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Despite being branded as insane in the early days of the Civil War, William T. Sherman became one of the most well-known Generals of the war.
William Tecumseh Sherman was born in Lancaster, Ohio, on February 8, 1820. His father died when he was nine, and he was subsequently adopted by Thomas Ewing, an Ohio politician and friend of the family. Ewing was able to get Sherman appointed to West Point, from which he graduated sixth in his class in 1840. After serving at various posts in the South, Sherman was ultimately posted to San Francisco, where he served during the Mexican War.
Sherman resigned from the Army in 1853 to become a partner in a San Francisco bank. Although initially successful, the bank failed during the Panic of 1857, leaving Sherman almost penniless. He then moved to Kansas in order to practice law, but lost the only case he ever tried. He finally found stability again when he became superintendent of the Louisiana State Seminary and Military Academy (now Louisiana State University), a position he held until Louisiana seceded from the Union. He then moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where he served as president of a street railway company until the Civil War broke out.
On May 8, 1861, Sherman wrote to the Secretary of War offering his services for three years. His offer was accepted, and he was made a Colonel in the Thirteenth Regular Infantry in June. Although his brigade was one of many routed by the Confederates at the First Battle of Bull Run (July 1861), Sherman was promoted to Brigadier General of Volunteers in August and given command of the Department of Kentucky. While serving in this position, Sherman sent a report to Washington in which he seemingly greatly overestimated the strength of the Confederate Army in Kentucky. That report made its way to the press, which branded Sherman insane. The ridicule caused concern within the Army, and Sherman was relieved of his position in November and assigned to the Department of the West, headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri.
Despite continued harassment from the press, Sherman regained the confidence of his superiors and, in March 1862, he replaced General Ulysses S. Grant as commander of the Fifth Division of the Army of the Tennessee. In this capacity he served at Shiloh, where he had three horses shot out from under him and was slightly wounded. In July 1863, he helped Grant capture Vicksburg, and later that same year he helped relieve the Union Army at Chattanooga.
The March to the Sea
In the spring of 1864, General Grant made Sherman Commander of the Union forces in the West and gave him orders to drive through Georgia and split the Confederacy in two. Sherman began his campaign on May 6, 1864, and captured Atlanta on September 1. After ordering all civilians to leave the city, he took up defensive positions and fought off repeated assaults by the Confederates. By November the Confederate Army had been forced to retreat.
Having secured Atlanta and the surrounding area, Sherman sent all but 60,000 of his men back to Nashville, and then began his infamous march to Savannah. Before leaving Atlanta, however, he set fire to every structure in the city that held potential benefit to the Confederacy. Although he did not intend to burn the entire city, the fire got out of hand and Atlanta was left a smoldering ruin. As Sherman and his men made their way across Georgia, they left a 60-mile-wide path of destruction in their wake, insuring that nothing of any potential value was left. After capturing Savannah on December 23, Sherman began marching north through the Carolinas. On April 17, 1865, he received the surrender of Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston, at Raleigh, North Carolina. By war's end Sherman had been promoted to Major General.
Although Sherman's Civil War career had not always been a rosy one, he emerged as one of the most well-known Generals of the war. Seen by many as a hero, Sherman was often approached about running for President, but always refused to run. In 1869, he succeeded Grant as Commanding General of the U.S. Army, with the rank of full General. In this position he was responsible for establishment of the Command School at Fort Leavenworth. He retired from the Army in 1884.
Sherman moved to New York City in 1886, and died there on February 14, 1891.
This page was last updated on February 08, 2017.