Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Union Hero --- But Was He Heroic?

In Little Phil – A Reassessment of the Civil War Leadership of Gen. Philip H. Sheridan, Eric J. Wittenberg reaches the following conclusions about Sheridan:

- Sheridan was not a great commander of cavalry.
- Sheridan’s performance in the Shenandoah Valley was also lackluster.
- Sheridan had a wide streak of insubordination and was not dependable in a subordinate role.
- Sheridan’s inability to recognize his own character flaws meant that others who drew his ire had their lives and careers cavalierly ruined.
- Sheridan tended to prevaricate in an effort to improve his standing in the eyes of those reviewing his actions.
- Little Phil did have some good qualities – the killer instinct, ability to lead a combined force in combat, confidence and an “electric personality”

Wittenberg does not feel that Sheridan is deserving of the “lofty reputation bestowed upon him by history.”

Does he enjoy an unwarranted reputation? Perhaps, but is he heroic?

According best-selling author, Dean Koontz in How to Write Best Selling Fiction, there are five heroic traits virtue, competence, courage, likeability and imperfections.

On the count of virtue, he seems to fall short (no pun intended). His treatment of friends and fellow officers was a testimony to his own self-promotion. He won many a promotion because of his numerous benefactors.

His competence can certainly be questioned if his actions in the Shenandoah Valley and as a cavalry commander are judged. I would even question the high marks he received in his pursuit of Lee to Appomattox. The condition of Lee’s army may have more to do with Sheridan’s victory than did his tenacity. Was he out to capture Lee or be the commander who caused Lee to surrender?

Sheridan seems to be courageous and his actions inspired his soldiers to make the sacrifices necessary.

Sheridan was very respected and liked by Grant and his troops.

He certainly had imperfections which seemed to be ignored by his supporters. He did not succeed by overcoming his faults, but rather by superior officers who overlooked them because of his “electric personality.”

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