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William Tecumseh Sherman
by John T. Marck
 
 
 
 

 
 
 

William Tecumseh Sherman

He was born in Lancaster, Ohio on February 8, 1820. The son of a lawyer and jurist, his father died suddenly when William was only nine years old. One of eleven children, William was sent to the family of Thomas Ewing, who was a senator and a cabinet member, to be raised. Receiving his education in Ohio, he then went of West Point, obtaining an appointment through his foster father. He graduated sixth in his class in 1840, then was assigned to the 3rd Artillery at the rank of 2nd lieutenant. After spending a year here, he was sent to Florida where he was promoted to 1st lieutenant. In 1842 his assignments took him to Fort Moultrie, South Carolina.

After almost three years in the army, Sherman requested his first leave, whereby he returned to his hometown of Lancaster and became engaged to Ellen Ewing, the daughter of his foster parents. Returning to duty in South Carolina, he was sent down the Mississippi River, then to Georgia, followed by tours in the Southern states for about three months. His next assignment took him to the Federal arsenal in Augusta where he studied and learned the geography of the South. It would be this knowledge that unknown to him at the time, would be very valuable later.

Sherman served in the Mexican War as an aide to Captain Philip Kearney, followed by service as an adjutant to Colonel Richard B. Mason. Because he saw little actual fighting, he thought of resigning, but was convinced to stay in the army by General Persifor Frazer Smith, who was the commander of the newly formed Pacific Division. Headquartered in San Francisco, Smith made Sherman his adjutant general. In 1850, he was assigned to carry messages to the East for General Winfield Scott, and while there, married Ellen Ewing in Washington, D.C. Sherman remained in the army for another three years before resigning. He then returned to San Francisco to work as an local agent for a St. Louis based banking firm. He did well in this position, handling the firms funds, and successfully getting them through the financial crisis of 1857. Sherman then left this business and moved to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas where he opened a law and real estate office.

Only somewhat successful in his business, Sherman then accepted a position in October 1859 as the superintendent of the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning and Military Academy, outside Alexandria, Louisiana. This academy was the predecessor of what would grow into Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. He remained at the academy until Louisiana seceded from the Union in 1861, then was approached with an offer to join the Confederate army. Sherman declined the offer, preferring to accept the position as president of a St. Louis streetcar company. However, after the Civil War began, he returned to the U.S. Army as a colonel in the 13th Infantry on May 14. That July, he was assigned a command under Major General Irvin McDowell's army. It would be Sherman along with McDowell that would be defeated by the Rebels at the Battle of First Bull Run.

Sherman was then promoted to brigadier general of volunteers on August 2, and assigned to Kentucky as the second in command under Brigadier General Robert Anderson. When Anderson fell ill, Sherman replaced him as commander, then orders came through that Kentucky would be defended by the local guard. Sherman was then replaced by orders of the War Department to report to Major General Henry Halleck in Missouri. Here, Sherman was given the command of the Department of Cairo, formerly commanded by Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant. At the Battle of Shiloh, Sherman fought gallantly, and although defeated, his guidance won him a promotion to major general.

In July 1862, General Grant replaced General Halleck as commander of the Western armies, and upon taking command, assigned Sherman to Memphis to handle its defenses. Sherman handled this assignment well, overpowering the guerillas as well as established an efficient civil authority. When Grant moved against Vicksburg in the fall of 1862, he sent Sherman to Chickasaw Bluffs. However, in trouble here, as a result of Grant's reinforcements not arriving, he retreated to the river, where he gave his command over to Major General John A. McClernand, per orders of President Lincoln. General McClernand then took his troops and formed it as the Army of the Mississippi into two corps, assigning one of them to Sherman. General Sherman then took his command against Arkansas. During this time, Grant had formed the Army of the Tennessee, that incorporated the troops of McClernand and Sherman. Sherman's XV Corps, now a portion of the Army of the Tennessee, was responsible for the land and sea operations that eventually led to the surrender of Vicksburg on July 4, 1863.

That September, Sherman was assigned to handle the relief of Chattanooga. At this time, Grant was given the supreme command of the armies in the West, so he assigned Sherman as the commander of the Army of the Tennessee. Then in March 1864, Grant went to the East to accept his promotion as general-in-chief of all armies, thus leaving Sherman as the commander of all the Western armies. With Grant as general-in-chief, he sent Major General George Meade's Army of the Potomac against Confederate General Robert E. Lee at Richmond, and at the same time, Sherman started his Atlanta Campaign and his March to the Sea against Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston.

When confronted by Johnston's army, Sherman forced him back to Atlanta, where Johnston was replaced by Confederate General John B. Hood, by Confederate President Jefferson Davis who was dissatisfied with Johnson's performance. Sherman encountered three attacks launched by Hood against the Union that proved disastrous for the Rebels, near Atlanta. As Sherman was unable to take Atlanta by assault, he besieged the city and cut the railroads to Montgomery, Alabama, and Macon, Georgia. On September 1, Hood evacuated the Southern troops from Atlanta under the cover of night. Sherman eventually took possession of Atlanta and ordered the people evacuated and the military value of the city destroyed, thus the burning of Atlanta. Being victorious, Sherman was promoted to major general in the Regular army. Then Sherman sent Union General George Thomas and Schofield's armies west to Tennessee to restrain Hood, and defend Tennessee, while he continued his March to the Sea. Sherman then took the city of Savannah, and announced the occupation of the city as a Christmas gift to Lincoln and the Union.

General Sherman then marched north to assist Grant in his final move against Richmond. En route, in the Carolinas, Sherman accepted the surrender of General Johnston. However, his surrender terms were too charitable and unacceptable to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, that caused a long-running feud between them. Finally, Grant interceded and surrender terms were agreed upon based on those from Appomattox.

During Sherman's final campaigns and his March to the Sea, he had earned a reputation for the ruthlessness and destruction of Southern property. Additionally, hated by the Southern people, Sherman's troops often accomplished these goals without regard to proper discipline. His troops, those savage stragglers, became known as "Sherman's Bummers." This devastation and wanton disregard for Southern property alienated the Southern people, who especially resented Sherman for the burning of Columbia, South Carolina. However, there were indications that fires had spread when Confederate General Wade Hampton burned cotton that may have set Columbia ablaze. Unknown for certain, in any event, Sherman was blamed by the South. In answer to the charges that he and his men were ruthless regarding the destruction, Sherman contended that the war would end sooner by destroying property and supplies, rather than continuing the waste of lives.

Sherman rose to the rank of major general in the Regular Army, and when accepting, abandoned his post in the volunteers. Additionally, Sherman was the only man in the war to receive thanks from Congress twice. After the war, Sherman's military career continued as the commander of the Division of the Mississippi; was the military assistant regarding the construction of the transcontinental railroad; and commanded campaigns against hostile Indians. On July 25, 1866, upon Grant being promoted to full general, Sherman was promoted to lieutenant general and assigned to Washington, D.C. Here he took over temporary command of the army. When Grant was elected president, and upon his inauguration, Sherman was promoted to full general and general-in-chief, replacing Grant.

Sherman retired from the army on November 1, 1883, and three years later, settled in New York City. Sherman did write his memoirs, titled: The Memoirs of William T. Sherman, that consisted of a two-volume set that were published in 1875.

William T. Sherman died in New York City on Valentine's Day (February 14), 1891.

Copyrightę John T. Marck. All Rights Reserved. This article and their accompanying pictures, photographs, and line art, may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission from the author.