William Sherman

William Sherman

William Sherman, the son of a judge, was born in Lancaster, Ohio, on 8th February, 1820. He studied at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and after joining the United States Army he was sent to Florida fight in the Seminole War. He was then transferred to California where he had a series of administrative post.

Sherman resigned from the army in 1853 and joined a banking firm in San Francisco. This was unsuccessful and two of his old friends, Pierre T. Beauregard and Braxton Bragg, helped him to find work as a superintendent of a newly established military academy in Louisiana.

On the outbreak of the American Civil War Sherman immediately resigned and returned to St. Louis. With the help of his brother, Senator John Sherman, he obtained an appointment in the Union Army. Commissioned as a colonel under Major General Irvin McDowell. He was with him at the disastrous Bull Run. The Confederate troops led by Joseph E. Johnston, Thomas Stonewall Jackson, James Jeb Stuart, Jubal Early and Pierre T. Beauregard easily defeated the inexperienced Union Army.

Promoted to brigadier general he was sent as serve under General Robert Anderson in Kentucky. He succeeded Anderson on 8th October, 1861, but some of his comments led to the press describing him as insane. Sherman suffered a mental breakdown and was replaced by General Don Carlos Buell.

With the support of General Henry Halleck Sherman was sent to serve under Ulysses S. Grant. On 6th April, 1862, the Confederate Army attacked Grant's army at Shiloh. Taken by surprise, Grant's army suffered heavy losses until the arrival of General Don Carlos Buell and reinforcements. However, Sherman did well during the battle and as a result of this he was promoted to the rank of major general.

Sherman fought with Ulysses S. Grant at Vicksburg. After two failed assaults, Grant decided to starve General John Pemberton out. This strategy proved successful and on 4th July, Pemberton surrendered the city. The western Confederacy was now completely isolated from the eastern Confederacy and the Union Army had total control of the Mississippi River.

In March, 1864, Ulysses S. Grant was named lieutenant general and the commander of the Union Army. He now appointed Sherman as the commander of the Army of Tennessee. After assembling an army of 100,000, Sherman entered Georgia. Joseph E. Johnson and his army retreated and after some brief skirmishes the two sides fought at Resaca (14th May), Adairsvile (17th May), New Hope Church (25th May), Kennesaw Mountain (27th June) and Marietta (2nd July).

Sherman decided to deprive the South of its resources. He cut a swathe of destruction 60 miles wide and 40 miles wide. Sherman commented: "If the people of Georgia raise a howl against my barbarity and cruelty, I will answer that war is war, and not popularity-seeking." His forces moved fast covering 450 miles in 50 days.

President Jefferson Davis was unhappy about Johnson's withdrawal policy and on 17th July replaced him with the more aggressive John Hood. He immediately went on the attack and hit George H. Thomas and his men at Peachtree Creek. Hood was badly beaten and lost 2,500 men. Two days later he took on Sherman at Atlanta and lost another 8,000 men.

By the early weeks of 1865 the Union Army removed all resistance in the Shenandoah Valley. Sherman and his army moved north through South Carolina. On 17th February, Columbia, the capital of South Carolina, was taken. Columbia was virtually burnt to the ground and some people claimed the damage was done by Sherman's men and others said it was carried out by the retreating Confederate Army.

Sherman now headed towards central Virginia to unite with General George Meade and his Army of the Potomac east of Richmond and with General Benjamin Butler and his forces at Bermuda Hundred. Sherman concluded an armistice with General Joseph E. Johnston on 21st April. This upset Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War, when he realized that Sherman had signed an agreement that recognized existing Confederate state governments, guarantees of property rights, and a universal amnesty. There was nothing in the surrender document that confirmed the emancipation of the slaves or the rights of freemen.

George Boutwell, a Radical Republican, was so angry that he called for Sherman to be court-martialed. Even his brother, the Congressman, John Sherman, expressed dismay at what he had done. Eventually General Ulysses S. Grant had the job of telling Sherman that the agreement was unacceptable to the government. He later recalled how he "was hurt, outraged, and insulted at Mr. Stanton's public arraignment of my motives and actions".

Some military historians consider Sherman as the most outstanding Union Army commander in the American Civl War. He has been described as the first modern general because of his "total war" tactics in his march through Georgia in 1864. As he said at the time: "If the people of Georgia raise a howl against my barbarity and cruelty, I will answer that war is war, and not popularity-seeking."

