General William T. Sherman

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Major General William Tecumseh Sherman

Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman
Portrait by Mathew Brady, ca. 1864

Major General William Tecumseh Sherman
Commanding, Army of the West

Age: 45
Born: Ohio
Education: United States Military Academy, graduated 6th in the class of 1840
Branch: Artillery
Occupations: Professional soldier, banker, lawyer, military academy superintendent, head of a streetcar company

Service Record:
Served in California during the Mexican War, brevetted
1853, Resigned at the rank of Captain
1859, Military academy superintendent, (academy is now known as Louisiana State University)
14 May 1861, Volunteered for the Union Army, appointed Colonel 13th Infantry
June 1861, Commanding 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, Army of Northeastern Virginia
7 August 1861, Promoted to Brigadier General, U.S.V.
17 August 1861, Commanding Brigade, Division of the Potomac
28 August 1861, Second in Command, Department of the Cumberland
8 October 1861, Commanding, Department of the Cumberland
14 February 1862, Commanding, District of Cairo, Department of the Missouri
1 March 1862, Commanding, 5th Division, Army of the Tennessee
1 May 1862, Promoted to Major General, U.S.V.
21 July 1862, Commanding, 5th Division, District of Memphis, Army of the Tennessee
24 September 1862, Commanding, 1st Division, District of Memphis, Army of the Tennessee
24 October 1862, Commanding, District of Memphis, 13th Corps, Army of the Tennessee
18 December 1862, Commanding, Yazoo Expedition, Army of the Tennessee
4 January 1863, Commanding, 2nd Corps, Army of the Mississippi
12 January 1863, Commanding, 15th Corps, Army of the Tennessee
4 July 1863, Promoted to Brigadier General, U.S.A.
24 October 1863, Commanding, Army and Department of the Tennessee
18 March 1864, Commanding, Military Division of the Mississippi
12 August 1864, Promoted to Major General, U.S.A.

Battles and Campaigns:
Bull Run, Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, Shiloh (WIA), Corinth, Vicksburg Campaign, Chattanooga, Missionary Ridge, Knoxville, Meridian Expedition, Atlanta Campaign, March to the Sea, Carolinas Campaign

General William Sherman’s varied professional pursuits suggest a restless man in search of a meaningful endeavor for himself. His search took him many places, including extensive travel in the South. He was attracted to the South and its people, becoming very familiar with Southern geography and the Southern lifestyle. Eventually, he settled in Alexandria, Louisiana, becoming a respected instructor at the local military academy and a valued member of the community. A staunch Unionist, as Louisiana approached secession, he was compelled to resign his position at the academy.

After an emotional departure ceremony staged by the academy’s cadets, he traveled north, arriving in Washington in early March. Initially expressing his desire to have no part in the expected hostilities, he turned down appointment as Brigadier General. Eventually he recognized the impossibility of not becoming involved and accepted commissioning as Colonel, 13th Infantry. His inclination to speak his mind without an appreciation for possible repercussions became fodder for the press. After making several controversial comments, it was suggested in some papers he might actually be insane. Disgusted with the press, disappointed with his superiors, and mistrustful of politicians, it seemed his career might end prematurely. However, he was encouraged by friends, especially his good friend General Ulysses S. Grant, to disregard the criticisms and continue his valuable service. General Sherman once came to the aid of General Grant when he was being criticized publicly. General Sherman remarked: "General Grant is a great general, I know him well. He stood by me when I was crazy and I stood by him when he was drunk; and now, sir, we stand by each other always."

It wasn’t long before General Sherman’s aptitude for soldiering was recognized. His actions at Shiloh in April 1862 restored his confidence and started his ascent through the ranks. In 1863, his star continued to rise, and in March 1864 at Chattanooga, Tennessee he was placed in command of the Military Division of the Mississippi. Waiting just across the Georgia line was General Joseph E. Johnston and the Confederate Army of Tennessee. General Sherman’s plan was to strike south into Georgia, engage Johnston’s Army and "break it up." Once General Johnston was eliminated, his intent was to continue south, destroying the war resources of the region.

By early May, General Sherman and his force were in motion toward Dalton, Georgia. The battles that occurred over the next three months as the Union general pushed ever deeper into Georgia are testament to the skills of both Generals Sherman and Johnston. Both executed campaigns of maneuver. General Sherman’s superior force would engage General Johnston’s men, feint then flank. General Johnston conducted a superb delaying action. He picked good ground, would hold until near disaster, and then fall back to previously prepared positions. In July, as the Confederate Army of Tennessee was forced into the fortifications of Atlanta, General Johnston was replaced by General John Bell Hood. In September, after several costly attacks by General Hood, Atlanta fell.

Attempting to draw General Sherman out of Georgia, General Hood and the Army of Tennessee moved north, threatening General Sherman’s supply line. Not taking the bait, General Sherman dispatched a force to follow General Hood, but with his main body, broke away from his supply line and moved southeast toward the coast. General Sherman’s men laid waste to the area that fell within their 50-mile wide axis of advance.

General William T. Sherman
General William T. Sherman.jpg
Union General William T. Sherman

With little opposition, his force moved quickly enough to offer the Georgia coastal city of Savannah to President Lincoln as a Christmas present. Having made "Georgia howl," General Sherman then turned his attention toward the last leg of his march, the Carolinas. Sherman's advance is referred to as "Sherman's March to the Sea."

Sources: Warner, E.J., Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders (Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1964); Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.

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