William Tecumseh Sherman

William Tecumseh "Cump" Sherman, the most widely renowned of the Union's military leaders next to U. S. Grant, was born February 8, 1820, in Lancaster, Ohio, one of eleven children. When his father, a justice of the Ohio supreme court, died suddenly in 1829, the family was taken in by various friends and relatives. Young Sherman found a home with Thomas Ewing, United States Senator and cabinet officer, whose daughter he later married.  He thus became the brother-in-law of Generals Charles, Hugh, and Thomas Ewing, Jr. (Sherman's brother John served almost fifty years in Congress, Senate, and Cabinet.) Notwithstanding Cump's brilliant qualifications, it must be acknowledged that this imposing array of relatives and political connections did nothing to retard his rise from impecunious ex-officer in 1861 to full general commanding the army in 1869. Senator Ewing obtained for Sherman an appointment to West Point, where he was graduated sixth in the class of 1840. His army career for the next thirteen years was unexceptionable, although he won the brevet of captain "for meritorious services in California during the War with Mexico." In 1853 Sherman resigned his commission to enter the banking business in San Francisco as representative of a St. Louis firm. Both the San Francisco branch and the main office in St. Louis ultimately failed, and Sherman turned to the practice of law, also unsuccessfully, in Leavenworth, Kansas, with two of his brothers-in-law. In 1859 he secured the superintendency of the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning and Military Academy at Pineville (now Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge). In January, 1861, Sherman was required to receipt for a portion of the arms surrendered by the United States arsenal in Baton Rouge a few days before; promptly he submitted his resignation to the governor with the ringing declaration, "On no earthly account will I do any act or think any thought hostile ... to the . . . United States." For a few months he headed a St. Louis streetcar company, but on May 14, 1861, was reappointed to the army as colonel of the newly authorized 13th U. S. Infantry. Prior to the first battle of Manassas, Sherman was assigned to command of a brigade of Tyler's division (the division's 605 casualties exceeded that of any other Federal brigade engaged in this battle). On August 7, 1861, Sherman became the seventh-ranking brigadier general of volunteers in the service, standing eleven numbers ahead of U. S. Grant on the list as arranged by the War Department. The following month he was sent to Kentucky to assist in holding the state. At this stage of the war Sherman's volatile temperament was strained by the insufficiencies of the volunteers, the ingrained knowledge that the war was not going to be a picnic, and the constant probing of news correspondents into affairs which he deemed to be the exclusive province of the military. Outraged reporters portrayed him as a visionary, unstable and even mentally deranged. Relieved by Don Carlos Buell, Sherman went to St. Louis and reported to Henry W. Halleck; soon after, he took part in the bloody battle of Shiloh, where he commanded a division on the defense perimeter which was surprised and overrun by Albert Sidney Johnston's Confederates. Despite this, the battle eventually resulted in a Federal triumph, and Sherman was made major general of volunteers to rank from May 1, 1862. During the course of the several operations to open the Mississippi River, Sherman was in the forefront with his command. He was unsuccessful in the initial assault at Chickasaw Bluffs; served under John McClernand in the capture of Arkansas Post; and in the campaign which resulted in the surrender of Vicksburg directed the XV Corps. In the campaign which relieved W. S. Rosecrans' beleaguered army at Chattanooga after the battle of Chickamauga, Sherman's corps assaulted the Confederate right under P. R. Cleburne at the end of Missionary Ridge and were roughly handled "in a bayonet-to-bayonet combat of a savagery unexcelled in the war's annals." After Grant's promotion to chief command of the armies of the United States, Sherman assumed command of all troops in the western theater and entered upon a series of operations which would not only constitute the apogee of his career but would inaugurate the theory of "modern warfare" by which total destruction would be visited upon the civilian population in the path of the advancing columns. During the campaign which culminated in the capture of the city of Atlanta, Sherman utilized his superior numbers to flank his opponent Joseph E. Johnston out of one defensive position after another. Ultimately the latter was relieved; whereupon Sherman inflicted a series of bloody repulses upon the combative John B. Hood. Leaving two army corps under the direction of G. H. Thomas to take care of the Confederate Army of Tennessee, Sherman then cut loose from his communications and began the celebrated "March to the Sea." He turned up in Savannah at Christmas time, having cut a swath of desolation forty-miles wide through the heart of Georgia. The march northward through the Carolinas followed, and two weeks after Appomattox, Johnston, again in command, capitulated at a way station near Durham, North Carolina. Sherman had been made a brigadier general in the Regular Army after Vicksburg, and major general after Atlanta. He twice received the thanks of Congress during the war. With the army reorganization in 1866 he was advanced to Grant's old grade of lieutenant general, and when the latter was inaugurated President in 1869 Sherman became full general and commander-in-chief of the army. His tenure as head of the army was not always serene, and in 1874 he moved his headquarters to St. Louis, distrusting the political maelstrom which was Washington, although he returned there in 1876. One of his most important contributions during this period was the establishment of the Command School at Fort Leavenworth. On February 8, 1884, upon his own application, he was placed on the retired list.  From then until his death seven years later he was continuously in demand as a speaker and commentator and in 1884 was besieged with importunities to run for President. After 1886 he made his home in New York City, where he died on February 14, 1891. He was buried in Calvary Cemetery, St. Louis. His Confederate opponent, the venerable Joseph E. Johnston, marched bareheaded in his funeral procession and was himself dead of pneumonia within five weeks. That Sherman was a military genius can hardly be disputed. He possessed an extraordinary mind, grasped major problems with uncanny rapidity, and understood the art of war perhaps to a greater degree than any one of his contemporaries on either side. Unlike some other masters of the military art, however, he was only a mediocre battlefield tactician: at Shiloh he failed to take the most elementary precautions against surprise, at Missionary Ridge was misled by the terrain, and at Kennesaw Mountain sacrificed three thousand men in a frontal assault on a position easily turned a few days later.

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Reference: Generals in Blue. Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge.