William Tecumseh Sherman was a General in the American Civil War, businessman, educator, author, and a war machine.
He is viewed as a hero in the Northern states and a villain in the Southern states. He conducted the scorched earth strategy when he implemented total war in the South and split the Confederacy in half with his march to the sea.
Sherman was born in 1820 in Lancaster, Ohio, near the banks of the Hocking River.
His father, Charles Robert Sherman, was a successful lawyer who sat on the Ohio Supreme Court.
Charles died when William was nine years old.
He left his widow, Mary Hoyt Sherman, with eleven children and no inheritance.
After his father's death, the nine-year-old Sherman was raised by a Lancaster neighbor and family friend, attorney Thomas Ewing, Sr., a prominent member of the Whig Party who served as senator from Ohio and as the first Secretary of the Interior.
Sherman's older brother, Charles Taylor Sherman, became a federal judge.
One of his younger brothers, John Sherman, served as a U.S. senator and Cabinet secretary. Another younger brother, Hoyt Sherman, was a successful banker.
Two of his foster brothers served as major generals in the Union Army during the Civil War: Hugh Boyle Ewing, later an ambassador and author, and Thomas Ewing, Jr., who would serve as a defense attorney in the military trials of the Lincoln conspirators.
Sherman would marry his foster sister, Ellen Boyle Ewing, at age 30 and have eight children with her.
Senator Ewing secured an appointment for the 16-year-old Sherman as a cadet in the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he roomed and became good friends with another important future Civil War General, George H. Thomas.
Sherman excelled academically but seemed to be in trouble quite often.
He was later stationed in Georgia and South Carolina. As the foster son of a prominent Whig politician in Charleston, the popular Lt. Sherman moved within the upper circles of Old South society.
While many of his colleagues saw action in the Mexican–American War, Sherman performed administrative duties in the captured territory of California.
In 1848, Sherman accompanied the military governor of California, Col. Richard Barnes Mason, in the inspection that officially confirmed that gold had been discovered in the region, thus beginning the California Gold Rush.
Sherman earned a brevet promotion to captain for his "meritorious service," but his lack of a combat assignment discouraged him and may have contributed to his decision to resign his commission.
In 1859, Sherman accepted a job as the first superintendent of the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning & Military Academy in Pineville, Louisiana.
He proved an effective and popular leader of the institution, which later became Louisiana State University.
Civil War Service
He was one of the few officers who distinguished himself in the First Battle of Bull Run.
The disastrous Union defeat at Bull Run led Sherman to question his own judgment as an officer and the capacities of his volunteer troops. President Lincoln, however, was impressed by Sherman while visiting the troops on July 23 and promoted him to brigadier general of volunteers.
He was assigned to serve under Robert Anderson in the Department of the Cumberland in Louisville, Kentucky, and in October, Sherman succeeded Anderson in command of the department.
Sherman struggled with mental issues shortly after his promotion and was sent home. His wife Ellen said that he contemplated hurting himself. It was his lowest point during the war.
He was able to recuperate and returned to active duty. He served under Ulysses S. Grant and supported him during his capture of Fort Donelson.
After Grant captured Fort Donelson, Sherman got his wish to serve under Grant when he was assigned on March 1, 1862, to the Army of West Tennessee as commander of the 5th Division.
He rallied his troops to avoid a Union route at Shiloh and helped lead a Union victory following the first day.
Sherman's military record in 1862–63 was mixed. In December 1862, forces under his command suffered a severe repulse at the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou, just north of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Soon after, his XV Corps was ordered to join Maj. Gen. John A. McClernand, in his successful assault on Arkansas Post, was generally regarded as a politically motivated distraction from the effort to capture Vicksburg.
Before the Vicksburg Campaign in the spring of 1863, Sherman expressed serious reservations about the wisdom of Grant's unorthodox strategy, but he went on to perform well in that campaign under Grant's supervision.
Sherman succeeded Grant in command of the Army of Tennessee. Following the defeat of the Army of the Cumberland at the Battle of Chickamauga by Confederate General Braxton Bragg's Army of Tennessee, the army was besieged in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Sherman's troops were sent to relieve them. While traveling to Chattanooga, Sherman departed Memphis on a train that arrived at the Battle of Collierville, Tennessee, while the Union garrison there was under attack on October 11, 1863. General Sherman took command of the 550 men and successfully defended against an attack of 3,500 Confederate cavalries.
