Philip Henry Sheridan is often remembered as one of the great Union generals of the Civil War. Yet the vast majority of his military career was spent in connection with the expanding frontier.
Sheridan was named commander of the Division of the Missouri four years after the Civil War. He was now the nation's second-ranking army officer with command over the entire plains region from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi. As Commander of the Division of the Missouri, Sheridan planned and directed some of the most notable Indian campaigns. He promoted western land and encouraged railroad construction.
For the present-day region of North Dakota, General Sheridan left an indelible mark. Protecting communication and transportation routes in the area west of the Missouri River demanded much of his attention. For several years, military operations were dictated by the needs of the Northern Pacific Railroad. In 1872, General Sherman warned Sheridan, "That Northern Pacific road is going to give you a great deal of trouble..." His words proved true. Under Sheridan, Fort Abraham Lincoln was constructed. He sent Custer and the Seventh Cavalry to man the Dakota post. By 1878, one-fifth of all US army forts and encampments between the Mississippi and the Rocky Mountains were located in Dakota Territory.
Sheridan's clout and influence on the northern plains did not escape the notice of the territorial legislature. In 1873, legislators divided northern Dakota Territory east of the Missouri River into several new counties. One was named in honor of the famous general. But Sheridan County failed to attract many new settlers. It remained on the territorial map for nearly two decades but was never organized.
In 1891, the North Dakota state legislature reorganized county boundaries, attaching several unorganized counties to adjacent ones. Sheridan County disappeared from the state map, absorbed by the now greatly expanded McLean County. But it wasn't the last North Dakota would see of General Sheridan's namesake.
At the general election in November of 1908, nearly 2,000 McLean County voters, out of 3,600 ballots cast, approved a measure to divide the county. Twenty-eight townships from the east side of McLean County were lopped off to create Sheridan County. The county, once again named after the Civil War hero and commander of the Division of the Missouri, was formally organized on this date in 1908.
Written by Christina Sunwall
Hall, Luella J. "History of the Formation of Counties in North Dakota." In Collections of the State Historical Society, ed. O. G. Libby, V, 167-250. Grand Forks, ND: Normanden Pub. Co., 1923.
Hutton, Paul Andrew. Phil Sheridan and His Army. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1985.
Hutton, Paul Andrew. ""Fort Desolation": The Military Establishment, the Railroad, and Settlement on the Northern Plains." North Dakota History: Journal of the Northern Plains 56, no. 2 (1989): 20-30.
"Sheridan County, North Dakota", https://mylocalgov.com/SheridanCountyND/index.asp.