While on his meteoric rise in the Union army, Philip H. Sheridan earned the enmity of many Virginians for laying waste to the Shenandoah Valley. His date and place of birth is uncertain, but he himself claimed to have been born in New York in 1831. Although he was destined to come out of the Civil War with the third greatest reputation among the victors, his military career did not begin auspiciously. It took him five years to graduate from West Point (1853) because of an altercation with fellow cadet and future Union general, William R. Terrill.
After serving in a staff position during the early part of the war he was recommended for the command of a cavalry regiment by Gordon Granger. Within days of taking command he was in charge of the brigade with which he earned his first star at Booneville in northern Mississippi. He fought well at Perryville and Murfreesboro and was given a second star in the volunteers. At Chickamauga, almost two-thirds of the army including his division was swept from the field. However, at Chattanooga he regained his somewhat tarnished reputation when his division broke through the Rebel lines atop Missionary Ridge.
When Grant went to the East, he placed Sheridan in command of the Army of the Potomac's mounted arm. Following Early's threat to Washington, Grant tapped Sheridan to command a new military division, comprised of three departments, and charged him with clearing out the Shenandoah Valley.
Despite being plagued by irregulars along his supply lines, he managed to worst Early at 3rd Winchester, Fisher's Hill, and Cedar Creek. For this campaign he was named brigadier and major general in the regular army and received the Thanks of Congress.
The next March he destroyed Early's remaining forces at Waynesboro and then went on a raid, threatening Lynchburg. Rejoining Grant, he smashed through the Confederate lines at Five Forks, necessitating the evacuation of both Petersburg and Richmond. It was his cavalry command, backed by infantry, which finally blocked Lee's escape at Appomattox. His role in the final campaign eclipsed even that of army commander Meade.
After a postwar show of force against Maximilian in Mexico, he headed the Reconstruction government of Texas and Louisiana. His severity forced his removal within half a year. Remaining in the regular army, he died as a full general in 1888, having been the commander-in-chief since 1884. In the meantime he had commanded the Division of the Missouri, observed the Franco-Prussian War, and worked for the creation of Yellowstone National Park and its preservation.