Sherman, William Tecumseh

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Sherman, William Tecumseh (1820–1891), Civil War general and commanding general of the U.S. Army.Born in Lancaster, Ohio, the sixth child of Charles R. and Mary Hoyt Sherman, Sherman was named for the Shawnee Indian leader Tecumseh. William was not added until 1830: after his father's sudden death and his mother's inability to provide for the family, he was baptized into the Catholic Church upon his entry into the home of a famous Whig politician, Thomas Ewing.

Sherman studied at the U.S. Military Academy, graduating sixth in the class of 1840. He would have ranked fourth except for demerits received because of his unwillingness to follow regulations. Instead of gaining a slot in the prestigious Army Corps of Engineers, therefore, he settled for the artillery, serving in Florida during the Second Seminole War (1840–42), in Alabama at Fort Morgan (1842), and in South Carolina at Fort Moultrie (1842–46).

With the outbreak of the Mexican War in 1846, Sherman sailed to California. He saw no combat, doing administrative work and policing the gold‐mining areas. Returning to the East (1850), he married his foster sister, Ellen Ewing, and served in the Commissary Corps in St. Louis and New Orleans. In 1853, he left the army to become a banker in San Francisco (1853–57) and New York (1857), a lawyer and real estate entrepreneur in Kansas (1858–59), and superintendent of the Louisiana Military Seminary (1859–61). When Louisiana seceded from the Union in 1861, Sherman reluctantly left the state, taking a position as president of a St. Louis street railway company.

After the Confederate capture of Fort Sumter, which began the Civil War, he rejoined the army as colonel of the 13th U.S. Infantry Regiment. At age forty‐one, Sherman brought with him not only wide experience but also anxious concerns. The death of his father, his entry into the Ewing family as a young ward, and later his marriage had been crucial factors in his life. He carried a lifelong fear about family‐destroying financial failure and an equally important determination to impress his successful foster father. He had spent most of his adult life in the South and developed a genuine affection for its people; his successful tenure as a popular Louisiana educator made his departure wrenching. His lack of combat experience also played on his mind, as did his conviction that Northern political leaders and people did not understand the importance of the Southern threat of secession. To Sherman, the Union represented the order that both he and the nation needed to avoid the catastrophe of public anarchy and personal failure.

Though his leadership abilities stood out at the July 1861 First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas), the Union failure there convinced him that his fears about Northern unpreparedness were accurate. Later, commanding in Kentucky, he was so overwhelmed by the dangers he saw around him that he fell into a deep depression that came close to incapacitating him. His subordinates believed he had lost his mind and supported his demand to be relieved of command. In early 1862, he was training recruits in a backwater of the war.

The beginning of Sherman's successful association with Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and his well‐praised performance at the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862 propelled him back into the mainstream of the conflict. From June to December 1862, he successfully governed Memphis, Tennessee, where the idea for another kind of warfare began to form in his mind. Confederate guerrillas and uncooperative civilians led him to realize that the war involved not just organized armies but supporting civilians as well. In retaliation for guerrilla sniping at Mississippi riverboats, he ordered the destruction of Randolph, Tennessee; he then issued Special Order Number 254 calling for the expulsion of ten families from Memphis for every boat fired on.

In December 1862, Sherman led a failed Union attack at Chickasaw Bayou, near Vicksburg, but he later helped Grant capture Vicksburg in July 1863. That November, Sherman became commander of the Army of the Tennessee and participated in Grant's victory at Chattanooga.

In early 1864, Sherman led 25,000 troops from Vicksburg, through Jackson, to Meridian, Mississippi, destroying property along the way in order to diminish civilian support for the war. When Grant moved east, Sherman became commander of the western theater. Using conventional warfare, he repeatedly outflanked Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston. Defeating Gen. John Bell Hood, Sherman captured Atlanta in September, his victory helping to ensure Abraham Lincoln's reelection in November. He inflicted severe damage on the city, but he did not burn it to the ground.