In July, 1866, Sherman was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general and in 1873 he succeeded Ulysses S. Grant and commander in chief of the United States Army. He served in this position until his retirement fourteen years later. William Sherman died in New York City on 14th February, 1891.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) William Sherman, in conversation with Thomas Moore, the governor of Louisiana about the subject of slavery (1st January, 1860)

The domestic slaves, employed by the families, were probably better treated than any slaves on earth; but the condition of the field-hands was different, depending more on the temper and the disposition of their masters and overseers than were those about the house. Were I a citizen of Louisiana, and a member of the Legislature, I would deem it wise to bring the legal condition of the slaves more near the status of human beings under all Christian and civilized governments. In the first place, in sales of slaves made by the state, I would forbid the separation of families, letting the father, mother, and children, be sold together to one person, instead of each to the highest bidder.

(2) William Sherman, letter of resignation from the military academy, after Louisiana decided to leave the Union (18th January, 1861)

As I occupy a quasi-military position under the laws of the State, I deem it proper to acquaint you that I accepted such position when Louisiana was a State in the Union. Recent events foreshadow a great change, and it becomes all men to choose. If Louisiana withdraw from the Federal Union, I prefer to maintain my allegiance to the Constitution as long as a fragment of it survives; and my longer stay here would be wrong in every sense of the word.

(3) Henry Villard met General William T. Sherman in 1861. In his memoirs, Villard recalled how Sherman was extremely worried at that time about the possibility that the Union Army would be defeated.

Sherman openly confessed, after he had been assigned to the command of the department, that he had not wished it and was afraid of his new responsibilities. With the vivid imagination inherent to genius, he clearly saw how formidable were the difficulties of the part he was expected to play in the suppression of the Rebellion. They simply appalled him. He found himself in command of raw troops, not exceeding twenty thousand in number. He believed that they should be multiplied many times. He feared the rebel forces in the State largely outnumbered his own, and he could not rid himself of the apprehension, that, if he should be attacked, he would have no chance of success.

It was not really want of confidence in himself that brought him to this state of mind, but, as it seemed to me, his intense patriotism and despair of the preservation of the Union in view of the fanatical, blood-thirsty hostility to it throughout the South. This dread took hold of him, he literally brooded over it day and night. It made him lapse into long, silent moods even outside his headquarters. He lived at Galt House, occupying rooms on the ground floor. He paced by the hour up and down the corridor leading to them, smoking and obviously absorbed in oppressive thoughts. He did this to such an extent that it was generally noticed and remarked upon by the guests and employees of the hotel. His strange ways led to gossip, and it was soon whispered about that he was suffering from mental depression.

(4) William Sherman wrote about the battle of Shiloh in his memoirs published in 1875.

Probably no single battle of the war gave rise to such wild and damaging reports. It was publicly asserted at the North that our army was taken completely by surprise; that the rebels caught us in our tents; bayoneted the men in their beds; that General Grant was drunk; that Buell's opportune arrival saved the Army of the Tennessee from utter annihilation, etc. The controversy was started and kept up, mostly to the personal prejudice of General Grant, who as usual maintained an imperturbable silence.

The rebel army, commanded by General Albert Sidney Johnson, was, according to their own reports and admissions, forty-five thousand strong, had the momentum of attack, and beyond all question fought skillfully from early morning till about 2 p.m. when their commander-in-chief was killed by ball in the calf of his leg, which penetrated the boot and severed the main artery. There was then a perceptible lull for a couple of hours, when the attack was renewed, but with much less vehemence, and continued up to dark.

Beauregard afterward reported his entire loss at 10,699. Our aggregate loss, made up from official statements, shows 1700 killed, 7,495 wounded and 3,022 prisoners; aggregate, 12,217, of which 2,167 were in Buell's army, leaving for that of Grant 10,050.

(5) Thomas W. Knox, New York Herald (18th January, 1863)

Throughout the battle the conduct of the general officers was excellent, with a few exceptions. General Sherman was so exceedingly erratic that the discussion of the past twelve months with respect to his sanity, was revived with much earnestness.

All through the long December day the wounded lay upon the hill uncared for by either contending party. The ground was that for which there had been so fierce a contest, and, while we could not take possession of it, the rebels did not choose to occupy it. Daybreak, sunrise, noon, sunset and night, and still the wounded uncared for. What must have been their suffering!

