Teaching through our historic sites

Sherman

William Tecumseh Sherman (1820-1891)

William T. Sherman was born on February 8, 1820 in Lancaster, Ohio. When, at age nine, his father died, he was taken in by family friend, attorney, and Whig politician Thomas Ewing. Through political connections, Ewing secured an appointment for Sherman at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, and Sherman graduated in 1840.

Sherman was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant in the 3rd US Artillery and saw service in Florida during the Second Seminole War. His career progress was hindered during the Mexican War, as he was serving administrative duty in California and never saw combat. In 1850, Sherman was promoted to captain and married Eleanor Boyle Ewing, the daughter of Thomas Ewing. In 1853, he resigned his commission in the army and became a bank manager in San Francisco. He served briefly as a major general in the California militia, but in 1857 was relocated to New York City by the bank. When the bank failed later that year, he moved to Leavenworth, Kansas to practice law. Sherman was never a successful attorney, and in 1859 he accepted a position as superintendent of a military academy that would later become Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Though he was very capable in this job, he resigned and moved to St. Louis, Missouri in January 1861. That May, he offered his services to the army and was summoned to Washington, D.C. on June 7.

Sherman was back in the army, this time as colonel of the 13th US Infantry. At the First Battle of Manassas (July 21, 1861), he was wounded and, thereafter, promoted to brigadier general of volunteers. He floundered in a number of departments in the west and was temporarily relieved of duty when he suffered a nervous breakdown. In March 1862, he got what he wanted – a post under Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in the Army of Tennessee. He was wounded twice at the Battle of Shiloh (April 6-7, 1862) and was promoted to major general of volunteers. Following the Union victory at Vicksburg (July 4, 1863), he was promoted to brigadier general in the regular army and took over command of the Army of Tennessee from Grant. He later succeeded Grant as commander of the Military Division of Mississippi in spring of 1864. It was in this command that Sherman came of age. He successfully conducted the Atlanta Campaign in the summer of 1864 and his now famous March to the Sea in the fall of that year. In August 1864, he was promoted to major general in the regular army.

With Georgia now firmly in Union control, Sherman began his Carolinas Campaign. His army arrived at Columbia, South Carolina on February 17, 1865 and burned much of the city. From there, he proceeded into North Carolina. Fort Fisher had already fallen on January 15, and Wilmington was on the verge of being evacuated by the Confederates. Once in North Carolina, Sherman would be able to join forces with Gen. John Schofield's army and continue his pursuit of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's Confederate force. Sherman entered Fayetteville and took control of the arsenal there on March 11. He ordered the arsenal razed before moving on. Though Sherman was not personally involved, elements of the Union forces under his command fought battles at Wyse Fork (March 8-10), Monroe's Crossroads (March 10), and Averasboro (March 15-16). These smaller engagements culminated in unification of all Union forces and the largest land battle ever fought in North Carolina, the Battle of Bentonville (March 19-21). Sherman's army prevailed and continued following the Confederates on their withdrawal towards Raleigh, occupying the capitol on April 13. After covering 425 miles in 50 days, Sherman sat down with Johnston to negotiate the Confederate surrender on April 18 at the Bennett farm, near Durham. Negotiations lasted longer than expected, but Sherman accepted Johnston's surrender on April 26.

In July 1865, Sherman was placed in command of the Military Division of Missouri, with the primary responsibility of protecting railroad projects from raids by American Indians. Sherman became one of the most outspoken opponents of the native tribes and did everything in his power to terminate them. One year later, he was promoted to lieutenant general. In 1869, Sherman became commanding general of the United States Army, the highest military post attainable. He established the Command School (now the Command and General Staff College) in Leavenworth, Kansas. He retired on February 8, 1884 and moved to New York City, where he lived for the remainder of his life. He was a popular public speaker, but refused to be considered as a Republican presidential candidate in 1884. He died on February 14, 1891 and was buried in St. Louis.

Return to Narrative


Return to top of page

Return to home page