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William Tecumseh Sherman
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William Tecumseh Sherman

Its glory is all moonshine; even success most brilliant is over dead and mangled bodies, with the anguish and lamentations of distant families.

You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out.

— both William Tecumseh Sherman, on the American Civil war.

William Tecumseh Sherman (February 8, 1820 - February 14, 1891) was an American soldier, businessman, writer, and General for the Union forces in the American Civil War, best known for his capture of Atlanta, Georgia, and his March to the Sea (from Atlanta to Savannah, Georgia).

''William Sherman, taken by Matthew Brady

He was born in Lancaster, Ohio. He was the older brother of John Sherman, the Senator who sponsored the Sherman Antitrust Act. Sherman's father, Judge Charles Sherman, died when Tecumseh was nine years old. The boy was informally "adopted" by a Lancaster neighbor, attorney Thomas Ewing, who served as a U.S. Senator from Ohio and as U.S. Secretary of the Interior. Ewing secured Sherman's apppointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, from which he graduated sixth in his class of 1840. He entered the army as a second lieutenant and served through the end of the Mexican American War, during which he was stationed in California.

He resigned his military commission and became president of a bank in San Francisco. The bank failed in a financial panic in 1857. Sherman accepted a job offered to him by two of his Southern army friends, P.G.T. Beauregard and Braxton Bragg, as the first president of Louisiana Military Seminary. He served in that post until the start of the American Civil War, when he resigned and went back north. It is ironic that Louisiana Military Seminary later became Louisiana State University - so the first president of what is now one of the most prestigious and beloved Southern universities was a Yankee general.

On hearing of South Carolina's secession, he presciently observed to a southern friend before going north to serve in the Union army:

You people of the South don't know what you are doing. This country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end. It is all folly, madness, a crime against civilization! You people speak so lightly of war; you don't know what you're talking about. War is a terrible thing!

You mistake, too, the people of the North. They are a peaceable people but an earnest people, and they will fight, too. They are not going to let this country be destroyed without a mighty effort to save it ...

Besides, where are your men and appliances of war to contend against them? The North can make a steam engine, locomotive, or railway car; hardly a yard of cloth or pair of shoes can you make. You are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical, and determined people on Earth -- right at your doors.

You are bound to fail. Only in your spirit and determination are you prepared for war. In all else you are totally unprepared, with a bad cause to start with. At first you will make headway, but as your limited resources begin to fail, shut out from the markets of Europe as you will be, your cause will begin to wane. If your people will but stop and think, they must see in the end that you will surely fail.

Beauregard and Bragg both became Confederate generals during the Civil War. Sherman accepted a commission as a colonel in the U.S. Army and was one of very few Union officers to distinguish himself at the First Battle of Bull Run.

He was made a Brigadier General and put in command of a military department in Louisville, Kentucky. During his time in Louisville, Sherman went through a personal crisis that has been described as a "nervous breakdown" or "insanity". Without question, he was likely working too hard, and drinking and smoking too much. He suffered some sort of collapse which made it necessary for him to go home to Ohio to recuperate. Still, just six months later he was a brilliant and brave Major General serving under Ulysses S. Grant at the April 1862 Battle of Shiloh. He suffered two slight wounds during that two-day battle in west Tennessee and had four horses shot from under him.

Sherman developed close personal ties to Grant during the two years they served together. At one point, not long after the Battle of Shiloh, Sherman persuaded Grant, who was being badly treated by his commander, General H. W. Halleck, to not resign from the army. The careers of both officers ascended considerably after that time. They shared in the glory of conquering Vicksburg in July 1863 and at the Battle of Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga. In later years Sherman said simply, "I took care of Grant when he was drunk, and he took care of me when I was crazy."

When Lincoln called Grant east in the spring of 1864 to take command of all Union armies, Grant appointed Sherman his successor as commander of the western theatre of the war. His siege and capture of Atlanta, Georgia and subsequent March to the Sea from Atlanta to Savannah in the autumn of 1864 sealed Sherman's position as one of the great Union heroes of the Civil War. When Grant became President of the United States in 1869, Sherman became the top general in the U.S. Army and served in that post until his retirement.

He led brutal campaigns against the Native Americans. As with the Southerners, he tried to destroy their will to fight, not only by killing their soldiers, but by destroying the resources they needed to survive. Sherman believed that the natives were in the way of progress and might need to be exterminated, but he spoke out against government agents who treated the natives unfairly on reservations.

In 1875 Sherman published his two-volume memoirs, a minor classic, marked by a forceful, lucid style, and the strong opinions for which Sherman has become famous.

Sherman retired from the army in 1884, and lived most of the rest of his life in New York City. He was devoted to the theatre and was much in demand as a colorful speaker at dinners and banquets.

He was also in demand among some Republicans as a possible Presidential candidate in 1884. He declined as emphatically as possible, saying, "If nominated I will not run; if elected I will not serve." (The first part is sometimes given as, "If nominated, I will not accept.") Such a categorical rejection of a candidacy is now referred to as a "Sherman."

Sherman died in New York and is memorialized there by his equestrian statue by Augustus Saint-Gaudens at the southeast entrance to Central Park. He is buried in Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri.

One story of his death is worth re-telling:

Joe Johnston, the Confederate general whom Sherman had bedeviled through both Georgia and South Carolina, served as a pallbearer at Sherman's funeral. It was a bitter cold February day. A friend encouraged Johnston to don a hat, "General, please put on a hat. You might get sick."

Johnston replied, "If I were in his place, and he were standing in mine, he would not put on his hat."

Johnston caught a severe cold, and soon it was his funeral. So ended the lives of two Civil War adversaries.

Sherman is often regarded as the first modern general.

Preceded by:
John Aaron Rawlins
Secretary of War
1869
Succeeded by:
William W. Belknap