Published on January 21, 2011 by Amy
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Union General William Tecumseh Sherman
Born 1820 – Died 1891
He never commanded in a major Union victory and his military career had repeated ups and downs, but William T. Sherman is the second best known of Northern commanders. His father had died when he was nine years old, and Sherman was raised by Senator Thomas Ewing and eventually married into the family. Through the influence of his patron, he obtained an appointment to West Point. Only five cadets of the class of 1840 graduated ahead of him, and he was appointed to the artillery. He received a brevet for his services in California during the Mexican War but resigned in 1853 as a captain and commissary officer.
The years until the Civil War were not filled with success. Living in California and Kansas, he failed in banking and the law. In 1859 he seemed to have found his niche as the superintendent of a military academy which is now Louisiana State University. However, he resigned this post upon the secession of the state and went to St. Louis as head of a streetcar company and then volunteered for the Union army.
His assignments included: colonel, 13th Infantry (May 14, 1861); commanding 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, Army of Northeastern Virginia June-August 17, 1861); brigadier general, USV (August 7, 186 1, to rank from May 17); commanding brigade, Division of the Potomac (August 17-28, 1861); second-in-command, Department of the Cumberland (August 28 – October 8, 1861); commanding the department (October 8 – November 9, 1861); commanding District of Cairo, Department of the Missouri (February 14 – March 1, 1862); commanding 5th Division, Army of the Tennessee (March 1 – July 21, 1862); major general, USV (May 1, 1862); commanding 5th Division, District of Memphis, Army of the Tennessee July 21 – September 24, 1862); commanding lst Division, District of Memphis, Army of the Tennessee (September 24-October 26, 1862); also commanding the district July 21 – October 26, 1862); commanding District of Memphis, 13th Corps, Army of the Tennessee (October 24 – November 25, 1862); commanding Yazoo Expedition, Army of the Tennessee (December 18, 1862 January 4, 1863); commanding 2nd Corps, Army of the Mississippi January 4-12, 1863); commanding 15th Corps, Army of the Tennessee January 12 – October 29, 1863); brigadier general, USA July 4, 1863); commanding Army and Department of the Tennessee (October 24, 1863 – March 26, 1864); commanding Military Division of the Mississippi (March 18, 1864 – June 27, 1865); major general, USA (August 12, 1864); lieutenant general, USA July 25, 1866); general, USA (March 4, 1869); and commander-in-chief, USA (March 8, 1869-November 1, 1883).
Appointed to the colonelcy of one of the regular army’s newly authorized infantry regiments, he led the brigade of volunteers of the lst Division which crossed Bull Run to aid the 2nd and 3rd divisions after the attack on the enemy left had begun. Despite being caught up in the route-he already had a low opinion of volunteers-he was named a brigadier general the next month. Briefly commanding a brigade around Washington, he was then sent to Kentucky as deputy to Robert Anderson. He soon succeeded the hero of Fort Sumter in command of the department but got into trouble over his overestimates of the enemy strength. The newspapers actually reported him as being insane.
Removed from command, he was given another chance by his friend Henry W. Halleck in Missouri. But again, while inspecting troops in the central part of the state, he allowed his overactive imagination to run away with him. During the campaign against Forts Henry and Donelson he was stationed at Paducah, Kentucky and charged with forwarding reinforcements to Grant. Forming a good working relationship with the future commander-in-chief, Sherman offered to waive his seniority rights and take a command under him.
Commanding a division, he was largely responsible for the poor state of preparedness at Shiloh but redeemed himself during the defensive fighting of the first day and was wounded. The next day his command played only a minor role. Praised by Grant, he was soon made a major general of volunteers. He was instrumental in persuading Grant to remain in the army during his difficulties with Halleck during the advance on Corinth, Mississippi.
During the early operations against Vicksburg he ordered a doomed assault at Chickasaw Bluffs and a few days later was superseded by John A. McCiernand who accepted Sherman’s proposal to attack Arkansas Post. Grant initially criticized this movement as unnecessary but declared it an important achievement when it succeeded and he learned that Sherman had suggested it. Sherman’s corps did little fighting in the advance on Vicksburg in May until the disastrous assaults were made.
Following the fall of the river city he was named a brigadier general in the regular army and led an expedition against Jackson. That fall he went to the relief of Chattanooga where he failed to achieve his objectives in the assault against Tunnel Hill at the end of Missionary Ridge. Nonetheless, he was highly praised by Grant who then sent him to relieve the pressure on Burnside at Knoxville, Back in Mississippi, he led the Meridian expedition and then succeeded Grant in overall command in the West, Facing Joseph E. Johnston’s army, he forced it all the way back to Atlanta where the Confederate was replaced by John B. Hood who launched three disastrous attacks against the Union troops near the city. Eventually taking possession of Atlanta, Sherman ordered the population evacuated and the military value of the city destroyed. Sending George H. Thomas back to Middle Tennessee to deal with Hood, he embarked on his March to the Sea.
Taking Savannah, he announced the city as a Christmas gift to the president and the country. Marching north to aid Grant in the final drive against Richmond, he drove through the Carolinas and accepted Johnston’s surrender at Durham Station. His terms were considered too liberal and touching upon political matters and they were disapproved by Secretary of War Stanton. This led to a long-running feud between the two. Terms were finally arranged on the basis of the Appomattox surrender.
During the last two campaigns Sherman had earned a reputation for destruction and for the lack of discipline of his troops-his marauding stragglers being known as “Sherman’s bummers.” Especially resented by Southerners was the burning of Columbia, South Carolina. But there are indications that the fires had spread from cotton set ablaze by the retreating Confederates under Wade Hampton.
On August 12, 1864, Sherman had been promoted to major general in the regular army, and he vacated his volunteer commission. Also, he was the only man to twice receive the Thanks of Congress during the Civil War-first for Chattanooga and second for Atlanta and Savannah. After the war he remained in the service, and was promoted to full general, replacing Grant as commander-in-chief. One of his most important contributions after the war, was the establishment of the Command School at Ft. Leavenworth. He retire from the Army on February 8, 1884.He was noted for his absolute refusal to be drawn into politics. In 1886 he made his home in New York City, where he died on February 14, 1891. He is buried in Calvary Cemetery, St. Louis.(Hart, B.H. Liddell, Sherman: Soldier, Realist, American and Lewis, Lloyd, Sherman: Fighting Prophet)