Sheridan’s Butterfly

By Jim Heflich
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2017, All Rights Reserved

General Philip Henry Sheridan’s famed Civil War career – most notably his “hell for leather” charge at Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864 – eventually led to his post-bellum appointment as Commanding General U.S. Army on November 1, 1883 – succeeding William Tecumseh Sherman. He remained in that post until his death on August 5, 1888.

Like many towns in the West that were named for U.S. Army officers, Sheridan, Wyoming in north-central Wyoming just east of the Bighorn Mountains, was named in honor of Phil Sheridan in 1882 by John D. Loucks, who served under Sheridan in the Civil War.

But this was not the first patronymic honor that Sheridan earned in Wyoming. In 1877 a type of specimen of a beautiful but tiny green butterfly (under 1-inch wingspan) collected in north-central Wyoming was named “Sheridan’s Hairstreak” (Callophrys sheridanii sheridanii) by W.H. Edwards – the leading amateur American lepidopterist of the 19th century. It is one of three races of this species – given the modified common name of “White-lined Sheridan’s Hairstreak.”

In July 2009, acting upon legislation signed earlier that year, Sheridan’s Hairstreak officially became the State Butterfly of Wyoming.

Sheridan’s Hairstreak is one the true harbingers of spring in Wyoming – being the first butterfly to emerge from chrysalis – flying from March to early June. It is found up to high elevations of 8,000 feet near melting snowbanks. Buckwheats are the primary larval food plant.

Sheridan’s Hairstreak

There are over 70 Hairstreak species in North America, including a rare California species named for John Muir. Most are colored in beautiful shades of browns and grays, but a few species are strikingly green in color, including Juniper Hairstreak which I’ve found in Adams County in extreme south-central Ohio. Malachite (Siproeta stelenes), a large tropical gem that can be seen in southern Florida, is often a star of indoor butterfly gardens. Green butterflies have a stunningly unique appeal whenever they are encountered.

While no Civil War battles were fought in present-day Wyoming, on my next trip to the Bighorns, a foray in search of Sheridan’s namesake butterfly will be high on my to-do list, as will a return trip just an hour’s drive north up I-90 to where one of Sheridan’s stellar subordinate commanders in the 1864 Valley Campaign came to grief along the banks of the Little Bighorn River in 1876.

Related link:
Adoption of the Wyoming State Butterfly