Hoping to end the war quickly and with the least number of casualties, Sherman, with Grant's authority, decided he had to make another direct assault on civilian and material support for the war. He marched from Atlanta to the sea and then north through the Carolinas, inflicting severe property destruction but few casualties. He brought terror into the heart of the Confederacy while positioning his army to join Grant against Lee in Virginia. The Confederate will to continue the fight diminished and the inevitability of Union victory became clear. Demonstrating that he had been truthful in promising a soft peace once his hard war had overwhelmed his Southern friends, Sherman gave General Johnston such mild peace terms that his own government accused him of treason.

In the postwar years, Sherman used his office as commanding general to try to protect the army's place in American life by insisting on its professionalization. He had limited success, but he did establish the concept of service schools for what he hoped would be a more intelligently prepared officer corps. He supervised the hard war against the Indians, determined to make them productive members of society according to white standards. He was a leading Northern opponent of Republican Reconstruction. When Republicans regularly asked him to run for president, he always declined.

Sherman's impact on American military history was substantial. He pushed warfare away from the increasingly old‐fashioned approach of masses of soldiers attacking in gigantic frontal assaults and toward the concept of war between entire societies: total war.
[See also Atlanta, Battle of; Civil War: Military and Diplomatic Course; Civil War: Postwar Impact; Seminole Wars; Sherman's March to the Sea; Vicksburg, Siege of.]


Robert G. Athearn , William Tecumseh Sherman and the Settlement of the West, 1956.
William T. Sherman , Memoirs of General William T. Sherman, 2 vols., 1875; repr. 1990.
Charles Royster , The Destructive War: William Tecumseh Sherman, Stonewall Jackson, and the Americans, 1991.
Albert Castel , Decision in the West. The Atlanta Campaign of 1964, 1992.
Lloyd Lewis , Sherman, Fighting Prophet, 1932; repr. 1993.
John F. Marszalek , Sherman: A Soldier's Passion for Order, 1993.

John F. Marszalek

Sherman, William Tecumseh

views updated May 14 2018

William Tecumseh Sherman

William Tecumseh Sherman served during the American Civil War (1861–65) on behalf of the federal government. Although his army career was unremarkable at the start, Sherman eventually earned the rank of general. He is remembered for his devastating march from Atlanta to Savannah, Georgia , during the war. Sherman and his men destroyed everything in their path as they made their way across Georgia, and their efforts helped the Union win the war. Sherman's March to the Sea was one of the first incidents of total war.

Early life

William Tecumseh Sherman was born in Lancaster, Ohio , on February 8, 1820. His parents, Charles and Mary Hoyt, named him Tecumseh after a famous Shawnee tribal leader. In 1829 his father died, leaving his mother to care for their eleven children. Without Charles's income as an attorney and judge, the family was forced to separate, and Sherman went to live with family friends, Thomas and Maria Ewing.

While living with the Ewings, Sherman was baptized and given the Christian name William. Thomas Ewing was a senator, and he provided Sherman with an excellent education. At sixteen, Sherman obtained an appointment to West Point, a military academy. He graduated in 1840, sixth out of forty-three in his class.

Military career

After graduating from West Point, Sherman served with the U.S. Army until 1853. His military career was fairly unremarkable. He served as second lieutenant in Florida, South Carolina, and California. Although he was sent to fight the Seminole Indians in Florida and the Mexicans in California, Sherman was sent too late to participate in combat situations. In September 1853, he resigned.

Marriage and civilian life

After leaving the army, Sherman married his foster sister, Ellen Ewing, and accepted an offer to become a partner in a San Francisco bank. In 1859 the Shermans moved to Louisiana , where Sherman took a position leading the Louisiana Seminar of Learning and Military Academy (later renamed Louisiana State University).

