William Tecumseh Sherman

Christopher Kellogg-Peeler

Sherman Memorial, Washington D.C.

Childhood and Education

Tecumseh Sherman was born Feb. 8, 1820 in Lancaster, Ohio into the wealthy family of Judge Charles R. Sherman of the Ohio Supreme Court and Mary Hoyt Sherman. Named after the famed Shawnee warrior, Tecumseh, Sherman's military feats would eventually eclipse those of his namesake. The first major event in Sherman's childhood occurred when his father died in 1829 when Sherman was only nine. This sent his relatively prosperous family into poverty, as his mother struggled to support him and his eight other siblings. He was eventually adopted by family friends Thomas Ewing, a Whig senator, and Maria Ewing. His new stepmother insisted that he be baptized as Catholic and she gave him the new first name William. When Sherman was sixteen, his stepfather used his influence to help get him accepted into West Point military academy. Although he failed to adhere to the dress code and was often penalized because of his disheveled appearance, Sherman was an excellent student and graduated near the top of his class (6th) in 1840. This success foreshadowed his future skill as a general.

Early Military Career
Upon graduation at West Point, Sherman was sent to fight as a Lieutenant in the Seminole War for the next 6 years in Florida. When this conflict was won, he was then sent to California as a soldier in the Mexican American War. He did not, however, receive any battlefield experience, as many of the future soldiers on the Civil War did. In 1848, when the Mexican American War ended Sherman spoke out against what he considered to be soft terms required for the Mexican government. He proposed the strategy of burning key towns to prevent any future conflict, a tactic that would later define his “March to the Sea.”

Civilian Years

After the war, Sherman stayed on in California as a military administrator until 1850. He was then transferred to Washington D.C. where, later that year, he married Ellen Ewing, his foster sister. In 1853 he returned to California, after resigning from the military, to pursue a banking career in San Francisco. This proved to be a lucrative job for him until, during the "Panic of 1857," his bank went bankrupt. Following this, he attempted to continue his career in business/banking, but his several subsequent business enterprises did not meet with success. Finally, with the help of his friends from West Point, Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard and Braxton Bragg (two future Confederate officers), in 1860 he secured a steady position as superintendent a military academy in Louisiana.

Beginning of the Civil War

After the secession of Louisiana in early 1861, Sherman eventually decided to return to the North, because, although his life was centered on the South, he felt a strong sense of loyalty to the Union. Later that year he enlisted in the army again and with the influence of his younger brother, Senator John Sherman, he became a colonel in the Union Army. He then was promoted to become a brigade command under General Irving McDowell. He led his brigade into the first battle of the war, the Battle of Bull Run. They sustained heavy casualties which led him to believe that the war would be a long one. Although his ability to lead was widely approved of after the battle and he was promoted to brigadier general, Sherman considered himself unfit for command and submitted his resignation. However, President Abraham Lincoln didn't recognize the resignation and personally sent Sherman to be the right- hand man of General Robert Anderson in Kentucky. Once in Kentucky he said that 40,000 more soldiers would be needed to create a strong defense. For this move, many critics called him insane and incompetent. Although he wasn't clinically insane, at the time he was suffering from severe depression based upon his regret at having been defeated at Bull Run, and also because he was unsure whether he had made the right move in leaving his southern home. This depression resulted in the loss of his position in Kentucky for medical leave. However, with the aid of his powerful family he weathered charges of instability and eventually returned to serve briefly under General Henry Halleck. Halleck then recommended him for promotion, and he was placed under the leadership of Ulysses S. Grant in 1862 to help plan the taking of Forts Henry and Donelson.

Under Grant:

While serving under Grant, Sherman flourished. Grant's steadiness and understanding of Sherman's talent as an excellent military strategist helped him to gain confidence. Sherman believed that together they would surely bring victory to the Union. When talking about their strengths, Sherman said,
"I am a damned sight smarter than Grant; I know a great deal more about war, military history, strategy, and grand tactics than he does; I know more about organization, supply, and administration and about everything else than he does; but I'll tell you where he beats me and where he beats the world. He don't care a damn for what the enemy does out of his sight, but it scares the hell out of me."
Sherman knew that each of their abilities complimented the others and was sure they would win many battles. The first of these was Shiloh.

The Union and Confederate Troop Movements During the Battle of Shiloh


Leading up to the infamous Battle of Shiloh were a string of Union victories orchestrated by Grant with the help of Sherman. The South hadbecome desperate to protect the inner Confederacy. They were forced to consolidate the forces they had been spreading out in a defensive line across the entirety of the South in order to challenge Grant's marching Union troops. They assembled near the Tennessee River to wait for the arrival of Union troops. Sherman’s 5th division was the first to arrive at Pittsburg Landing, the chosen invasion route of the northern forces. Eventually, after the arrival of several other Union divisions the camp at Pittsburg Landing contained 45,000 troops. In addition General Don C. Buell and the Army of Ohio were about to arrive. The Union were waiting to attack until he arrived and Sherman was very confident that the South would not stage an attack. He was wrong. On the morning of April 6, 1862 Albert Sidney Johnston ordered a surprise attack on Sherman's camp and they were routed. During the conflict Sherman was wounded in the hand, but managed to stand strong until Grant could organize the line. Despite the defeat of the previous day, on April 7th, he rallied his troops to win help secure a victory for the Union over the Confederacy. For his help in the victory Sherman was promoted to Major General.


