William T. Sherman

William T. Sherman books and biography


William Tecumseh Sherman


Portrait of William Tecumseh Sherman
by Mathew Brady
Nickname Cump, Uncle Billy
Place of birth Lancaster, Ohio
Place of death New York City, New York
Allegiance United States of America
Years of service 1840–84
Rank Commands Army of the Tennessee (1863),
Military Division of the Mississippi (1864),
Commanding General of the United States Army (postbellum)
Battles/wars Shiloh, Vicksburg Campaign, Chattanooga, Atlanta Campaign, March to the Sea, Carolinas Campaign
Awards Thanks of Congress (1864 and 1865)
Other work Bank president, lawyer, university superintendent, streetcar executive
30th U.S. Secretary of War
September 9, 1869 – October 24, 1869

William Tecumseh Sherman (February 8, 1820 – February 14, 1891) was an American soldier, businessman, educator, and author. He served as a general in the United States Army during the American Civil War (1861–65), receiving both recognition for his outstanding command of military strategy, and criticism for the harshness of the "scorched earth" policies he implemented in conducting total war against the enemy. Military historian Basil Liddell Hart famously declared that Sherman was "the first modern general."[1]

Sherman served under General Ulysses S. Grant in 1862 and 1863 during the campaigns that led to the fall of the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg on the Mississippi River and culminated with the routing of the Confederate armies in the state of Tennessee. In 1864, Sherman succeeded Grant as the Union commander in the western theater of the war. He proceeded to lead his troops to the capture of the city of Atlanta, a military success that contributed decisively to the re-election of President Abraham Lincoln. Sherman's subsequent march through Georgia and the Carolinas further undermined the Confederacy's ability to continue fighting. He accepted the surrender of all the Confederate armies in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida in April 1865.

After the Civil War, Sherman became Commanding General of the Army (1869–83). As such, he was responsible for the conduct of the Indian Wars in the western United States. He steadfastly refused to be drawn into politics and in 1875 published his Memoirs, one of the best-known firsthand accounts of the Civil War.


Early life

Sherman was born Tecumseh Sherman in Lancaster, Ohio, near the shores of the Hockhocking River (now the Hocking). He was named Tecumseh after the famous Shawnee leader. His father, Charles Robert Sherman, was a successful lawyer who sat on the Ohio Supreme Court. Judge Sherman died unexpectedly in 1829, leaving his widow, Mary Hoyt Sherman, with eleven children and no inheritance. Following this tragedy the nine-year-old Tecumseh was taken in and raised by a Lancaster neighbor and family friend, attorney Thomas Ewing, a prominent member of the Whig Party who served as Senator for Ohio and as the first Secretary of the Interior.

Ewing's wife, Maria, a Roman Catholic of Irish descent, insisted that Sherman be baptized Roman Catholic. On that occasion a Dominican priest bestowed upon him the name of William (chosen because the baptism occurred on June 25, the feast day of Saint William of Vercelli). Sherman's own family was Episcopal, and he never became a devout Catholic.[2]

He also never completely accepted the name "William" and friends and family always called him "Cump."[3] One of his younger brothers, John Sherman, would become a U.S. Senator and the sponsor of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

Military training and service

Portrait of a young William T. Sherman in military uniform.
Portrait of a young William T. Sherman in military uniform.

Senator Ewing secured the appointment of the 16-year-old Sherman as a cadet in the United States Military Academy at West Point.[4] There Sherman excelled academically, but treated the demerit system with indifference. Fellow cadet William Rosecrans would later remember Sherman at West Point as "one of the brightest and most popular fellows," and "a bright-eyed, red-headed fellow, who was always prepared for a lark of any kind."[5] About his time at West Point, Sherman says only the following in his Memoirs:

At the Academy I was not considered a good soldier, for at no time was I selected for any office, but remained a private throughout the whole four years. Then, as now, neatness in dress and form, with a strict conformity to the rules, were the qualifications required for office, and I suppose I was found not to excel in any of these. In studies I always held a respectable reputation with the professors, and generally ranked among the best, especially in drawing, chemistry, mathematics, and natural philosophy. My average demerits, per annum, were about one hundred and fifty, which reduced my final class standing from number four to six.[6]

Upon graduation in 1840, Sherman entered the Army as a second lieutenant in the 3rd U.S. Artillery and saw action in Florida in the Second Seminole War against the Seminole tribe. He was later stationed in Georgia and South Carolina. As the foster son of a prominent Whig politician, in Charleston, the popular Lt. Sherman moved within the upper circles of Old South society.[7]

While many of his colleagues saw action in the Mexican-American War, Sherman performed administrative duties in the captured territory of California. He and fellow officer Lt. Edward Ord reached the town of Yerba Buena two days before its name was changed to San Francisco. In 1848, Sherman accompanied the military governor of California, Col. Richard Barnes Mason, in the inspection that officially confirmed the claim that gold had been discovered in the region, thus inaugurating the California Gold Rush.[8] Sherman earned a brevet promotion to captain for his "meritorious service," but his lack of a combat assignment discouraged him and may have contributed to his decision to resign his commission. Sherman would become one of the relatively few high-ranking officers in the Civil War who had not fought in Mexico.