The Civil War

When Louisiana seceded from the Union in January 1861, Sherman left his job at the academy and returned to the army. In April 1861 the first battle of the Civil War occurred at Fort Sumter, North Carolina . In May 1861 Sherman was appointed colonel of the Union army's thirteenth infantry.

After the Battle of Bull Run in July 1861, Sherman, who fought in Bull Run as a colonel, was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers, and he soon gained a reputation for being unstable and manic depressive. Gradually, however, he gained the confidence of his peers. His role as a major general under Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885) was particularly impressive. Serving under Grant, Sherman performed admirably and continued to rise in rank. He eventually assumed command of the Army of Tennessee and the entire western theater.

Sherman is best remembered for his actions in 1864 across Georgia. In charge of over one hundred thousand men in three armies, Sherman was given the mission of capturing Atlanta. Brutal fighting raged around Atlanta starting in July, and the Confederate soldiers left the city in early September. Sherman evicted the civilians and burned the city. He then led an aggressive march toward Savannah, and along the way he destroyed Southern support for the war and the infrastructure that supported it.

Sherman spread his army out into two vast columns over a width of 60 miles (97 kilometers). The soldiers sustained themselves by taking what they needed or wanted and left the region destroyed in their wake. They took or destroyed food, animals, and equipment. They destroyed the railroad system and burned down buildings as they advanced.

Sherman's men far outnumbered any Confederate troops that they encountered, so they were hardly challenged along the way. On December 10, after seizing four other cities, including the state capital of Milledgeville, Sherman arrived just outside Savannah. Throughout a ten day siege, Sherman and his men forced out the Confederate troops, moving into Savannah on December 21.

Sherman then began a similar march north through the Carolinas, destroying at least twelve towns. As a result of Sherman's total war campaign, Southern support began to collapse. On April 9, 1865, Confederate general Robert E. Lee (1807–1870) surrendered to Union general Ulysses S. Grant in Virginia. Less than three weeks later, on April 26, Confederate general Joe Johnston surrendered to Sherman in North Carolina. Confederate resistance collapsed entirely, and the war was over.

Later years

Sherman continued his service to the U.S. Army after the Civil War. He headed the Military Division of Missouri until Grant became president in 1869. Under President Grant, Sherman served as general of the army and commander in chief. These years were challenging, because Secretary of War William Belknap repeatedly bypassed Sherman's authority. In reaction, Sherman moved the army headquarters to St. Louis, Missouri , and did not return to Washington until Belknap had been impeached in 1876. Sherman remained in his position until 1883, when he retired.

Sherman spent four years of his retirement in St. Louis. He died in New York City from complications from pneumonia in 1891 and was buried in St. Louis.

William Tecumseh Sherman

views updated Jun 11 2018

William Tecumseh Sherman

William Tecumseh Sherman (1820-1891), American soldier, was a Union general during the Civil War. He captured Atlanta and Savannah and wrought great destruction in marches through Georgia and the Carolinas.

William T. Sherman was born in Lancaster, Ohio, on Feb. 8, 1820. After his father died, "Cump," as he was known, was raised by the Thomas Ewings. Sherman attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, graduating in 1840. He served in the Second Seminole War (1840-1842). Stationed in California during the Mexican War, he had little chance for combat honor, although he was awarded one brevet. He resigned from the Army on Sept. 6, 1853, and entered civilian life, working in banks in California and New York City. He also practiced law unsuccessfully in Kansas and was superintendent of a military academy at Alexandria, La. (now Louisiana State University), when the Civil War came.

Early Civil War Service

Returning to the Army in May 1861, Sherman commanded a brigade at First Bull Run on July 21, 1861. From August to November he was with the Department of the Cumberland in Kentucky, eventually taking command of that department. Nervous, overly alarmed at Confederate capabilities, and racked with hostility toward newspaper-men, he suffered an emotional breakdown and was transferred to Missouri for a time. Returning to Tennessee, he supported Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in victorious campaigns against Ft. Henry and Ft. Donelson in February 1862.