During the fall of 1862, Vicksburg was the one remaining Confederate stronghold along the Mississippi River and therefore their most important western stronghold. This, of course, made it a target for Grant and therefore one for Sherman. The campaign began in December with Grant directing Sherman to lead a land attack on Vicksburg in an area called Chickasaw Bayou. This led to defeat, due to Vicksburg's defensible location upon high bluffs as well as the log-strewn ground that Union troops had to climb over under heavy rebel fire. Due to this defeat as well as a subsequent one during a similar attack, Grant opted for a siege. Sherman was a leading architect in this siege and distinguished himself as a key member in achieving Vicksburg's surrender in the summer of 1863. The Battle of Shiloh as well as the Siege of Vicksburg succeeded in making Sherman a respected commander and led to his promotion to the post of head of the Army of Tennessee which had recently been vacated when Grant was promoted.

Western Command:

After Grant's victory in 1863 in the Battle of Chattanooga he was promoted to commander of the entire Union army. Again Sherman filled his previous position and took over as the commander of the entire western theater. Sherman's first order from Grant was to march on Atlanta, the industrial and railroad center of the South, and along the way to defeat Joseph E. Johnston's confederate army.
William Tecumseh Sherman in 1864

The Taking of Atlanta

Sherman subsequently began his march east. Relentlessly Sherman flanked the enemy, slowly pushing Johnston's forces back, his larger numbers always forcing the enemy back. After each engagement Sherman would have his engineers repair the burned bridges and severed rail lines, which they did quickly and efficiently, so that the army could continue to receive supplies. After many such small battles, Sherman became tired of the slow pace required for the flanking maneuvers he had perfected, and opted for a frontal assault on Kennesaw Mountain, a peak to the north of Atlanta. The attack was quickly repelled quickly by the entrenched confederates and Sherman's army sustained 3,000 deaths while only killing 750 southern soldiers. It was Sherman's worst defeat to date. He returned to flanking, and eventually forced Johnston's troops into Atlanta. Once there, Johnston was replaced by the young Texan, John B. Hood. Sherman decided that he would cut the railroads leading into Atlanta, thereby cutting its supplies. He realized that 33-year-old commander Hood would rush out to protect his supplies and so Sherman prepared his army to defend an attack. Sure enough, Hood and his army attempted an attack on Sherman's forces, but were forced to retreat, because of Sherman's forces superior numbers and technology (most of his brigades were armed with Henry repeating rifles that only had to be reloaded after 15 shots). Hood again tried to rout Sherman west of the city, and again Sherman forced him back. After these to clashes, Sherman had succeeded in decimating Hood's force and his armies strode into Atlanta in victory.

This video/ song by Claude King is an non-factual account of the burning of Atlanta

The March to the Sea

Shortly after, Sherman and his army of 60,000 men left Atlanta in flames. This would begin to be a theme for him as he continued forSavannah in the fallof 1864in his "March to the Sea." His goal was to kill the morale of southern civilians and future soldiers, thus bringing about a quicker end to the war. The mode of psychological warfare that he perfected to do this would be the blueprint for war in the 20th century. Along the way to Savannah, his men torched and looted everything in their path, whether it be a small shack or a large plantation. Theyalso burned crops to the ground, forcing southerners to flee their homes, thereby limiting the southern support and recruiting base. In addition, Sherman ordered his troops to destroy all of the railways on the route, to hamper Confederate troop and supply movement. When his men burned buildings they would vary in how far they went from their route, thus leaving an air of uncertainty across the entire state. Despite their aggressive methods, Sherman's men never harmed the civilian population physically, but damage was done psychologically. After he reached Savannah, Sherman continued on his fiery path through the Carolinas. Sherman and his troops faced no confederate opposition on their way, which spread apprehension through both states. South Carolina was treated far worse than Georgia because it had been the first state to secede. After Sherman's men were through, there was hardly a structure left standing in the vicinity of their path. In the face of this onslaught, Confederate troops retreated from Charleston. When Sherman and his men arrived in North Carolina in 1865, shortly after Robert E. Lee had surrendered, the large portion of the Confederate army stationed in the state laid down their arms to him. This lead to the quick end to the war Sherman had been hoping for. However he never glorified his methods. "War is hell," he said.

Sherman ended the war as one of its most successful commanders and his tactics were much used throughout the 20th century. Toward the end of his life Sherman was often asked to run for president as a candidate for the Republican party. However, he had always disliked politicians and did not want to become one himself. His died in 1891 in New York City a beloved American war hero.
An Artists Depiction of Sherman's March to the Sea

Bibliography + Notes

"Sherman, William Tecumseh." Fofweb.com. Facts on File, 1993. Web. 16 May 2011. <http://www.fofweb.com/NuHistory/default.asp?ItemID=WE52&NewItemID=True>

Tebeau, Charlton W. "William Tecumseh Sherman." Britannica.com. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2011. Web. 16 May 2011. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/540097/William-Tecumseh-Sherman>.

"William T. Sherman 1820-1891." American Eras. Detroit: Gale, 1997. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 16 May 2011.

General Sherman Memorial, Washington D.C. 2008. Photograph. Washington D.C. Commons.wikimedia.org. Wikimedia Commons, 25 Mar. 2008. Web. 16 May 2011. <http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:He_burned_atlanta.jpg>.

Jesperson, Hal. "Battle of Shiloh." Map. Commons.wikimedia.org. Wikimedia Commons, 29 Jan. 2011. Web. 13 May 2011.

Ritchie, Alexander H. Sherman's March to the Sea. 1868. Commons.wikimedia.org. Wikimedia Commons, 25 Mar. 2006. Web. 12 May 2011. <http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fichier:Sherman_sea_1868.jpg>.