Marriage and business career

In 1850, Sherman married Thomas Ewing's daughter, Eleanor Boyle ("Ellen") Ewing. Ellen was, like her mother, a devout Catholic and their eight children were raised in that faith. To Sherman's great displeasure and sorrow, one of his sons, Thomas Ewing Sherman, was ordained a Jesuit priest in 1879.[9]

In 1853, Sherman resigned his military commission and became president of a bank in San Francisco. He returned to San Francisco at a time of great turmoil in the West. He survived two shipwrecks and floated through the Golden Gate on the scraps of a foundering lumber schooner.[10] Sherman eventually suffered from stress-related asthma because of the city's brutal financial climate.[11] Late in life, regarding his time in real-estate-speculation-mad San Francisco, Sherman recalled: "I can handle a hundred thousand men in battle, and take the City of the Sun, but am afraid to manage a lot in the swamp of San Francisco."[12] In 1856 he served as a major general of the California militia.

Sherman's bank failed during the financial panic of 1857 and he turned to the practice of law in Leavenworth, Kansas, at which he was also unsuccessful.[13]

University superintendent

In 1859 Sherman accepted a job as the first superintendent of the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning and Military Academy in Pineville, a position offered to him by two of his Army friends from the South: P.G.T. Beauregard and Braxton Bragg.[14] He proved an effective and popular leader of that institution, which would later become Louisiana State University (LSU). Col. Joseph P. Taylor, the brother of the late President Zachary Taylor, declared that "if you had hunted the whole army, from one end of it to the other, you could not have found a man in it more admirably suited for the position in every respect than Sherman."[15]

On hearing of South Carolina's secession from the United States, Sherman observed to a close friend, Prof. David F. Boyd of Virginia:

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.[16]

In January 1861 just before the outbreak of the American Civil War, Sherman was required to accept receipt of arms surrendered to the State Militia by the U.S. Arsenal at Baton Rouge. Instead of complying, he resigned his position as superintendent and returned to the North, declaring to the governor of Louisiana, "On no earthly account will I do any act or think any thought hostile ... to the ... United States."[17] He became president of the St. Louis Railroad, a streetcar company, a position he held for only a few months before being called to Washington, D.C.

Civil War service

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

Army commission

Sherman accepted a commission as a colonel in the 13th U.S. Infantry regiment on May 14, 1861. He was one of the few Union officers to distinguish himself at the First Battle of Bull Run on July 21, where he was grazed by bullets in the knee and shoulder. The disastrous Union defeat led Sherman to question his own judgment as an officer and the capacities of his volunteer troops. President Lincoln, however, promoted him to brigadier general of volunteers (effective May 17, which gave him more senior rank than that of Ulysses S. Grant, his future commander).[18] He was assigned to command the Department of the Cumberland in Louisville, Kentucky.

Breakdown and Shiloh

During his time in Louisville, Sherman became increasingly pessimistic about the outlook of the war and repeatedly made estimates of the strength of the rebel forces that proved exaggerated, causing the local press to describe him as "crazy." In the fall of 1861, Sherman experienced what would probably be described today as a nervous breakdown. He was put on leave and returned to Ohio to recuperate, being replaced in his command by Don Carlos Buell. While he was at home, his wife, Ellen, wrote to his brother Senator John Sherman seeking advice and complaining of "that melancholy insanity to which your family is subject."[19] However, Sherman quickly recovered and returned to service under Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck, commander of the Department of the Missouri. Halleck's department had just won a major victory at Fort Henry, but he harbored doubts about the commander in the field, Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, and his plans to capture Fort Donelson. Unbeknownst to Grant, Halleck offered several officers, including Sherman, command of Grant's army. Sherman refused, saying he preferred serving under Grant, even though he outranked him. Sherman wrote to Grant from Paducah, "Command me in any way. I feel anxious about you as I know the great facilities [the Confederates] have of concentration by means of the river and railroad, but [I] have faith in you."[20]

After Grant was promoted to major general in command of the District of West Tennessee, Sherman served briefly as his replacement in command of the District of Cairo. He got his wish of serving under Grant when he was assigned on March 1, 1862 to the Army of West Tennessee as commander of the 5th Division.[21] His first major test under Grant was at the Battle of Shiloh. The massive Confederate attack on the morning of April 6 took most of the senior Union commanders by surprise. Sherman in particular had dismissed the intelligence reports that he had received from militia officers, refusing to believe that Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston would leave his base at Corinth. He took no precautions beyond strengthening his picket lines, refusing to entrench, build abatis, or push out reconnaissance patrols. At Shiloh, he may have wished to avoid appearing overly alarmed in order to escape the kind of criticism he had received in Kentucky. He had written to his wife that, if he took more precautions, "they'd call me crazy again."[22]