On the morning of Wednesday, the 31st of December the firing had been entirely stopped, and the rebels consented to receive a flag of truce. Five hours were allowed for burying the dead and taking away the wounded, and at the end of the time the work was accomplished. A few of the rebels came out and talked freely with the bearers of the flag. They stated that after the 1st of January they should shoot every officer captured, and put the privates at work on fortifications, with ball and chain, in retaliation for the emancipation proclamation of the President. They expressed the utmost confidence in their ability to hold Vicksburg against the force now before it. From their statements it was inferred that Price was in command at Vicksburg, and that Tilghmans division was to arrive there on that day. There were evidently strong grounds for their hopes. They were well posted as to our strength, and informed us of the exact number of our transports and gunboats, and gave the number of men in the expedition with surprising accuracy.

All the slightly wounded had been taken to Vicksburg as prisoners of war, and we were allowed to bring away only those that we found on the ground. The rain and cold combined, with fifty hours' continued exposure, had left but few men alive. Had the flag been taken out and received on the afternoon subsequent to the battle, there is little doubt that many lives would have been saved. Doctors Burke and Franklin attended as best they could to the wants of the sufferers. By some criminal oversight there had been little preparation for battle on the part of Sherman's medical director, and the hospitals

were but poorly supplied with many needed stores. Since the battle General Sherman has persistently refused to allow a hospital boat to go above, though their detention in this region is daily fatal to many lives. The only known reason for his refusal is his fear that a knowledge of his management will reach the people of the North.

(6) General William Sherman, letter to his brother, John Sherman (18th February, 1863)

We have reproached the South for arbitrary conduct in coercing their people; at last we find we must imitate their example. we have denounced their tyranny in filling their armies with conscripts, and now we must follow her example. We have denounced their tyranny in suppressing freedom of speech and the press, and here, too, in time, we must follow their example. The longer it is deferred the worse it becomes. Who gave notice of McDowell's movement on Manassas and enabled Johnson so to reinforce Beauregard that our army was defeated? The press. Who gave notice of the movement on Vicksburg? The press. Who has prevented all secret combinations and movements against our enemy? The press.

In the South this powerful machine was at once scotched and used by the Rebel government, but in the North was allowed to go free. What are the results? After arousing the passions of the people till the two great sections hate each other with a hate hardly paralleled in history, it now begins to stir up sedition at home, and even to encourage mutiny in our armies.

(7) Orders issued by William Sherman before his March to the Sea (9th November, 1864)

The army will forage liberally on the country during the march. To this end, each brigade commander will organize a good and sufficient foraging party, under the command of one or more discreet officers, who will gather, near the route traveled, corn or forage of any kind, meat of any kind, vegetables, corn-meal, or whatever is needed by the command, aiming at all times to keep in the wagons at least ten days' provisions for his command, aiming at all times to keep in the wagons at least ten days' provisions for his command, and three days' forage. Soldiers must not enter the dwellings they may be permitted to gather turnips, potatoes, and other vegetables, and to drive in stock in sight of their camp.

To corps commanders alone is entrusted the power to destroy mills, houses, cotton-gins, etc.; and for them the general principle is laid down: In districts and neighborhoods where the army is unmolested, no destruction of such property should be permitted; but should guerrillas or bush-whackers molest our march, or should the inhabitants burn bridges, obstruct roads, or otherwise manifest local hostility, then army commanders should order and enforce a devastation more or less relentless, according to the measure of such hostility. As for horses, mules, wagons, etc., belonging to the inhabitants, the cavalry and artillery may appropriate freely and without limit; discriminating, however, between the rich, who are usually hostile, and the poor and industrious, usually neutral or friendly.

(8) Henry Villard worked for the New York Tribune during the American Civil War. Villard found General William T. Sherman hostile to his attempts to report the war.

General Sherman looked upon journalists as a nuisance and a danger at headquarters and in the field, and acted toward them accordingly, then as throughout his great war career. I did not, of course, agree with him at that time as to my own calling, but candor constrains me to say that I had to admit in the end that he was entirely right. For what I then observed, on the one hand, of the natural eagerness of volunteer officers of all grades (of whom so many were aspiring politicians at home) to get themselves favorably noticed in the press, even at the cost of indiscretions, and, on the other hand, of the publishing army news, must lead any unprejudiced mind to the conclusion that the harm certain to be done by war correspondents far outweighs any good they can possibly do. If I were a commanding general I would not tolerate any of the tribe within my army lines.

