Tecumseh Sherman was born in Lancaster, Ohio. His widowed mother sent him to be raised by another family; his foster mother added “William” as a first name.
In 1840 Sherman graduated from the U.S. Military Academy near the top of his class. He served in a variety of positions throughout the South and garnered no special notice. During the Mexican War, Sherman had a desk assignment in San Francisco while many other officers were gaining experience that would be put to use in the Civil War.
In 1853 Sherman resigned from the army and entered the field of banking, first in San Francisco and later in New York City. This foray into the financial world was cut short by the Panic of 1857. Sherman worked briefly as a lawyer in Kansas. Through the auspices of friends P.G.T. Beauregard and Braxton Bragg, Sherman secured a position as the superintendent of a military academy in Louisiana (which would later relocate and become Louisiana State University). When Louisiana seceded in 1861, Sherman resigned and settled in [2793St. Louis].
With an assist from his younger brother, Senator John Sherman of Ohio, he was able to secure a position in the army. His experience at the First Battle of Bull Run made him doubt his own abilities and he asked not to be assigned another command. His request was not honored and in April 1862 he performed with distinction at Shiloh; a promotion to major general followed. In the fall Sherman was given command over the District of Memphis.
Initially defeated in his effort to take the Confederate position on Chickasaw Bluffs outside of Vicksburg, Sherman would return later and ably serve U.S. Grant in his victory at Vicksburg in July 1863.
Sherman took command of the Army of Tennessee in October 1863, serving with distinction at Missionary Ridge in the Chattanooga campaign. In March 1864 Sherman succeeded Grant as supreme commander in the West. The Atlanta campaign got off to a slow start at Kennesaw Mountain, but the city fell prior to the election and provided Lincoln with a powerful boost toward reelection.
Sherman, deep in enemy territory and his supply lines in jeopardy, began his March to the Sea. In 24 days Sherman’s army cut a 40- to 60-mile-wide swath of destruction from Atlanta to Savannah. His aim was to end the enemy’s ability to wage war and to destroy the morale of the populace. After taking Savannah, Sherman’s force moved into the Carolinas with the army of Robert E. Lee the eventual target. Union soldiers exacted revenge in South Carolina, burning more than a dozen towns. Columbia was burned to the ground and Sherman later claimed that fleeing Confederates were responsible — a charge that has never been substantiated.
Following Lee’s surrender to Grant, Joseph E. Johnston capitulated to Sherman a few days later in North Carolina.
Following the war, Sherman remained in the service. He succeeded Grant as the commander of the U.S. Army in 1869. Sherman retired in 1884 and turned down a Republican offer of the presidential nomination by stating, “If nominated I will not accept; if elected I will not serve.”
Sherman is generally regarded as one of the most able military commanders of the Civil War. He grasped the enormity of the task earlier than most and was willing to take whatever steps were necessary to achieve victory. His march to the sea won him lasting hatred in the South, but demonstrated his understanding that the nature of warfare had changed—conflicts from this point forward would be total wars. Sherman was honest about the misery of war—“war is hell”—and in later years had little respect for those who sought to glorify the conflict.
---- Selected Quotes ----
Quotes by William T. Sherman.
Regarding Civil War
You people of the South don't know what you are doing. This country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end. It is all folly, madness, a crime against civilization! You people speak so lightly of war; you don't know what you're talking about.
Regarding Atlanta Campaign
You might as well appeal against the thunder-storm as against these terrible hardships of war. They are inevitable, and the only way the people of Atlanta can hope once more to live in peace and quiet at home, is to stop the war, which can only be done by admitting that it began in error and is perpetuated in pride.
Letter to the city council of Atlanta, September 12, 1864
If the people [of Georgia] raise a howl against my barbarity and cruelty, I will answer that war is war, and not popularity-seeking.
During his march to the sea.
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Louisville & the Civil War by Bryan S. Bush.
On March 9, 1864, Grant met with Sherman at the Galt House in Louisville to discuss the spring campaign. Grant would take on Robert E. Lee, and Sherma...
On Sherman's Trail, The Civil War's North Carolina Climax by Jim Wise.
Journalist and historian Jim Wise follows Sherman's last march through the Tar Heel State from Wilson's Store to the surrender at Bennett Place. Retra...
The Confederacy's Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin, and Nashville by Wiley Sword.
Despite being pushed out of Atlanta in September 1864, the forces of John Hood remained in the field, attacking the rail links supplying the Union. H...
The March by E.L. Doctorow.
As the Civil War was moving toward its inevitable conclusion, General William Tecumseh Sherman marched 60,000 Union troops through Georgia and the Car...
Grant and Sherman: The Friendship That Won the Civil War by Charles Bracelen Flood.
The lives of Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman are classic underdog stories. Both of these "obscure failures" experienced more disappointment th...
The Bonfire: The Siege and Burning of Atlanta by Marc Wortman.
The destruction of Atlanta is an iconic moment in American history—it was the centerpiece of Gone with the Wind. But though the epic sieges of Leningr...
Shiloh, 1862 by Winston Groom.
In the spring of 1862, many Americans still believed that the Civil War, "would be over by Christmas." The previous summer in Virginia, Bull Run, with...
Sherman's March: The First Full-Length Narrative of General William T. Sherman's Devastating March through Georgia and the Carolinas by Burke Davis.
Sherman's March is the vivid narrative of General William T. Sherman's devastating sweep through Georgia and the Carolinas in the closing days of the ...