Despite being caught unprepared by the attack, Sherman rallied his division and conducted an orderly, fighting retreat that helped avert a disastrous Union rout. Finding Grant at the end of the day sitting under an oak tree in the darkness smoking a cigar, he experienced, in his own words "some wise and sudden instinct not to mention retreat." Instead, in what would become one of the most famous conversations of the war, Sherman said simply: "Well, Grant, we've had the devil's own day, haven't we?" After a puff of his cigar, Grant replied calmly: "Yes. Lick 'em tomorrow, though."[23] Sherman would prove instrumental to the successful Union counterattack of April 7. Sherman was wounded twice —in the hand and shoulder— and had three horses shot out from under him. His performance was praised by Grant and Halleck and after the battle, he was promoted to major general of volunteers, effective May 1.[24]

Vicksburg and Chattanooga

Sherman developed close personal ties to Grant during the two years they served together. Shortly after Shiloh, Sherman persuaded Grant not to resign from the Army, despite the serious difficulties he was having with his commander, General Halleck. Sherman offered Grant an example from his own life, "Before the battle of Shiloh, I was cast down by a mere newspaper assertion of 'crazy', but that single battle gave me new life, and I'm now in high feather." He told Grant that, if he remained in the army, "some happy accident might restore you to favor and your true place."[25] The careers of both officers ascended considerably after that time. Sherman later famously declared that "Grant stood by me when I was crazy and I stood by him when he was drunk and now we stand by each other always."[26]

Sherman's military record in 1862–63 was mixed. In December 1862, forces under his command suffered a severe repulse at the Battle of Chickasaw Bluffs, just north of Vicksburg. Soon after, his XV Corps was ordered to join Maj. Gen. John A. McClernand in his successful assault on Arkansas Post, generally regarded as a politically motivated distraction from the effort to capture Vicksburg.[27] Before the Vicksburg Campaign in the spring of 1863, Sherman expressed serious reservations about the wisdom of Grant's unorthodox strategy,[28] but he went on to perform well in that campaign under Grant's supervision.

Map of the Battle of Chattanooga, 1863
Map of the Battle of Chattanooga, 1863

During the Battle of Chattanooga in November, Sherman, now in command of the Army of the Tennessee,quickly took his assigned target of Billy Goat Hill at the north end of Missionary Ridge, only to discover that it was not part of the ridge at all, but rather a detached spur separated from the main spine by a rock-strewn ravine. When he attempted to attack the main spine at Tunnel Hill, his troops were repeatedly repulsed by Patrick Cleburne's heavy division, the best unit in Braxton Bragg's army.[29] Sherman's effort was overshadowed by George Henry Thomas's army's successful assault on the center of the Confederate line, a movement originally intended as a diversion.

Despite this mixed record, Sherman enjoyed Grant's confidence and friendship.


Map of Sherman's campaigns in Georgia and the Carolinas, 1864-1865
Map of Sherman's campaigns in Georgia and the Carolinas, 1864-1865

When Lincoln called Grant east in the spring of 1864 to take command of all the Union armies, Grant appointed Sherman (by then known to his soldiers as "Uncle Billy") to succeed him as head of the Military Division of the Mississippi, which entailed command of Union troops in the Western Theater of the war.

As Grant took command of the Army of the Potomac Sherman told him before he proposed his idea to Lincoln "If you can whip Lee and I can march to the Atlantic I think ol' Uncle Abe will give us twenty days leave to see the young folks."

Sherman proceeded to invade the state of Georgia with three armies: the 60,000-strong Army of the Cumberland under George Henry Thomas, the 25,000-strong Army of the Tennessee under James B. McPherson, and the 13,000-strong Army of the Ohio under John M. Schofield.[30] He fought a lengthy campaign of maneuver through mountainous terrain against Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston's Army of Tennessee, attempting a direct assault against Johnston only at the disastrous Battle of Kennesaw Mountain. The cautious Johnston was replaced by the more aggressive John Bell Hood, who played to Sherman's strength by challenging him to direct battles on open ground.

Sherman's Atlanta Campaign concluded successfully on September 2, 1864, with the capture of the city of Atlanta, an accomplishment that made Sherman a household name in the North and helped ensure Lincoln's presidential re-election in November. Lincoln's electoral defeat by Democratic Party candidate George B. McClellan, the former Union army commander, had appeared likely in the summer of that year. Such an outcome would probably have meant the victory of the Confederacy, as the Democratic Party platform called for peace negotiations based on the acknowledgement of the Confederacy's independence. Thus the capture of Atlanta, coming when it did, may have been Sherman's greatest contribution to the Union cause.