He led many successful attacks and repulsed Confederate offensives during the Chattanooga Campaign.
When Lincoln promoted Grant, Grant placed Sherman in charge of his men in the West.
As Grant took overall command of the armies of the United States, Sherman wrote to him outlining his strategy to bring the war to an end, concluding that "if you can whip Lee and I can march to the Atlantic, I think ol' Uncle Abe will give us twenty days leave to see the young folks."
Sherman proceeded to invade the state of Georgia with three armies: the 60,000-strong Army of the Cumberland under George Henry Thomas, the 25,000-strong Army of Tennessee under James B. McPherson, and the 13,000-strong Army of Ohio under John M. Schofield.
He fought a lengthy campaign of maneuvering through mountainous terrain against Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston's Army of Tennessee, attempting a direct assault only at the disastrous Battle of Kennesaw Mountain.
In July, the cautious Johnston was replaced by the more aggressive John Bell Hood, who played to Sherman's strength by challenging him to direct battles on open ground.
Sherman captured Atlanta on September 2, 1864. The capture came at a price when General James Birdseye McPherson was gunned down.
After Lincoln won re-election, Sherman began his March to the Sea.
Local Native American Lumbee guides helped Sherman's army cross the Lumber River, which was flooded by torrential rains, into North Carolina. According to Sherman, the trek across the Lumber River and through the swamps, pocosins, and creeks of Robeson County was "the damnedest marching I ever saw."
He torched many civilian buildings in Georgia and South Carolina but left North Carolina in decent shape.
In late March, Sherman briefly left his forces and traveled to City Point, Virginia, to consult with Grant. Lincoln happened to be at City Point at the same time, allowing the only three-way meetings of Lincoln, Grant, and Sherman during the war.
Robert E. Lee surrendered to Grant, thus ending the war. Soon, Johnston surrendered to Sherman.
Ironically, General Sherman was not opposed to slavery and, prior to the Civil War, even expressed sympathy for the Southern view. However, during his march, he freed more slaves than anyone. He was viewed by them as the second coming of Moses that would lead them out of bondage.
Sherman issued his Special Field Orders, No. 15. The orders provided for the settlement of 40,000 freed slaves and black refugees on land expropriated from white landowners in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Sherman appointed Brig. Gen. Rufus Saxton, an abolitionist from Massachusetts who had previously directed the recruitment of black soldiers, implemented that plan.
In June 1865, two months after Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox, General Sherman received his first postwar command, originally called the Military Division of the Mississippi, later the Military Division of Missouri, which came to comprise the territory between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains. Sherman's efforts in that position were focused on protecting the main wagon roads, such as the Oregon, Bozeman, and Santa Fe Trails. Tasked with guarding a vast territory with a limited force, Sherman was wary of the multitude of requests by territories and settlements for protection.
One of Sherman's main concerns in postwar commands was to protect the construction and operation of the railroads from attack by hostile Indians. Sherman's views on Indian matters were often strongly expressed. He regarded the railroads "as the most important element now in progress to facilitate the military interests of our Frontier." Hence, in 1867, he wrote to Grant, "We are not going to let a few thieving, ragged Indians check and stop the progress of [the railroads]." After the 1866 Fetterman Massacre, Sherman wrote Grant that "we must act with vindictive earnestness against the Sioux, even to their extermination, men, women, and children.
Despite his harsh rhetoric, he tended to let negotiations play out between the USA and Native Americans.
On July 25, 1866, Congress created the rank of General of the Army for Grant and then promoted Sherman to lieutenant general. When Grant became president in 1869, Sherman was appointed Commanding General of the United States Army and promoted to General of the Army.
He lived most of the rest of his life in New York City. He was devoted to the theater and to amateur painting and was much in demand as a colorful speaker at dinners and banquets, in which he indulged a fondness for quoting Shakespeare.
Sherman died of pneumonia in New York City at 1:50 PM on February 14, 1891
President Benjamin Harrison ordered the flags to be lowered to half-mast.
- Wikipedia - William Sherman
- Sherman House Museum
- William Tecumseh Sherman: In the Service of My Country: A Life
- Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman
- Find a Grave - Sherman's Grave
- Library of Congress - Sherman's Papers
- Gilderhman Library - Sherman on the Western Railroad
- The History Junkie's Guide to the American Civil War
- The History Junkie's Timeline of the Civil War
- The History Junkie's Timeline of American History