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GENERAL PHIL SHERIDAN, THE HISTORIANS, AND RECONSTRUCTION William L. Richter Major General PhilipHenry Sheridan, an army commander of one of the military departments comprising the occupied southern states in varying combinations, was among the pivotal characters in the history of Reconstruction. These general officers displayed a spectrum of ability in handling the myriad problems they faced. Some were capable political statesmen. Others were vindictive, controversial, and narrow minded. But of all those responsible for Reconstruction duties, none evoked more uncompromising praise and criticism than did Phil Sheridan during his three postwar tours in the Old Southwest.1 Sheridan's shifting command area included at various times Louisiana , Mississippi, Florida, and Texas. It was organized under a variety of official names, such as the Military Division of the Southwest, the Department of the Gulf, and the Fifth Military District. But the main focus of his concern revolved around the combined commands of the military districts comprising the states of Louisiana and Texas.2 The general first arrived in New Orleans at the end of May 1865. He was charged with obtaining the surrender of Texas and other transMississippi localities, occupying them to reestablish Federal control, and securing the border with Mexico. To effect this task, Sheridan had 1 The wide variety among individual officers is a theme in James E. Sefton, The United States Army and Reconstruction, ¡865-1877 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1967), 8, 252-54; and Joseph G. Dawson III, Army Generals and Reconstruction: Louisiana , ¡862-1877 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1982), 1. See also, William T. Alderson, "The Influence of Military Rule and the Freedmen's Bureau on Reconstruction Virginia, 1865-1870" (Ph.D. diss., Vanderbilt University, 1952); James McDonough, "John Schofield as Military Director of Reconstruction in Virginia," CivilWarHistory 15 (1969): 237-56. 2 The various command areas are outlined in Sefton, Armyand Reconstruction, 253-59. Civil War History, Vol. XXXIII, No. 2, © 1987 by The Kent State University Press 132CIVIL WAR HISTORY command of three infantry corps and a cavalry corps. The fifty thousand men were experienced combat veterans of several Civil War theaters , fully capable of the arduous fighting expected of them in the months to come. Just prior to his arrival, however, much of Sheridan's job became superfluous because of the surrender of the last organized Confederate forces. Although Sheridan classified the surrender as a "swindle" full of "double dealing," his spouting-off may have merely covered his disappointment at not being able to earn further glory in a last great campaign against the remnants of the Confederate army.1 Even the proud French, in the midst of their ill-fated Mexican venture, refused to take Sheridan's bait for a fight over American interference on behalf of the juarista liberals along the Rio Grande. Desperately seeking confrontation, Sheridan made an unauthorized cavalry foray from San Antonio to Fort Clark. It caused much excitement in diplomatic circles but no gratification on the field of battle. In another incident, local commanders actually crossed the border at Bagdad, below Brownsville, in an unsanctioned ploy on behalf of the Mexican liberals. An alreadyrebuffed Sheridan had to call them back and subject their overzealous commanders to the embarrassment of a full investigation. He would later claim these moves to be the winning gambits in Secretary of State William H. Seward's policy of bluffing the French imperialists to leave Mexico.4 Forced inactivity in the field compelled Sheridan to settle down to the seemingly more mundane duties of occupation. A later chronicler described Sheridan's southwest command as "trying and thankless." It offered "no attractive features to onewhose experience and ambitions had been obtained and gratified on the field of battle and in open and manly conflict with a declared foe."5 And therein lay Sheridan's problem succinctly stated. Actually, occupation duty gave him a real surprise. Those damned southern politicians were sneaky, behind-the-scenes manipulators, friends one day and 3 Sheridan's command consisted of the IV, XIII, XXV (Colored) Corps. See William L. Richter, " 'It Is Best to Go in Strong-handed': Army Occupation of Texas, 1865-1866," Arizona and the West 27 (1985): 113-42; Sheridan to Grant...


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