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Terrible Swift Sword: The Life of General Philip H. Sheridan Hardcover – August 7, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


Kirkus Reviews, 7/1/12
“Battle by battle, Wheelan charts the swift rise of the relentlessly aggressive Sheridan. Modest, energetic and brave, Sheridan was an innovator, using mounted troops both as an independent strike force and in support of infantry operations…A sympathetic portrait of “Grant’s most dependable troubleshooter.”

Seattle Times, 8/05/12
“Competently written, well detailed and thoroughly readable.”

Shelf Awareness, 8/14/12
“History buffs, biography aficionados and even readers without vast Civil War knowledge will appreciate this book.”

Roanoke Times
, 9/2/12
“Wheelan has provided a detailed, very personal portrait of a dynamic American leader whose accomplishments helped shape our country after the rebellion crisis of the mid-19th century.”

Wall Street Journal, 9/8/12
“Joseph Wheelan has delivered an exciting and crisply written biography that, especially in his accounts of battles, fairly gallops across the page in the company of a personality who seemed to his own contemporaries like a god of war incarnated in the body of a pint-size Irish immigrant.” 

Civil War Times, December 2012
“Of all the great generals of the Civil War, Philip H. Sheridan remains the most obscure, which makes Joseph Wheelan’s new Terrible Swift Sword essential reading…Wheelan’s depictions of Sheridan’s many battles…are models of lucidity. This is a worthy testament to the man.”

Collected Miscellany blog
, 9/25/12
“Wheelan writes in excellent prose…It is a great concise history of one of the most skilled and controversial generals in American history.”

Washington Independent Review of Books, 11/26/12
“[A] well written, thoroughly researched biography. Wheelan has produced that rare combination of excellent scholarship encompassing the life of a complex person, presented in a narrative that reads like a novel. It is a wonderful book.”

Washington Times, 1/21/13
 “This book is a readable, informative and…exciting portrait of a complicated but ultimately heroic figure from our not-so-distant past.”

Military Officer, February 2013
“[A] brilliant biography.”

, February 2013
“Remarkably well-researched and exquisitely composed narrative that pulls in readers then masterfully guides them along the path of Sheridan’s fascinating story.”

About the Author

Joseph Wheelan, a former reporter and editor for The Associated Press, has written five books, including Jefferson’s War and Invading Mexico. He lives in Cary, North Carolina.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; 1st edition (August 7, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306820277
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306820274
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #358,910 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I always wanted to write books and I finally got the opportunity after many years as a journalist. I have tried to make the most of it. I love to write, and primary research is pure pleasure, particularly reading the original documents and the actual handwritten letters and journals. I would recommend this to anyone who has an inquisitive mind and enjoys hanging around libraries.

When I am not writing and doing research, my wife Pat and I like to hike, bird-watch, and sample North Carolina's unique barbecue restaurants. We both enjoy reading American history from all eras.

Of special interest to me is the early national era, when everything was new and undergoing severe trials. We were fortunate to have leaders during these perilous early decades who put the American people and the nation's needs before political parties and sometimes even personal ambition. And they also happened to be terrific writers, thinkers, and warriors.

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By JP on January 2, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I'm a big fan of the Civil War generally and Phil Sheridan in particular. As such, what's not to like in this biography? Sheridan lived an interesting life that begins with a disputed place of birth, and includes rough-housing at West Point, service out West, heroics in the Civil War, and then running the army during the last years of the "Indian Wars." Wheelan tells it all in a lively, fast-paced, interesting way that keeps the pages turning and makes reading it a real joy. If you're a casual reader of history, or only know Sheridan based on when his name pops up on other books about the Civil War, or have a vague interest in U.S. history from 1850 to 1890, Terrible Swift Sword is a fun read and well worth picking up (or downloading).

But, if you want more, this isn't where you should go. I've read Sheridan's Memoirs and another Sheridan bio, as well as a number of books about the Civil War and the "Indian Wars." Terrible Swift Sword doesn't add much, if any, new material, and it doesn't dig too deep (although Wheelan does make an interesting point about the location of Sheridan's birth, and has a good bit of focus on the post-Civil War years). Wheelan offers the destruction of Sheridan's papers in the Great Chicago Fire as an excuse for the lack of material, but Sheridan lived almost another 20 years after the 1871 fire, which included time during Reconstruction, running the Army, and the last "Indian Wars." Did Sheridan leave behind no good documents on those issues?

Indeed, while Sheridan may have had his papers destroyed, were there any other sources about these times and places in general? In a matter of pages we move from Sheridan's birth to West Point to the start of the Civil War.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Justin Oldham on January 8, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Terrible Swift Sword: The Life of General Philip H. Sheridan, by Joseph Wheelan (Da Capo Press, August 2012) is an objectively written fast paced biography that pierces the veil of time to deliver a jolt of 19th Century shock-and-awe that clarifies who and what this Civil War hero was, without wasting your time with regional prejudices.

I spoke with this author for one hour on The Politics and Patriotism Show. You can find that podcast on their web site, or through iTunes.

Philip Henry Sheridan (1831-1888), is best known for his military exploits as a Union cavalry officer during the American Civil War (1861-1865). He had a lot in common with Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman, who were his colleagues and superiors in that conflict.

Of the three, he [Sheridan] was the only one who never resigned his commission after graduating from West Point. He mastered the use of Infantry, Artillery, and Cavalry at the same time in an era when such tactics were only theories on paper.

Grant and Sherman did tell us what motivated them. They did this in their own words, through the detailed memoirs they wrote. Each had the advantage of referring back to their personal papers, in addition to non-sensitive government documents.

Using these privately held resources enabled them to meticulously recreate and corroborate their version of events, allowing them to make more comprehensive contributions to the official historical record.

Sheridan's historical profile isn't quite so complete. The Chicago fire of 1871, which nearly destroyed that city, also wrecked his military headquarters. Losses included most of his personal papers, handwritten notes, and archived copies of reports.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Christian Schlect VINE VOICE on October 30, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Prior to reading Joseph Wheelan's compelling and easy to read biography, my primary remembrance of General Phil Sheridan was about his dashing and brave cavalry exploits in the Shenandoah Valley during the late stages of the War of Rebellion.

While the Shenandoah Valley is still central to understanding the rise of General Sheridan, one is hereby reminded, or perhaps informed for the first time, of the many other important roles this one small man played in the development of our country during the last half of the 19th century. Mexican politics, the Reconstruction Era in the South, the decimation of buffalo herds, cross-country railroads, the opening up of the Great Plains to settlement, Custer's Last Stand, the final military defeat of Native Peoples, Chicago's Great Fire, the recognition of the importance of saving Yellowstone Park, and so forth. Not many individuals have played such a wide-ranging and powerful role in our country's history.

One quarrel I do have with the author, Mr. Wheelan, is his faint--but I still think unfair--tying of General Sheridan, by way of Bismarck, to the Nazis' use of total war against civilians in World War II. First, I doubt if the concept of total war was then (during the Franco-Prussian War) unknown to the Prussians. Second, I doubt if a few words from General Sheridan moved Bismarck to any drastic change in wartime strategy. (In fact, Professor Steinberg's recent full biography of the Iron Chancellor does not even mention General Sheridan.) Third, I think Hitler is the prime person to blame for the Holocaust and other German outrages in the 1930-40s.
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