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Terrible Swift Sword: The Life of General Philip H. Sheridan

Joseph Wheelan, Da Capo Press

Of all the great generals of the Civil War, Philip H. Sheridan remains the most obscure, which makes Joseph Wheelan’s new Terrible Swift Sword essential reading.

A skilled and daring cavalry officer, Sheridan was blessed, in the words of one of Grant’s aides, with “the ingenuity of a Hannibal, the dash of Muret, the courage of Ney.” “Little Phil” introduced the concept of total war to the Shenandoah Valley while later showing respect and compassion for a defeated Confederacy. He was ruthless in postwar campaigns against the Plains Indians and then became their staunchest protector from corrupt Indian agents. Finally, the man who turned miles of forest and farms into wasteland became devoted to defending Yellowstone Park from poachers and ravagers.

Congress honored Sheridan, who was plagued by heart trouble in his later years, by awarding him the resurrected rank of four-star general, previously held only by Ulysses Grant, William Sherman and George Washington. When Sheridan died in 1888, the last to leave his grave was Sherman, his mentor and friend.

Wheelan’s depictions of Sheridan’s many battles—particularly Cedar Creek, where he was recognized as a hero—are models of lucidity. This is a worthy testament to the man Wheelan calls the “consummate warrior who never lost a battle.”


Originally published in the December 2012 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.