William T. Sherman

William T. Sherman


William Tecumseh Sherman was born in Lancaster, Ohio. His birth father had named him “Tecumseh” in honor of the Indian chief, but his foster parents later gave him the first name William. Sherman went to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and gradu¬ ated sixth in his class of 42. Commissioned a lieutenant of artillery, he served at Fort Moultrie in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina.

Sherman saw no active service during the Mexican War. Bored by peacetime army life, he resigned his commission in 1853 and worked briefly as both a banker and a lawyer. From 1859 to 1861, Sherman was superin¬ tendent of a military academy in Louisiana.

At the start of the Civil War, Sherman was commissioned a colonel and led a brigade at the First Battle of Bull Run (1861). Sherman became a devoted friend of General Ulysses S. Grant (see no. 76), and he planned Grant’s campaign against forts Henry and Donelson in 1862. Sherman went on to play a major role in Grant’s campaign against Vicksburg in 1863.

When Grant was named lieutenant general of all the Union Armies in 1864, Sherman succeeded his friend as commander of the forces in the West. The two planned a simple campaign, Grant would drive south against Robert E. Lee (see no. 75) and cap¬ ture Richmond, while Sherman would drive east against General Joe Johnston and seize Atlanta.

Sherman executed a brilliant campaign. He captured Atlanta on September 2, 1864, through a series of intricate maneuvers rather than head-on fighting. He then decided on a brutal approach to end the war. Sherman telegraphed Grant on October 9, 1864, say¬ ing, “I can make the march, and make Georgia howl.”

He was true to his word. Sherman led 60,000 men in a broad, 50-mile wide swath southeast to the sea, burning or destroying everything of value in sight. This infamous “March to the Sea” (November 16—December 22, 1864) ended with Sherman in Savannah. He then marched north and, as the Confederacy crumbled, accepted the sur¬ render of General Johnston near Durham, North Carolina on April 26, 1865.

Sherman rose to lieutenant general (1866), then full general (1869), and served as general in chief of the army (1869-1883). He retired and went to live in St. Louis and then New York City. He vigorously refused a Republican nomination for president in 1884. A complex man, Sherman is remembered for his high temper, generous nature and famous state¬ ment that “war is hell,” which he made to the graduating class of the Michigan Military Academy in 1879.