Aiming for a military career

Philip Henry Sheridan was born in Albany, New York, in 1831. After attending school in Albany, he was accepted into the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in July 1848. During his time at West Point, however, he got in a quarrel

"I believe General Sheridan has no superior as a general, either living or dead, and perhaps not an equal."

Ulysses S. Grant

Philip H. Sheridan. (Courtesy of U.S. Army Photographers.)

with a fellow cadet (military student). Sheridan was suspended for the incident, but he eventually was allowed to return to the academy.

After graduating from West Point in July 1853, Sheridan was assigned to a variety of military posts in Kentucky, Texas, and Oregon. These military assignments in the West often took him to outposts that were hundreds of miles from the population centers of the United States. But no matter where he was stationed, Sheridan followed the growing tensions between America's Northern and Southern regions with great interest.

By the 1850s, the North and South had become deadlocked over several emotional issues, including slavery and the concept of states' rights. Many Northerners believed that slavery was wrong and wanted to abolish (eliminate) it. They also contended that the federal government had the authority to pass laws that applied to all citizens of the United States. But a large part of the South's economy and culture had been built on slavery, and Southerners resented Northern efforts to halt or contain the practice. In addition, they argued that the federal government did not have the constitutional power to institute national laws on slavery or other issues. Instead, white Southerners argued that each state should decide for itself whether to allow slavery. Finally, America's westward expansion made the situation even worse, since both sides wanted to spread their way of life—and their political ideas— into the new territories and states.

In early 1861, several Southern states became so fed up with the situation that they seceded from (left) the United States to form a new country that allowed slavery, called the Confederate States of America. The U.S. government, though, declared that those states had no right to secede and that it was willing to use force to make them return to the Union. In the spring of 1861, these bitter differences finally erupted into war.

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