William Tecumseh Sherman

William Tecumseh Sherman (1820-1891), American soldier, was a Union general during the Civil War. He captured Atlanta and Savannah and wrought great destruction in marches through Georgia and the Carolinas.

William T. Sherman was born in Lancaster, Ohio, on Feb. 8, 1820. After his father died, "Cump," as he was known, was raised by the Thomas Ewings. Sherman attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, graduating in 1840. He served in the Second Seminole War (1840-1842). Stationed in California during the Mexican War, he had little chance for combat honor, although he was awarded one brevet. He resigned from the Army on Sept. 6, 1853, and entered civilian life, working in banks in California and New York City. He also practiced law unsuccessfully in Kansas and was superintendent of a military academy at Alexandria, La. (now Louisiana State University), when the Civil War came.

Early Civil War Service

Returning to the Army in May 1861, Sherman commanded a brigade at First Bull Run on July 21, 1861. From August to November he was with the Department of the Cumberland in Kentucky, eventually taking command of that department. Nervous, overly alarmed at Confederate capabilities, and racked with hostility toward newspaper-men, he suffered an emotional breakdown and was transferred to Missouri for a time. Returning to Tennessee, he supported Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in victorious campaigns against Ft. Henry and Ft. Donelson in February 1862.

Sherman formed a close friendship with Grant and, as a division commander, accompanied Grant's army as it moved southward to Pittsburg Landing. When the Union force was surprised by the massive attack of Confederate general Albert Sidney Johnston at Shiloh on April 6, Sherman reacted vigorously in helping stem the tide of Union defeat; he had four horses shot out from under him. The next day, reinforced by troops from Gen. Don Carlos Buell's force, the Federals drove the enemy from the field. In late 1862 Sherman occupied Memphis but, in his movement against Vicksburg, was repulsed at Chickasaw Bluffs at the end of December. Now a major general of volunteers, and in command of the XV Corps, he served with Grant's Army of the Tennessee in the eventually successful operations against Vicksburg in the first half of 1863.

Later Civil War Service

When Grant was ordered to relieve the Union army at Chattanooga in late 1863, Sherman went along and participated in the Battle of Chattanooga. His attacks at Tunnel Hill on November 24 were repelled, but other Federal assaults succeeded in driving out the Confederate force. Sherman then moved to relieve Knoxville in December. In February 1864, he captured the enemy base at Meridian, Miss.

When Grant became general in chief of all the Union armies, Sherman succeeded him in command in the West. Battle strategy determined that simultaneous advances would be made in May 1864 against Gen. Robert E. Lee, defending Richmond, and Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, defending Atlanta. Sherman began his campaign for Atlanta with 100,000 men as against Johnston's 60,000. In a series of flanking maneuvers, Sherman steadily worked his way to the vicinity of Atlanta. He was unwittingly aided when the rash Gen. John B. Hood superseded Johnston.

Sherman captured the important city on September 2. Then, sending Gen. George H. Thomas back to check Hood's countersortie into Tennessee, Sherman embarked with 62,000 men on his famed "March to the Sea." He captured Savannah on Dec. 21, 1864. This was followed by a swing northward through the Carolinas, against minor opposition, and culminated in the capitulation of Johnston's army at Durham Station on April 17.

Postwar Duty

When Grant became U.S. president in 1869, Sherman replaced him as general in chief, a post he held with distinction until he retired from the army in 1883 as a four-star general. He was still tall and erect, with graying reddish hair and furrowed face. Residing in St. Louis and then New York City, Sherman continued to be active as a speaker and writer. He died in New York on Feb. 14, 1891. Never an outstanding battle captain, he nevertheless won high honors by his talent for devising sweeping campaign plans and by his ability in carrying out great marches with sure logistic support.

Further Reading on William Tecumseh Sherman

The primary personal account is Memoirs of General William T. Sherman (2 vols., 1875), an uneven but provocative and intelligent reminiscence. An informed though hostile critique of the memoirs is Henry V. Boynton, Sherman's Historical Raid (1875). Of value are Rachel S. Thorndike, ed., The Sherman Letters: Correspondence between General and Senator Sherman from 1837-1891 (1894), and Mark A. DeWolfe Howe, ed., Home Letters of General Sherman (1909).

The ablest, most thoroughly researched biographies are Basil H. Liddell Hart, Sherman: Soldier, Realist, American (1929); Lloyd D. Lewis, Sherman, Fighting Prophet (1932), brilliantly written and containing much information on Ulysses S. Grant; and James M. Merrill, William Tecumseh Sherman (1971), a reassessment of Sherman based on letters discovered by the author and never before used by historians. Useful for Sherman's campaigns are George W. Nichols, The Story of the Great March (1865); Jacob D. Cox, Atlanta (1882); and John G. Barrett, Sherman's March through the Carolinas (1956).