Review of Sheridan’s Lieutenants

I wrote this review for the July 2006 issue of The Journal of Military History, which is put out by the Society for Military History.

book cover

Sheridan’s Lieutenants: Phil Sheridan, His Generals, and the Final Year of the Civil War. By David Coffey. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005. ISBN 0-7425-4306-4. Maps. Photographs. Notes. Bibliographical essay. Index. Pp. xxx, 173. $22.95.

In Sheridan’s Lieutenants, historian David Coffey tells the story of Phil Sheridan, commander of the Cavalry Corps under Ulysses S. Grant, and his subordinates during the final year of the Civil War. Coffey gives detailed biographical sketches of the generals who comprised Sheridan’s staff, men like George A. Custer, George Crook, and others, who aided Sheridan in his command greatly.

Coffey examines Sheridan’s command in a chronological as well as geographical manner. After devoting the first two chapters to the composition of the command itself as well as the disastrous battles of the Wilderness, Cold Harbor, and Spotsylvania Courthouse, he examines the formation of the Army of the Shenandoah, which Sheridan commands, and the ensuing Valley Campaign. Within this examination, Coffey focuses on the Battles of Winchester, Fisher’s Hill, and Cedar Creek and the scorched earth policy pursued by Sheridan in the valley. Coffey notes acts of brutality on both sides in addition to the destruction of barns, farm implements, livestock, and crops throughout the area.

The focus then shifts to central Virginia and Sheridan’s staff’’s involvement in the siege of Petersburg and attempting to defeat Lee‚’s army including the Appomattox Campaign. Coffey mentions the Battles of Five Forks and Sayler’s Creek, and, Sheridan’’s blocking of Lee’’s escape route at Appomattox. The epilogue deals with the post-war careers of Sheridan and his “lieutenants”, and how many went on to great fame. In addition, Coffey notes the future demise of one of Sheridan’s favorite subordinates, George A. Custer, who would later meet disaster at Little Big Horn in 1876.

Coffey‚’s scholarship is quite good, as he uses memoirs, biographies, and the 128 volumes of The War of the Rebellion, or ““OR“”. His use of good notes as well as a solid bibliographic essay lend to his work the credibility needed for academic use. In addition, the work is further aided by maps, both battlefield and regional, and photographs of Sheridan, Grant, Sheridan‚’s ‚“lieutenants‚”, and his Confederate opponents, which provide a more vivid picture of the command and campaigns discussed within Coffey’s work.

While not long on pagination, Coffey packs each page with detail allowing for great acquisition of knowledge of a man, his command, and the places they were. Sheridan’s Lieutenants is worth more in historical value than the actual price, as it provides great scholarship and information into a less known piece of Civil War history. Historians and general readers would be wise to consider placing this work on their reading list.