famous march through Georgia, it was General Sheridan who introduced scorched-earth warfare to the South, and it was his Cavalry Corps that compelled Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse. Sheridan’s innovative cavalry tactics and “total war” strategy became staples of twentieth-century warfare.
After the war, Sheridan ruthlessly suppressed the raiding Plains Indians much as he had the Confederates, by killing warriors and burning villages, but he also defended reservation Indians from corrupt agents and contractors. Sheridan, an enthusiastic hunter and conservationist, later ordered the US cavalry to occupy and operate Yellowstone National Park to safeguard it from commercial exploitation.
Former AP reporter and editor Wheelan (Jefferson's War), like all biographers of Sheridan (1831 1888), is handicapped by the destruction of the general's papers in the Chicago fire of 1871. He nevertheless makes solid use of published material in this presentation of a commander whose ruthless approach made him an early advocate of total war. Wheelan describes Sheridan as willing to leave enemies, whether Confederates or Plains Indians, "nothing but their eyes to weep with" (as the general told Otto von Bismarck), He was no less willing to defend "what he believed needed protecting," whether black freedmen, surrendered tribesmen, or law-abiding former. Confederates. And Sheridan shone in combat. As a leader he inspired soldiers in the throes of defeat most notably at Cedar Creek in the Shenandoah Valley. As an organizer, he brought the Army of the Potomac's cavalry from a bedraggled auxiliary to a battle-winning force that combined fire and shock in a way unmatched until Germany's panzer divisions. As a tactician, he was uniquely successful in coordinating infantry, cavalry, and artillery. Above all, as Wheelan shows, Sheridan's aggressiveness remains a basic principle of U.S. war making and continues to inspire "imitators and innovators" alike. 16 pages of b&w photos.