Green-Meldrim house where Sherman stayed, upon taking Savannah in 1864.
Green-Meldrim house where Sherman stayed, upon taking Savannah in 1864.

After Atlanta, Sherman dismissed the impact of Gen. Hood's attacks against his supply lines and sent George Thomas to defeat him in the Franklin-Nashville Campaign. Meanwhile, declaring that he could "make Georgia howl",[31] Sherman marched with 62,000 men to the port of Savannah, living off the land and causing, by his own estimate, more than $100 million in property damage.[32] At the end of this campaign, known as Sherman's March to the Sea, his troops captured Savannah on December 22. Sherman then telegraphed Lincoln, offering him the city as a Christmas present.

Sherman's success in Georgia received ample coverage in the Northern press at a time when Grant seemed to be making little progress in his fight against Confederate General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. A bill was introduced in Congress to promote Sherman to Grant's rank of lieutenant general, probably with a view towards having him replace Grant as commander of the Union Army. Sherman wrote both to his brother, Senator John Sherman, and to General Grant vehemently repudiating any such promotion.[33]

The Carolinas

General Sherman and his staff
General Sherman and his staff

In the spring of 1865, Grant ordered Sherman to embark his army on steamers to join him against Lee in Virginia. Instead, Sherman persuaded Grant to allow him to march north through the Carolinas, destroying everything of military value along the way, as he had done in Georgia. He was particularly interested in targeting South Carolina, the first state to secede from the Union, for the effect it would have on Southern morale. His army proceeded north through South Carolina against light resistance from the troops of Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston. Upon hearing that Sherman's men were advancing on corduroy roads through the Salkehatchie swamps at a rate of a dozen miles per day, Johnston declared that "there had been no such army in existence since the days of Julius Caesar."[34]

Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, USA, in May 1865. The black ribbon around his left arm is a sign of mourning over President Lincoln's death. Portrait by Mathew Brady.
Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, USA, in May 1865. The black ribbon around his left arm is a sign of mourning over President Lincoln's death. Portrait by Mathew Brady.

Sherman captured the state capital of Columbia on February 17, 1865. Fires began that night and by next morning, most of the central city was destroyed. The burning of Columbia has engendered controversy ever since, with some claiming the fires were accidental, others a deliberate act of vengeance, and still others that the retreating Confederates burned bales of cotton on their way out of town. Local Native American Lumbee guides helped Sherman's army cross the Lumber River through torrential rains and into North Carolina. According to Sherman, the trek across the Lumber River, and through the swamps, pocosins, and creeks of Robeson County "was the damnest marching I ever saw." Thereafter, his troops did little damage to the civilian infrastructure.

Shortly after his victory over Johnston's troops at the Battle of Bentonville, Sherman met with Johnston at Bennett Place in Durham, North Carolina, to negotiate a Confederate surrender. At the insistence of Johnston and Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Sherman offered terms that dealt with both political and military issues, despite having no authorization to do so from either General Grant or the United States government. Washington refused to honor the terms, which precipitated a long-lasting feud between Sherman and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. Confusion over this issue lasted until April 26, when Johnston, ignoring instructions from President Davis, agreed to purely military terms and formally surrendered his army and all the Confederate forces in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida.[35]

Slavery and emancipation

Though he came to disapprove of chattel slavery, Sherman was not an abolitionist before the war, and like many of his time and background, he did not believe in "Negro equality."[36] His military campaigns of 1864 and 1865 freed many slaves, who greeted him "as a second Moses or Aaron"[37] and joined his marches through Georgia and the Carolinas by the tens of thousands. The precarious living conditions and uncertain future of the freed slaves quickly became a pressing issue.

On January 12, 1865, Sherman met in Savannah with Secretary of War Stanton and with twenty local black leaders. After Sherman's departure, Garrison Frazier, a Baptist minister, declared in response to an inquiry about the feelings of the black community that

We looked upon General Sherman, prior to his arrival, as a man, in the providence of God, specially set apart to accomplish this work, and we unanimously felt inexpressible gratitude to him, looking upon him as a man that should be honored for the faithful performance of his duty. Some of us called upon him immediately upon his arrival, and it is probable he did not meet [Secretary Stanton] with more courtesy than he met us. His conduct and deportment toward us characterized him as a friend and a gentleman.[38]

Four days later, Sherman issued his Special Field Orders, No. 15. The orders provided for the settlement of 40,000 freed slaves and black refugees on land expropriated from white landowners in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Sherman appointed Brig. Gen. Rufus Saxton, an abolitionist from Massachusetts who had previously directed the recruitment of black soldiers, to implement that plan.[39] Those orders, which became the basis of the claim that the Union government had promised freed slaves "40 acres and a mule," were revoked later that year by President Andrew Johnson.


