AN “ABSOLUTE TYRANT”
Philip Henry Sheridan was born in Albany, New York, and grew up in Ohio. He had a compulsive desire for approval and a psychological need to dominate others. While attending West Point, Little Phil was a first rate disciplinary problem; threatening and fighting with fellow cadets.
While his war record is well documented and widely lauded, his life after the Civil War is less known, and darker.
In 1866, Sheridan assumed command of the Fifth Military District encompassing Texas and Louisiana. He had served in the Army in these areas before the war and did not have a high opinion of them. He once was quoted as saying, “If I owned Hell and Texas, I would rent out Texas and live in Hell.”
General Sheridan used the Federal Reconstruction Acts to exert his influence in the region. He had the procedural authority to remove legally-elected office holders who were either Democrats or former Confederates, and he used this power with impunity. Phil Sheridan removed many key civilian officials and replaced them with his own political appointees. Among the discharged public officials were the Governors of Louisiana and Texas.
He set down rules that restricted voter registration, severely limiting the participation of former Confederates. He also manipulated how juries were selected which discriminated against his former foes and people who did not share his politics. Eventually, President Andrew Johnson had had enough of Sheridan and removed him calling him “an absolute tyrant, cruel and unjust”
To subdue the Indians, Sheridan returned to the strategies he used against the South in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign during the Civil War. He ordered numerous tribes to be attacked while in their winter encampments. His troops would remove all the food and supplies, and kill any Indians who got in the way.
Part of his plan to force the plains Indians into capitulation was to exterminate the herds of buffalo which supported the Indian way of life. He once said, “Kill the buffalo and you kill the Indians.” In 1874 alone, Sheridan sanctioned the killing of more than four million buffalo.
Philip H. Sheridan’s military reputation is legendary but his record of human rights abuse, lack of fairness, and cruelty cannot be ignored. He died of a heart attack at age 57, and is buried at Arlington Cemetery in Virginia.