Under the circumstances, it was perfectly useless to approach General Sherman formally as a news-gatherer. I was, however, brought into contact with him in another more satisfactory way. He appeared every night, like myself, at about nine o'clock, in the office of Mr. Tyler, to learn the news brought in the night Associated Press report. He knew me from the Bull Run campaign as a correspondent of the press. As we met on neutral ground and I asked him no questions, we were son on very good terms. He was a great talker, and he liked nothing better than to express his mind upon the news as it came. There he sat, smoking a cigar (I hardly ever saw him without one), leaning back in a chair, with his thumbs in the armholes of his vest. Or he was pacing up and down in the room, puffing away, with his head bent forward and his arm crossed behind his back. Every piece of military intelligence drew some comment from him, and it was easy to lead him into a long talk if the subject interested him

(9) William Sherman wrote about his Atlanta Campaign in his Memoirs published in 1875.

The skill and success of the men in collecting forage was one of the features of this march. Each brigade commander had authority to detail a company of foragers, usually about fifty men, with one or two commissioned officers selected for their boldness and enterprise. This party would be dispatched before daylight with a knowledge of the intended day's march and camp; would proceed on foot five or six miles from the route traveled by their brigade, and then visit every plantation and farm within range. They would usually procure a wagon or family carriage, load it with bacon, corn-meal, turkeys, chickens, ducks, and every thing that could be used as food or forage, and would then regain the main road, usually in advance of their train. No doubt, many acts of pillage, robbery, and violence, were committed by these parties of foragers, for I have since heard of jewelry taken from women, and the plunder of articles that never reached the commissary; but these acts were exceptional and incidental. I never heard of any cases of murder or rape; and no army could have carried along sufficient food and forage for a march of three hundred miles; so that foraging in some shape was necessary.

(10) Statement issued by the members of the Georgia Congress (19th November, 1864)

We have had a special conference with President Davis and the Secretary of War, and are able to assure you that they have done and are still doing all that can be done to meet the emergency that presses upon you. Let every man fly to arms! Remove your negroes, horses, cattle, and provisions from Sherman's army, and burn what you cannot carry. Burn all bridges, and block up the roads in his route. Assail the invader in front, flank, and rear, by night and by day. Let him have no rest.

(11) Carl Schurz wrote about the relative merits of William Sherman, Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee in his autobiography published in 1906.

In the opinion of many competent persons, he was the ablest commander of them all. I remember a remarkable utterance of his when we were speaking of Grant's campaign. "There was a difference," Sherman said, "between Grant's and my way of looking at things. Grant never cared a damn about what was going on behind the enemy's lines, but it often scared me like the devil." He admitted, and justly so, that some of Grant's successes were owing to this very fact, but also some of his most conspicuous failures. Grant believed in hammering - Sherman in maneuvering. It had been the habit of the generals commanding the Army of the Potomac to cross the Rappahannock, to get their drubbing from Lee, and then promptly to retreat and recross the Rappahannock again in retreat. He sturdily went on, hammering and hammering, and, with his vastly superior resources, finally hammered Lee's army to pieces, but with a most dreadful sacrifice of life on his own part. Now, comparing Grant's campaign for the taking of Richmond with Sherman's campaign for the taking of Atlanta - without losing sight of any of the differences of their respective situations - we may well arrive at the conclusion that Sherman was the superior strategist and the greater general.

(12) Theodore Lyman, wrote about William Sherman after the war.

Sherman was the concentrated quintessence of Yankeedom, tall, spare, and sinewy, with a very long neck, and a big head. He is a very homely man, with a regular nest of wrinkles in his face, which play and twist as he eagerly talks on each subject; but his expression is pleasant and kindly.

(13) Mark M. Boatner III, The Civil War Dictionary (1959)

Sherman undertook the Atlanta Campaign. In this and the subsequent March to the Sea and Carolinas Campaign Sherman demonstrated a military talent that has led some historians to rank him as the top Federal commander of the war.

(14) Tom P. Brady, Black Monday, a booklet published by the Association of Citizens' Councils (1955)

Then came the bloodiest of all wars - the most destructive to the white genius and ability of this country - the Civil War. The negro was the fundamental cause of this war - never forget this fact - and it is ridiculous to assume that he played any part in it except as a servant to those unable to fight. And then the saddest and most terrible of all American dramas was enacted - the Reconstruction period - the pious greed of the New England slave trader had brought the Negro to our shores and now his insatiable hatred and envy was to be placated. Military governments were established, the face of the Southern white soldier who had survived the war was ground in the dust by the foot of his conqueror with the aid of the carpetbagger from the North - the scalawag of the South, and the Negro Yes, you are correct in assuming a small segment of the Negro race played a part in this rapine. It was as thorough as Sherman's "March to the Sea." In truth, the South has not yet fully recovered from this scorched earth policy, pillage and the bitter hatred which blazed and still smolders against it. Let us briefly review a few significant events of this tragic era.