General Sherman's record as a tactician was mixed, and his military legacy rests primarily on his command of logistics and on his brilliance as a strategist. The influential 20th century British military historian and theorist Basil Liddell Hart ranked Sherman as one of the most important strategists in the annals of war, along with Scipio Africanus, Belisarius, Napoleon Bonaparte, T.E. Lawrence, and Erwin Rommel. Liddell Hart credited Sherman with mastery of maneuver warfare (also known as the "indirect approach"), as demonstrated by his series of turning movements against Johnston during the Atlanta Campaign. Liddell Hart also stated that study of Sherman's campaigns had contributed significantly to his own "theory of strategy and tactics in mechanized warfare," which had in turn influenced Heinz Guderian's doctrine of Blitzkrieg and Rommel's use of tanks during World War II.[40]

Sherman's greatest contribution to the war, the strategy of total warfare—endorsed by General Grant and President Lincoln—has been the subject of much controversy. Sherman himself downplayed his role in conducting total war, often saying that he was simply carrying out orders as best he could in order to fulfill his part of Grant's master plan for ending the war.

Total warfare

1868 engraving by Alexander Hay Ritchie depicting the March to the Sea
1868 engraving by Alexander Hay Ritchie depicting the March to the Sea

Like Grant, Sherman was convinced that the Confederacy's strategic, economic, and psychological ability to wage further war had to be definitively crushed if the fighting were to end. Therefore, he believed that the North had to conduct its campaign as a war of conquest and employ scorched earth tactics to break the backbone of the rebellion.

Sherman's advance through Georgia and South Carolina was characterized by widespread destruction of civilian supplies and infrastructure, and sometimes accompanied by looting; although officially forbidden, historians disagree on how well this regulation was enforced.[41] The speed and efficiency of the destruction by Sherman's army was remarkable. The practice of bending rails around trees, leaving behind what came to be known as Sherman's neckties, made repairs difficult. Accusations that civilians were targeted and war crimes were committed on the march have made Sherman a controversial figure to this day, particularly in the South.

Map of Sherman's advance from Atlanta to Goldsboro
Map of Sherman's advance from Atlanta to Goldsboro

The damage done by Sherman was almost entirely limited to the destruction of property. Though exact figures are not available, the loss of civilian life appears to have been very small.[42] Consuming supplies, wrecking infrastructure, and undermining morale were Sherman's stated goals, and several of his Southern contemporaries noted this and commented on it. For instance, Alabama-born Major Henry Hitchcock, who served in Sherman's staff, declared that "it is a terrible thing to consume and destroy the sustenance of thousands of people," but if the scorched earth strategy served "to paralyze their husbands and fathers who are fighting ... it is mercy in the end."[43]

The severity of the destructive acts by Union troops was significantly greater in South Carolina than in Georgia or North Carolina. This appears to have been a consequence of the animosity among both Union soldiers and officers to the state that they regarded as the "cockpit of secession."[44] One of the most serious accusations against Sherman was that he allowed his troops to burn the city of Columbia. Historian James M. McPherson, however, claims that:

The fullest and most dispassionate study of this controversy blames all parties in varying proportions—including the Confederate authorities for the disorder that characterized the evacuation of Columbia, leaving thousands of cotton bales on the streets (some of them burning) and huge quantities of liquor undestroyed ... Sherman did not deliberately burn Columbia; a majority of Union soldiers, including the general himself, worked through the night to put out the fires.[45]

Modern assessment

After the fall of Atlanta in 1864, Sherman ordered the city's evacuation. When the city council appealed to him to rescind that order, on the grounds that it would cause great hardship to women, children, the elderly, and others who bore no responsibility for the conduct of the war, Sherman sent a response in which he sought to articulate his conviction that a lasting peace would be possible only if the Union were restored, and that he was therefore prepared to do all he could do to quash the rebellion:

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. I know I had no hand in making this war, and I know I will make more sacrifices to-day than any of you to secure peace. But you cannot have peace and a division of our country. If the United States submits to a division now, it will not stop, but will go on until we reap the fate of Mexico, which is eternal war.
[...] I want peace, and believe it can only be reached through union and war, and I will ever conduct war with a view to perfect and early success.
But, my dear sirs, when peace does come, you may call on me for anything. Then will I share with you the last cracker, and watch with you to shield your homes and families against danger from every quarter.[46]

Literary critic Edmund Wilson found in Sherman's Memoirs a fascinating and disturbing account of an "appetite for warfare" that "grows as it feeds on the South."[47] Former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara refers equivocally to the statement that "war is cruelty and you cannot refine it" in both the book Wilson's Ghost[48] and in his interview for the film The Fog of War. Many modern Southerners have denounced Sherman's attitude as proto-totalitarian and as a harbinger of the inhumanity of the large-scale wars of the 20th century.[49]