Sherman formed a close friendship with Grant and, as a division commander, accompanied Grant's army as it moved southward to Pittsburg Landing. When the Union force was surprised by the massive attack of Confederate general Albert Sidney Johnston at Shiloh on April 6, Sherman reacted vigorously in helping stem the tide of Union defeat; he had four horses shot out from under him. The next day, reinforced by troops from Gen. Don Carlos Buell's force, the Federals drove the enemy from the field. In late 1862 Sherman occupied Memphis but, in his movement against Vicksburg, was repulsed at Chickasaw Bluffs at the end of December. Now a major general of volunteers, and in command of the XV Corps, he served with Grant's Army of the Tennessee in the eventually successful operations against Vicksburg in the first half of 1863.

Later Civil War Service

When Grant was ordered to relieve the Union army at Chattanooga in late 1863, Sherman went along and participated in the Battle of Chattanooga. His attacks at Tunnel Hill on November 24 were repelled, but other Federal assaults succeeded in driving out the Confederate force. Sherman then moved to relieve Knoxville in December. In February 1864, he captured the enemy base at Meridian, Miss.

When Grant became general in chief of all the Union armies, Sherman succeeded him in command in the West. Battle strategy determined that simultaneous advances would be made in May 1864 against Gen. Robert E. Lee, defending Richmond, and Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, defending Atlanta. Sherman began his campaign for Atlanta with 100,000 men as against Johnston's 60,000. In a series of flanking maneuvers, Sherman steadily worked his way to the vicinity of Atlanta. He was unwittingly aided when the rash Gen. John B. Hood superseded Johnston.

Sherman captured the important city on September 2. Then, sending Gen. George H. Thomas back to check Hood's countersortie into Tennessee, Sherman embarked with 62,000 men on his famed "March to the Sea." He captured Savannah on Dec. 21, 1864. This was followed by a swing northward through the Carolinas, against minor opposition, and culminated in the capitulation of Johnston's army at Durham Station on April 17.

Postwar Duty

When Grant became U.S. president in 1869, Sherman replaced him as general in chief, a post he held with distinction until he retired from the army in 1883 as a four-star general. He was still tall and erect, with graying reddish hair and furrowed face. Residing in St. Louis and then New York City, Sherman continued to be active as a speaker and writer. He died in New York on Feb. 14, 1891. Never an outstanding battle captain, he nevertheless won high honors by his talent for devising sweeping campaign plans and by his ability in carrying out great marches with sure logistic support.

Further Reading

The primary personal account is Memoirs of General William T. Sherman (2 vols., 1875), an uneven but provocative and intelligent reminiscence. An informed though hostile critique of the memoirs is Henry V. Boynton, Sherman's Historical Raid (1875). Of value are Rachel S. Thorndike, ed., The Sherman Letters: Correspondence between General and Senator Sherman from 1837-1891 (1894), and Mark A. DeWolfe Howe, ed., Home Letters of General Sherman (1909).

The ablest, most thoroughly researched biographies are Basil H. Liddell Hart, Sherman: Soldier, Realist, American (1929); Lloyd D. Lewis, Sherman, Fighting Prophet (1932), brilliantly written and containing much information on Ulysses S. Grant; and James M. Merrill, William Tecumseh Sherman (1971), a reassessment of Sherman based on letters discovered by the author and never before used by historians. Useful for Sherman's campaigns are George W. Nichols, The Story of the Great March (1865); Jacob D. Cox, Atlanta (1882); and John G. Barrett, Sherman's March through the Carolinas (1956). □

Sherman, William Tecumseh

views updated May 23 2018

Sherman, William Tecumseh (1820–91) Union general in the American Civil War (1861–65). He took part in the first battle of Bull Run, and in the capture of Vicksburg. He won the battle of Atlanta, and led the ‘March to the Sea’ from Atlanta to Savannah in 1864.

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