Philip Henry Sheridan and My Irish Ancestors

History is full of ironic interactions with individuals.  The collective familial military past is no exception.  I learned this on a recent trip to Ireland to visit cousins and property once owned by my paternal ancestors.  The best I can tell, my grandmother’s side resided near Killenkere Parish, County Cavan at least from the early to mid-19th century.  Interestingly, Philip Henry Sheridan, one of the Old Army’s most famous and controversial leaders also has ancestral ties to the Killenkere area. 

Photo of General Philip Henry Sheridan may have been born in County Cavan, Ireland
Philip Henry Sheridan, shown here during the Civil War, had familial ties to County Cavan, Ireland.
Philip Henry Sheridan, Born in America?

Sheridan, in his memoirs published in 1888, stated that he was born in Albany, New York, a year after his parents arrival in the U.S.  Obviously, the author of an autobiography would know their nativity.  Yet, many biographies of Sheridan fail to agree on his birthplace.  For example, an 1865 biographer listed Massachusetts as his birthplace.  Another biographer stated that Sheridan “was born in Albany, New York, March 6, 1831, but a few weeks after arrival of the his Irish parents in the New World.”  If that is true then the future general was conceived in Ireland.  Other documents list Ohio, Massachusetts, and New York as Sheridan’s place of birth.  Complicating the issue further is a marker erected in 1969 by the Department of Irish Veterans of World War One near Killenkere identifying that parish as Sheridan’s birthplace. 

Modern photo of the monument near Killenkere, County Cavan claims Ireland as the birthplace of Philip Henry Sheridan.
In 1969, the Department of Irish Veterans of World War One erected this monument, near Killenkere, County Cavan, proclaiming Ireland as Philip Henry Sheridan’s birthplace. Photo by author.
Distancing Himself From His Irish Heritage

Modern researcher and writer Damian Shiels speculates that Sheridan intentionally downplayed his foreign heritage opting, instead, to embrace the country that made him famous.  Shiels’ contention is not without merit.  In his memoirs, Sheridan acknowledged that his parents, John and Mary, immigrated from County Cavan, Ireland to the U.S. around 1830, Sheridan does not delve into his Irish ancestry.

County Cavan Connection

Sheridan’s parents lived a short distance from some of my ancestors, the Cusacks (also spelled Cusick, Cussick, or Cussack).  Portions of both the Sheridan and Cusack families immigrated to the U.S., albeit a generation apart.  Some of the Cusack clan, including my paternal grandmother eventually settling down in the Wyoming city named for Philip Henry Sheridan.  Incidentally, Old Army Records is headquartered in the same city. 

Did Your Ancestor’s Have A Brush With Old Army Fame?

We will likely never know the true birthplace of the general.  Personally, the prospect that my ancestors interacted with Philip H. Sheridan’s family, and maybe the general himself, albeit briefly, is intriguing.  It’s these interactions and coincidences that fuels my desire to research the Old Army.  What connections do your ancestors have with the 19th century U.S. Army?  Let Old Army Records help uncover those historic relationships.  Contact us for more information. 

Sources

Fighting Phil:  The Life and Military Career of Philip Henry Sheridan, General of the Army of the United States by Reverend P.C. Headley.  Lee and Shepard Publishers, Boston (1889)

Illustrated Life, Campaigns and Public Services of Philip H. Sheridan (Major-General Sheridan) the Hero of the “Shenandoah Valley,” “Battle of Five Forks,” etc. by C. W. Denison.  T.B. Peterson & Brothers, Philadelphia (1865)

The Life of Philip Henry Sheridan by Joseph Faulkner.   Hurst & Co., New York (1888)

Philip Henry Sheridan by James Grant Wilson.   J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia (1892)

Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan.  Jenkins & McCowan, New York (1888)

Old Army Records Update

Jim and I are back from our most recent Old Army records acquisition trip.  As our journey through Old Army records continues, we always encounter new information that refines our knowledge on the daily operation of the 19th century U.S. Army.  For example, in 1864 the Adjutant General issued General Order No. 75, which clarified several personnel issues, including the designation of draftees and the transfer of soldiers to the U.S. Navy.  Last week we found a document that tabulated the number of copies and distribution of general orders in the 1860s.  The Adjutant General printed and distributed over 5,900 copies of G.O. 75 to various military commands, states, installations, and generals.  This example illustrates the civilian and military manpower required to maintain the War Department.  With that being said, we are excited to announce that soon thousands of names will be indexed related to the following Old Army topics:

  • Soldiers who qualified as marksman/ sharpshooters
  • Lists and assignments of army sutlers/ post traders
  • Charges and specifications against soldiers
  • Lists of soldiers fitted for artificial limbs
  • Lists and assignments of civilian nurses
  • Rosters of noncommissioned officers serving in regular army units
  • Lists of officers detailed to teach military science at high schools and colleges
  • Individuals issued specific firearms
  • Lists of soldiers detailed to perform specific jobs
  • Lists of civilian clerks working at various staff departments
  • Prisoners at Forts Leavenworth and Pulaski
  • Individuals serving as scouts during the Civil War

Old Army soldiers performed a wide-range of daily duty. For example, this list includes the names of soldiers from the 47th New York Infantry assigned to picket duty in North Carolina.

Wide range of Old Army Subjects

What distinguishes Old Army Records apart from other databases, is our commitment to not only capture the names of soldiers, but index the events, places, material, and other subjects associated with the period.  Together, these subjects, or what we call searchable units (SUs), put soldiers into context with the Old Army.  We are therefore pleased to announce the following additions to our dataset:

  • 500+ names and descriptive data for army horses and mules
  • List of countersigns and paroles used during the Civil War
  • List of safeguards issued during the Civil War
  • Tabular data of the types of firearms lost, damaged, and rendered unserviceable by regular army units
  • The causes of desertion from the regular army
  • Lists of items received by soldiers confined to prison
  • Accounting for ammunition expended in the southwest during the 1860s
  • Lists of ordnance and ordnance stores lost by the Union Army in key Civil War battles

Army officers were responsible for all government property and could be called upon to account for expenditures. One enterprising officer maintained a ledger which included the loss and usage of ammunition. This excerpt, for example, includes ammunition used in combat and by the the butcher for Company C, 1st California Cavalry in November and December 1865.

Following the Paperwork Trail

With each document digitized, we are amazed at the breadth of records kept by the 19th century U.S. Army and that survive, yet, today.  The details contained in those documents helps fulfill our goal of presenting the rich day-to-day life of an Old Army soldier.  In the coming months, while we index the new data, we will publish articles on these topics.  So, keep checking the Records Inventory page for updates.  In the meantime, feel free to contact us with questions or your research requests.