On the other hand, when comparing Sherman's scorched earth campaigns to the actions of the British Army during the Second Boer War (1899-1902) — another war in which civilians were targeted because of their central role in sustaining an armed resistance— South African historian Hermann Giliomee declares that it "looks as if Sherman struck a better balance than the British commanders between severity and restraint in taking actions proportional to legitimate needs."[50] The admiration of scholars such as Victor Davis Hanson, Basil Liddell Hart, Lloyd Lewis, and John F. Marszalek for General Sherman owes much to what they see as an approach to the exigencies of modern armed conflict that was both effective and principled.

Postbellum service

Illustration from the second edition of Sherman's Memoirs, 1889
Illustration from the second edition of Sherman's Memoirs, 1889

In May 1865, after the major Confederate armies had surrendered, Sherman wrote in a personal letter:

I confess, without shame, that I am sick and tired of fighting—its glory is all moonshine; even success the most brilliant is over dead and mangled bodies, with the anguish and lamentations of distant families, appealing to me for sons, husbands, and fathers ... it is only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded and lacerated ... that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation.[51]

On July 25, 1866, Congress created the rank of general of the army for Grant and promoted Sherman to lieutenant general. When Grant became president in 1869, Sherman was appointed commanding general of the U.S. Army. After the death of John A. Rawlins, Sherman also served for one month as interim Secretary of War. His tenure as commanding general was marred by political difficulties, and from 1874 to 1876, he moved his headquarters to St. Louis in an attempt to escape from them. One of his significant contributions as head of the Army was the establishment of the Command School (now the Command and General Staff College) at Fort Leavenworth.

Shoulder strap insignia, introduced by Sherman in 1872 for his use as General of the Army
Shoulder strap insignia, introduced by Sherman in 1872 for his use as General of the Army

Sherman's main concern as commanding general was to protect the construction and operation of the railroads from attack by hostile Indians. In his campaigns against the Indian tribes, Sherman repeated his Civil War strategy by seeking not only to defeat the enemy's soldiers, but also to destroy the resources that allowed the enemy to sustain its warfare. The policies he implemented included the decimation of the buffalo, which were the primary source of food for the Plains Indians.[52] Despite his harsh treatment of the warring tribes, Sherman spoke out against speculators and government agents who treated the natives unfairly within the reservations.[53]

In 1875 Sherman published his memoirs in two volumes. According to critic Edmund Wilson, Sherman

had a trained gift of self-expression and was, as Mark Twain says, a master of narrative. [In his Memoirs] the vigorous account of his pre-war activities and his conduct of his military operations is varied in just the right proportion and to just the right degree of vivacity with anecdotes and personal experiences. We live through his campaigns [...] in the company of Sherman himself. He tells us what he thought and what he felt, and he never strikes any attitudes or pretends to feel anything he does not feel.[54]

In June 19, 1879, Sherman delivered his famous "War Is Hell" speech to the graduating class of the Michigan Military Academy and to the gathered crowd of more than 10,000:

There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but, boys, it is all hell.[55]

Sherman stepped down as commanding general on November 1, 1883 and retired from the army on February 8, 1884. He lived most of the rest of his life in New York City. He was devoted to the theater and to amateur painting and was much in demand as a colorful speaker at dinners and banquets, in which he indulged a fondness for quoting Shakespeare.[56] Sherman was proposed as a Republican candidate for the presidential election of 1884, but declined as emphatically as possible, saying, "If nominated I will not run; if elected I will not serve."[57] Such a categorical rejection of a candidacy is now referred to as a "Sherman Statement."

Death and posterity

Sherman died in New York City. On February 19, 1891, a small funeral was held there at his home. His body was then transported to St. Louis, where another service was conducted on February 21 at a local Catholic church. His son, Thomas Ewing Sherman, a Roman Catholic Jesuit priest, presided over his father's funeral mass. General Joseph E. Johnston, the Confederate officer who had commanded the resistance to Sherman's troops in Georgia and the Carolinas, served as a pallbearer. It was a bitterly cold day and a friend of Johnston, fearing that the general might become ill, asked him to put on his hat. Johnston famously replied: "If I were in [Sherman's] place, and he were standing in mine, he would not put on his hat." Johnston did catch a serious cold and died one month later of pneumonia.[58]

Sherman is buried in Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis. Major memorials to Sherman include the gilded bronze equestrian statue by Augustus Saint-Gaudens at the main entrance to Central Park in New York City and the major monument by Carl Rohl-Smith near President's Park in Washington, D.C. Other posthumous tributes include the naming of the World War II M4 Sherman tank and the "General Sherman" Giant Sequoia tree, the most massive documented single trunk tree in the world.

