William Sherman

(William Tecumseh Sherman)


William Sherman was born in Ohio, nine years before the unexpected death of his father in 1829. After his death, Sherman was raised by a family friend, prominent attorney and former senator Thomas Ewing. William was baptized twice during his childhood, once as a Presbyterian and again as a Catholic, but despite the deep devotion of his wife and sons, Sherman rejected all forms of organized religion during his later life. In 1836, Senator Ewing procured Sherman a position as a cadet at West Point Military Academy, where the young man excelled academically but was often in trouble. After graduation, Sherman fought in the Second Seminole War as a second lieutenant, but unlike many of his colleagues, he did not see military action during the Mexican-American War. Instead, he served in California, and after gold was discovered in the region, the California Gold Rush was initiated. Sherman earned a temporary promotion to captain for his service during the Gold Rush, but he resigned his commission shortly thereafter.

William Sherman
In 1850, Sherman was officially made a captain and married Thomas Ewingís daughter, Eleanor Boyle Ewing. His wife was devoutly Catholic, and the Shermanís eight children were later raised in the faith. Three years after their marriage, Sherman resigned his captaincy and moved from Washington, D.C. back to San Francisco, becoming shipwrecked twice in the process. He became manager of a bank but feared the cityís financial situation, and when the branch closed in 1857, he transferred to another location in New York. The bank failed soon after, during the Panic of 1857, and after closing both the New York and San Francisco branches, the Shermans moved to Kansas, where Williamís business ventures were primarily unsuccessful. Finally, in 1859, Sherman accepted a position as first superintendent of the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning & Military Academy, later Louisiana State University. He was an effective and popular leader, and he was praised by many of his contemporaries. Unfortunately, he was not in the position long before the Civil War broke out and Sherman resigned, choosing to side with the North rather than remain in Louisiana.

After a short meeting with President Abraham Lincoln, he became president of the St. Louis Railroad, declining an offer to take a position in the U.S. War Department. After the Battle of Fort Sumner, Sherman hesitated to join the Union Army but did so at last, and shortly after his enlistment he was commissioned as colonel of the 13th U.S. Infantry regiment, originally a batch of volunteers. Sherman and his men fought well during the Battle of Bull Run, but the American defeat led the colonel to question his own leadership abilities. Despite these insecurities, however, Lincoln was impressed with Shermanís work and promoted him to brigadier general. Sherman was moved to Kentucky, but he did not last long before he began to suffer from what may have been a nervous breakdown, becoming increasingly pessimistic and complaining until he was at last sent to Ohio to recuperate. For a time he was even considered insane by several newspapers; yet by December of that year, Sherman had recovered enough to return to duty. He served under future president Ulysses S. Grant, and after his success at the Battle of Shiloh, he was promoted to major general of volunteers. In 1863, following a year of mixed losses and victories, Sherman was restored to his old rank of brigadier general in the regular army. While staying in Vicksburg, his family came to visit him; during the trip, his young son died of typhoid fever.

After leaving Vicksburg, Sherman travelled south to Georgia, where he was chosen to succeed Grant, now commander of the entire Union army, as head of the Military Division of the Mississippi. He proceeded to invade the state of Georgia with three armies and led a campaign against Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston, which ended with the capture of Atlanta. Sherman continued south, capturing Savannah and raising the hopes of Union supporters in the south. Some even considered having Sherman replace Grant as lieutenant general, but the former refused, swearing his undying loyalty to his commander. At the conclusion of his destructive Georgia march, Sherman was called north to assist Grant in defeating Robert E. Lee in Virginia. The general insisted upon travelling through the Carolinas, and along the way he destroyed everything of military value before capturing Columbia, the capital of South Carolina in 1865. The city was burned to the ground, whether by accident or on purpose it is unknown, and local Native American guides brought Shermanís troops into North Carolina, where they did far less damage out of respect to the reluctantly Confederate state. Sherman reached Grant soon after, and the two met with Abraham Lincoln, who also happened to be in the area.

Following Leeís surrender and Lincolnís assassination, Sherman set out to organize a Confederate surrender, but his terms were largely ignored until at last, in April 1865, General Joseph E. Johnston formally surrendered his army as well as all the forces in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida. After the war, Sherman served as lieutenant general before being promoted to Commanding General of the U.S. Army under Grantís presidential administration. Williamís greatest concern at the time was the construction of cross-country railroads, and he insisted that the progress of such not be halted by hostile Indian attacks. At the same time, however, Sherman also spoke out concerning the poor treatment of Native Americans in reservations. The general resigned from the army in 1884, and he lived the remainder of his life in New York City. He was proposed as a Republican candidate during the 1884 presidential election, but he declined, and seven years later he passed away. General Joseph E. Johnston, Williamís great adversary during the Civil War, served as a pallbearer during his funeral. Sherman was a brilliant strategist, said by some historians to be rivaled only by the likes of Scipio Africanus, Belisarius, and Napoleon Bonaparte and several New York monuments were posthumously attributed to him.

Key events during the life of William Tecumseh Sherman:

Father died unexpectedly.
Attended West Point Military Academy.
Entered the army as a second lieutenant.
Travelled to California to confirm findings of gold in the region.
Married Eleanor Boyle Ewing.
  Promoted to captain.
Resigned from military duties to become a bank manager.
Moved to New York before later returning to California.
Became superintendent of the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning & Military Academy.
Left Louisiana at the start of the civil war.
  Fought in the Battle of Bull Run.
  Left the army for a time after suffering from a nervous breakdown.
Served in the Battle of Shiloh.
Succeeded Ulysses Grant as head of the Military Division of Mississippi.
Surrender of the Confederate forces.
Was offered a nomination for the presidential election but declined.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Heart of the South  in  America First—100 Stories from Our History  by  Lawton B. Evans
The Burning of Atlanta  in  Story of the Great Republic  by  H. A. Guerber
Lincoln—Sherman's March to the Sea  in  This Country of Ours  by  H. E. Marshall
On to Atlanta  in  American History Stories, Volume IV  by  Mara L. Pratt

Image Links

March to the sea
 in Story of the Great Republic

Sherman and the Soldier
 in Story of the Great Republic
William Tecumseh Sherman
William Tecumseh Sherman
 in Back Matter

Short Biography
Abraham Lincoln President of the United States during the American Civil War.
Ulysses Grant Commander and Chief of the Union forces in the Civil War, and President of the United States.
Robert E. Lee General of the Confederate Army during the American Civil War.