William T. Sherman

William T. Sherman (1820–1891). Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Digital ID # cwpb 03379

Perhaps best known for his 1864 “March to the Sea,” William Tecumseh “Cump” Sherman (1820–1891) was born in Lancaster, Ohio. He was one of eleven children born to Charles and Mary Sherman but was raised in the family of influential politician Thomas Ewing following the death of his father. Sherman graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1840. He became acquainted with the people and geography of the South when the U.S. Army stationed him in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina between 1840 and 1846. After serving during the Mexican War of 1846–1848, he resigned his commission in 1853. In 1850, he married his foster sister Ellen Ewing, with whom he would have eight children, two of whom died during the Civil War. As a civilian Sherman became a bank officer in California, practiced law in Kansas, served as superintendent of the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning and Military Academy (precursor of today’s Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge), and, after Louisiana seceded from the Union, as president of a St. Louis street car company. A strong Unionist, Sherman volunteered for duty in the United States Army in May 1861. Initially appointed colonel of the 13th Infantry Regiment, Sherman led a brigade of inexperienced troops at First Bull Run (First Manassas) before being transferred to the Western theater. After garnering some unflattering publicity in Kentucky, he served under Ulysses S. Grant at Shiloh, where Sherman’s gallant conduct resulted in his promotion to major-general. With this battle and later engagements at Vicksburg and Missionary Ridge, Sherman developed a close working relationship with Grant. Replacing Grant as the overall commander in the West in March 1864, Sherman vigorously implemented the Union’s then-prevailing “hard war” military strategy, in the process making his name infamous to generations of Southerners. After taking possession of Atlanta on September 1, 1864, Sherman ordered his army of 60,000 men on a nearly 300-mile march through Georgia, ending with the fall of Savannah on December 21, 1864. From there, Sherman sent his forces north through the Carolinas. The destruction of infrastructure and personal property from these marches, particularly the one through South Carolina, devastated areas in his army’s path and played a key part in ending the Civil War. Sherman’s postwar career was marked by a fifteen-year tenure as commander in chief of the U.S. Army (1869–1883), publication of his memoirs in 1875, and his popularity as a speaker and writer.

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