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The Buffalo of Yesteryear: Sheridan Drive, named for an aggressive Civil War general

This post is the latest in an occasional series examining the history of the names of Buffalo-area streets.

Sheridan Drive is one of Erie County’s major east-west thoroughfares, a commercial strip that muscles through inner-ring suburbs Tonawanda and Amherst before ending at Main Street in Clarence. Landmarks along the road include the Northtown Plaza and the original location of Duff’s, the beloved chicken wing joint.

The street’s name comes from a Civil War general who was a crucial part of the Union’s victory over the Confederacy at Appomattox, according to professional urban planner Angela Keppel’s Buffalo Streets blog.

Philip Henry Sheridan claimed to be born in Albany, but could have actually been born en route to America from Ireland; either way, he was the son of Irish immigrants. He grew up in Ohio and eventually attended the United States Military Academy at West Point. Standing at only 5 feet, 5 inches tall, Sheridan earned the nickname “Little Phil.”

Sheridan rose the military ranks and eventually was chosen by Ulysses S. Grant to lead the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps. At the end of the war, Sheridan was instrumental in the pursuit and ultimate surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House in Virginia, a key moment in the resolution of the Civil War.

Sheridan remains known for his use of scorched-earth tactics during the war, a brutal strategy in which forces destroy anything that might be useful to the opposing side, including factories, crops, mills and barns.

Tonawanda historians, according to Keppel, claim that Sheridan Drive was actually named after a Chicago street called Sheridan Road, but in any case, the Chicago road itself was named after Philip Henry Sheridan. Sheridan Road in Chicago is a major north-south route that traces the Lake Michigan shoreline through the city’s north side, into northern Lake County and into Wisconsin.

After the Civil War, Sheridan ruthlessly fought Native Americans in the Great Plains and advocated for the protection of the land that is now Yellowstone National Park, according to a 2014 article in the Chicago Tribune. He was also known in the Windy City for his efforts to quell the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 while he was headquartered there.

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