Some of the artistic treatments of Sherman's march are the Civil War era song "Marching Through Georgia" by Henry Clay Work, the film Sherman's March by Ross McElwee, and E.L. Doctorow's novel The March.


  • General Sherman's Official Account of His Great March to Georgia and the Carolinas, from His Departure from Chattanooga to the Surrender of General Joseph E. Johnston and Confederate Forces under His Command (1865)
  • Memoirs of General William T. Sherman, Written by Himself (1875)
  • Reports of Inspection Made in the Summer of 1877 by Generals P. H. Sheridan and W. T. Sherman of Country North of the Union Pacific Railroad (co-author, 1878)
  • The Sherman Letters: Correspondence between General and Senator Sherman from 1837 to 1891 (posthumous, 1894)
  • Home Letters of General Sherman (posthumous, 1909)
  • General W. T. Sherman as College President: A Collection of Letters, Documents, and Other Material, Chiefly from Private Sources, Relating to the Life and Activities of General William Tecumseh Sherman, to the Early Years of Louisiana State University, and the Stirring Conditions Existing in the South on the Eve of the Civil War (posthumous, 1912)
  • The William Tecumseh Sherman Family Letters (posthumous, 1967)
  • Sherman at War (posthumous, 1992)
  • Sherman's Civil War: Selected Correspondence of William T. Sherman, 1860 – 1865 (posthumous, 1999)


  • Brockett, L.P., Our Great Captains: Grant, Sherman, Thomas, Sheridan, and Farragut, C.B. Richardson, 1866.
  • Daniel, Larry J., Shiloh: The Battle That Changed the Civil War, Simon & Schuster, 1997, ISBN 0-684-80375-5.
  • Eicher, John H., & Eicher, David J., Civil War High Commands, Stanford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
  • Giliomee, Hermann, The Afrikaners: Biography of a People, University Press of Virginia, 2003, ISBN 0-8139-2237-2.
  • Grimsley, Mark, The Hard Hand of War: Union Military Policy toward Southern Civilians, 1861-1865, Cambridge University Press, 1997, ISBN 0-521-59941-5.
  • Hanson, Victor D., The Soul of Battle, Anchor Books, 1999, ISBN 0-385-72059-9.
  • Hirshson, Stanley P., The White Tecumseh: A Biography of General William T. Sherman, John Wiley & Sons, 1997, ISBN 0-471-28329-0.
  • Hitchcock, Henry, Marching with Sherman: Passages from the Letters and Campaign Diaries of Henry Hitchcock, Major and Assistant Adjutant General of Volunteers, November 1864 – May 1865, ed. M.A. DeWolfe Howe, Yale University Press, 1927. Reprinted in 1995 by the University of Nebraska Press, ISBN 0-8032-7276-6.
  • Isenberg, Andrew C., The Destruction of the Bison, Cambridge University Press, 2000, ISBN 0-521-00348-2.
  • Lewis, Lloyd, Sherman: Fighting Prophet, Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1932. Reprinted in 1993 by the University of Nebraska Press, ISBN 0-8032-7945-0.
  • Liddell Hart, Basil Henry, Sherman: Soldier, Realist, American, Dodd, Mead & Co., 1929. Reprinted in 1993 by Da Capo Press, ISBN 0-306-80507-3.
  • Marszalek, John F., Sherman: A Soldier's Passion for Order, Free Press, 1992, ISBN 0-02-920135-7.
  • Marszalek, John F., "William Tecumseh Sherman", Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History, Heidler, David S., and Heidler, Jeanne T., eds., W. W. Norton & Company, 2000, ISBN 0-393-04758-X.
  • McNamara, Robert S. and Blight, James G., Wilson's Ghost: Reducing the Risk of Conflict, Killing, and Catastrophe in the 21st Century, Public Affairs, 2001, ISBN 1-891620-89-4.
  • McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, illustrated ed., Oxford University Press, 2003, ISBN 0-19-515091-2.
  • Royster, Charles, The Destructive War: William Tecumseh Sherman, Stonewall Jackson, and the Americans, Alfred A. Knopf, 1991, ISBN 0-679-73878-9.
  • Sherman's Civil War: Selected Correspondence of William T. Sherman,1860-1865, eds. B.D. Simpson and J.V. Berlin, University of North Carolina Press, 1999, ISBN 0-8078-2440-2.
  • Sherman, William T., Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman, 2nd ed., D. Appleton & Co., 1913 (1889). Reprinted by the Library of America, 1990, ISBN 0-940450-65-8.
  • Smith, Jean Edward, Grant, Simon and Shuster, 2001, ISBN 0-684-84927-5.
  • Walsh, George, Whip the Rebellion, Forge Books, 2005, ISBN 0-7653-0526-7.
  • Warner, Ezra J., Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders, LSU Press, 1964, ISBN 0-8071-0822-7.
  • Wilson, Edmund, Patriotic Gore: Studies in the Literature of the American Civil War, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1962. Reprinted by W. W. Norton & Co., 1994, ISBN 0-393-31256-9.
  • Woodward, C. Vann, "Civil Warriors," New York Review of Books, vol. 37, no. 17, Nov. 8, 1990.


