Sheridan, Hell and Texas



Phil Sheridan could be a nasty piece of work on duty.  A bantam Irish Catholic born in Albany, New York on March 6, 1831, to Irish immigrants, Sheridan carved a career in the Army by sheer hard work and a ferocious will to win.  He had a hard streak of ruthlessness that Confederates, Indians and the many officers he sacked for incompetence could attest to.    His quote, “If a crow wants to fly down the Shenandoah, he must carry his provisions with him.”  after he ordered the burning of crops in the Shenandoah Valley in 1864 to deny them to Confederate troops indicated just how hard a man he could be when waging war. 

Off duty he was completely different.  He had the traditional Irish gift of gab and in social settings was charming and friendly. 

After the Civil War he commanded an army of 50,000 troops in Texas to send a none-too-subtle hint to the French who had used the opportunity of the Civil War to conquer Mexico that it was time for them to leave.  The French did, with the Austrian Archduke Maximilian they had installed as Emperor of Mexico dying bravely before a Mexican firing squad.  During his stay in Texas Sheridan made a famous quip about Texas.  It was swiftly reported in the newspapers:

“14 April 1866, Wisconsin State Register, pg. 2, col. 3:
GEN. SHERIDAN, after his recent Mexican tour, states his opinion succinctly and forcibly, as follows: “If I owned h-ll and Texas, I would rent Texas and live at the other place!”

“19 April 1866, The Independent, pg. 4:
But these states are not yet reduced to civil behavior. As an illustration, Gen. Sheridan sends word up from New Orleans, saying, “If I owned Texas and Hell, I would rent Texas and live in Hell.” This is the opinion of a department commander.”

“15 May 1866, Idaho Tri-Weekly Statesman (Boise, ID), pg. 7?, col. 3:
GEN. SHERIDAN does not have a very exalted opinion of Texas as a place of resident. Said he lately, “If I owned hell and Texas, I would rent Texas and live at the other place.” In former times, before Texas was “re-annexed,” Texas and the other place were made to stand as opposites. Thus, when Col. Crockett was beaten in his Congressional district, he said to those who defeated him, “You may go to hell, and I’ll go to Tex!” which he did, and found a grave.”

In later years Sheridan would often tell the tale at social gatherings.

“19 December 1883, Washington Post, pg. 2:
General Sheridan as a Story Teller.

“I saw an item in THE POST, several days ago,” said an Army officer yesterday, “concerning Gen. Sheridan’s desire to avoid notoriety, and also that only a few anecdotes could be related of his public life. The story was correct but not complete. The General frequently relates a story himself which I consider the most amusing concerning his military career. He told it the other evening at a private social gathering, about as follows: “In all my life, gentlemen, I will never forget my first visit to the State of Texas. I had been bumped over its sterile plains for a week in an ambulance. I was tired, dusty and worn out. When I reached my destination I found some people there who wanted me to talk and be received and all that sort of thing, before I had a chance to get the sand out of my eyes and ears. One fellow was persistent. He asked me with pure American curiosity what I though of Texas. In a moment of worry and annoyance I said if I owned hell and Texas, I would live in the former and rent out the latter. The fellow who asked me the question proved to be a reporter. The next day, what I had said was in print and I never could stop it.’ You may naturally believe,” added the officer to THE POST, “that the General’s story created considerable amusement. The General is a remarkably fine story teller.”

Here is an explanation and an apology for the remark that Sheridan made at a banquet for former President Grant in Galveston, Texas on May 24, 1880.  Sheridan never did have a high opinion for the ink-stained wretches of the Fourth Estate, so I think his version is probably accurate.

Sheridan married at 44.  His wife, Irene Rucker, was 22.  They had three daughters and one son.  In 1888 Sheridan began to have a series of heart attacks that culminated in his death on August 5, 1888.  Congress before his death raised him to the rank of four star general.  His wife was only 35 at the time of his death and a great beauty.  She declined offers of marriage stating “I would rather be the widow of Phil Sheridan than the wife of any man living.”  She died at 83 in 1936.

Published in: on March 31, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Sheridan, Hell and Texas  
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