  1. ^ Liddell Hart, p. 430
  2. ^ See, for instance, Hirshson pp. 387-388
  3. ^ See, for instance, Walsh, p. 32
  4. ^ Sherman, Memoirs, p. 14
  5. ^ Quoted in Hirshson, p. 13
  6. ^ Sherman, Memoirs, p. 16
  7. ^ See, for instance, Hirshson, p. 21
  8. ^ See Sherman at the Virtual Museum of San Francisco and excerpts from Sherman's Memoirs
  9. ^ See, for instance, Hirshson, pp. 362-368, 387
  10. ^ Sherman, Memoirs, pp. 125-129
  11. ^ Sherman, Memoirs, pp. 131-134, 166
  12. ^ Quoted in Royster, pp. 133-134
  13. ^ Sherman, Memoirs, p. 158-160
  14. ^ See About Louisiana State University
  15. ^ Quoted in Hirshson, p. 68
  16. ^ Exchange between W.T Sherman and Prof. David F. Boyd, Dec. 24, 1860. Quoted in Lewis, p. 138
  17. ^ Letter by W.T. Sherman to Gov. Thomas O. Moore, Jan. 18, 1861. Quoted in Sherman, Memoirs, p. 156
  18. ^ See, for instance, Hirshson, pp. 90-94
  19. ^ Quoted in Lewis, p. 204
  20. ^ Smith, pp, 151-52
  21. ^ Eicher, p. 485
  22. ^ Daniel, p. 138
  23. ^ Quoted in Walsh, pp. 77-78
  24. ^ Eicher, p. 485
  25. ^ Smith, p. 212
  26. ^ Brockett, p. 175
  27. ^ Smith, p. 227
  28. ^ Smith, pp. 235-36
  29. ^ McPherson, p. 678
  30. ^ McPherson, p. 653
  31. ^ Telegram by W.T. Sherman to Gen. U.S. Grant, Oct. 9, 1864, reproduced in Sherman's Civil War, pp. 731-732
  32. ^ Report by Maj. Gen. W.T. Sherman, Jan. 1, 1865, quoted in Grimsley, p. 200
  33. ^ See, for instance, See Liddell Hart, p. 354
  34. ^ Quoted in McPherson, p. 727
  35. ^ See, for instance, Johnston's Surrender at Bennett Place on Hillsboro Road
  36. ^ See, for instance, letter by W.T. Sherman to Salmon P. Chase, Jan. 11, 1865, reproduced in Sherman's Civil War, pp. 794-795, and letter by W.T. Sherman to John Sherman, Aug. 1865, quoted in Liddell Hart, p. 406
  37. ^ Letter to Chase, cited above
  38. ^ "Sherman meets the colored ministers in Savannah"
  39. ^ Special Field Orders, No. 15, Jan. 16, 1865. See also McPherson, pp. 737-739
  40. ^ Liddell Hart, foreword to the Indiana University Press's edition of Sherman's Memoirs (1957). Quoted in Wilson, p. 179
  41. ^ See, for instance, Grimsley, pp. 190-204, McPherson, pp. 712-714, 727-729
  42. ^ See, for instance, Grimsley, p. 199
  43. ^ Hitchcock, p. 125
  44. ^ See, for instance, Grimsley, pp. 200-202
  45. ^ McPherson, pp. 728-729
  46. ^ Letter by Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, USA, to the Mayor and City Council of Atlanta, Sept. 12, 1864
  47. ^ Wilson, p. 184
  48. ^ McNamara and Blight, p. 130
  49. ^ See, for instance, "Targeting Civilians", by Thomas DiLorenzo
  50. ^ Giliomee, p. 253
  51. ^ Quoted in Liddell Hart, p. 402
  52. ^ See Isenberg, pp. 128, 156
  53. ^ See, for instance, Lewis, pp. 597-600
  54. ^ Wilson, p. 175
  55. ^ From transcript published in the Ohio State Journal, Aug. 12, 1880, reproduced in Lewis, p. 637
  56. ^ See, for instance, Woodward
  57. ^ Marszalek, William Tecumseh Sherman, p. 1769.
  58. ^ See, for instance, Lewis, p. 652

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Tecumseh Sherman On July 4, 1866

The Memoirs Of General W. T. Sherman, Volume 1

The Memoirs Of General W. T. Sherman, Volume 2

William Tecumseh Sherman On July 4, 1866

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