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William Tecumseh Sherman

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



No better brief summary, perhaps, of the character and true greatness of General Sherman, can be found than the message of President Harrison to Congress on the event of the venerable warrior's death. Harrison had served as an officer in Sherman's army in Georgia, and cherished the love and respect for Sherman that was shared by every loyal soldier who ever served under him. The message in part said: "The death of William Tecumseh Sherman is an event that will bring sorrow to the heart of every patriotic citizen. No living American was so loved and venerated as he. To look upon his face, to hear his name, was to have one's love of country intensified. He served his country not for fame, not out of a sense of professional duty, but for the love of the flag and of the beneficent civil institutions of which it was the emblem. He was an ideal soldier, and shared to the fullest the esprit de corps of the army; but he cherished the civil institutions organized under the Constitution, and was a soldier only that these might be perpetuated in undiminished usefulness and honor. He was in nothing an imitator. A profound student of military science and precedent, he drew from them principles and suggestions, and so adapted them to novel conditions that his campaigns will continue to be the profitable study of the military profession through the world. His genial nature made him comrade to every soldier of the great Union army. His career was complete; his honors were full. He had received from the Government the highest rank known to our military establishment, and from the people unstinted gratitude and love." Sherman was the soul of simplicity, and his candor was renowned. He asserted of himself that he had no natural military genius, but other geniuses, military and otherwise, have viewed his career with a coldly critical gaze, and have differed from his modest estimate. Not only did he possess to the very highest degree the true military genius, but also those other qualifications which go to make up the perfect soldier as a leader of soldiers: courage, determination, coolness, sound judgment and, above all, that attribute which inspired to a marvelous degree the confidence and enthusiasm of men and officers alike.

William Tecumseh Sherman was born at Lancaster, Ohio, February 8, 1820. He descended from an illustrious family, whose antecedents came to America from England as early as 1634. He was the sixth of eleven children of Judge Charles R. Sherman and Mary Hoyt, the daughter of an influential family. Their marriage took place in Norwalk, Conn., in 1810, and a year later they followed the tide of emigration to Ohio, where the young lawyer built up a practice and was subsequently elevated to the Ohio Supreme Court Bench. He died in June, 1829, leaving his family in straitened circumstances. William T. Sherman was nine years of age at the time of the death of his father. To relieve the mother of the care of all of her children, William was adopted into the family of Thomas Ewing, a well-to-do lawyer and friend of the lad's father. Young Sherman was brought up as one of the Ewing family, and after the election of Ewing as United States Senator, he, in 1836, appointed his foster-son to a cadetship at West Point Military Academy. During the four years of his stay at the academy he devoted himself to his studies, showing a decided inclination for military engineering and surveying. In June, 1840, he graduated with high honors, standing near the head of his class. His commission as second lieutenant attached him to the Third Artillery, stationed at Fort Pierce, Florida, to preserve order among the Seminole Indians. It not infrequently happened that the Indians in groups or bands roved away from their reservation, and it became necessary to find them and bring them back. In this work Sherman received his first lessons in actual fighting, as the Indians at times resisted, and bloodshed resulted. Beyond these incidents affairs were dull at Fort Pierce, and the young lieutenant was anxious to see camp life on the Western frontier, as appears from letters received from him at this time. November 30, 1841, he was promoted to first lieutenant, and was transferred to St. Augustine. The following February he was again transferred, this time to Fort Morgan, Mobile Bay, and in June he was ordered to Fort Moultrie at Charleston, South Carolina. At about this time there occurred in Sherman's life an incident which years afterward served to influence the destiny of the nation. This was an expedition which he made through the upper part of Georgia and Alabama, while detailed on special work in connection with his military duties. He here became thoroughly acquainted with the topography of the country, in which many years after he was destined to lead one of the greatest campaigns in American history. In April, 1846, Sherman was detailed to Governor's Island, New York, and a little later to the recruiting station at Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. Soon after this he was authorized to open a recruiting station at Zanesville, Ohio. When the news of the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma reached him, Sherman could restrain his enthusiasm no longer, and applied to the Adjutant-General at Washington to be ordered to the front. Without waiting for a reply he left his office in charge of a corporal, and hurried to Cincinnati and presented himself to Colonel Fanning, a veteran, with the request that he be sent to the front at once. Instead of having his desire gratified the veteran scored him for deserting his post, and advised him to hasten back with all possible speed. Returning to Pittsburg, he found orders assigning him to Company F, then under orders for California. With other officers, he sailed aboard the "Lexington" around Cape Horn and reached the bay of Monterey, January 26, 1847, the voyage having occupied 198 days. Months of idleness followed. The Californians seemed to have not the remotest intentions of going to war, and the dull routine for garrison life was broken by hunting trips and social duties. Lieutenant Sherman was an interested witness to the wild scramble which followed the discovery of gold in California. He did not himself escape the gold fever, but after a fruitless prospecting tour was content to return to Monterey and earn money by surveying boom town and mining property. The money thus acquired was invested in real estate at Sacremento. Soon came the information that the war with Mexico was over, and that peace had been signed. This gave him the desire to return East. In January, 1850, he gained the required permission, and as the bearer of dispatches safely made the trip by way of Panama. During all the years from the time he was adopted into the family of Mr. Ewing, Sherman had carried with him the memory of Ellen Boyle Ewing, daughter of his benefactor, and from the time he went to West Point, a correspondence was kept up between them. From playmates at Lancaster the childhood affection had developed into lasting devotion, and immediately on his return to the East, Sherman proceeded to Washington and was married to Miss Ewing, whose father at this time held the office of Secretary of the Interior. The marriage took place May 1st. Sherman served during the next three years at St. Louis and New Orleans, and in September, 1853, having resigned his position in the army, he again returned to California and engaged in business there. Six years later he returned East and took up the practice of law in Kansas, for a time lived on a farm there, then removed to Louisiana, where, in the summer of 1859 he became the head of the Louisiana "Seminary of Learning and Military Academy," a State institution located at Alexandria. He occupied this position until February, 1861, when Louisiana signified her intention of joining the secession. Sherman then resigned and went to Washington. His brother, John Sherman, was already one of the great Republican leaders, and through him, William Sherman secured a personal interview with President Lincoln, and offered his services in the event of war, which was at that moment regarded in the North as only a remote possibility. The apparent indifference to the true state of affairs disgusted Sherman, the soldier, and he left Washington for Lan-caster and from there went to St. Louis and became president of a street railway company. He tried to settle down to business, but found it impossible. The very air was surcharged with war. Early in April he was offered the chief clerkship in the War Department at Washington with the certainty of soon becoming Assist-ant Secretary of War. In a sarcastic letter he declined to accept the position, and it was predicted that Sherman would join the sedition. A little later he was tempted by an offer of the Brigadier-Generalship and command of the Military Department of Missouri. Sherman replied that he had already offered his services to the nation, that his offer had been declined, and that he now had business affairs which required his attention. The attack on Sumter at last aroused the North. Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers for three months. "You might as well try to put out the flames of a burning house with a squirt gun," was Sherman's comment on this move. In May, Sherman yielded to the solicitations of his friends and accepted the Colonelcy of the Thirteenth Regular Infantry Regiment. He began active duty at Washington, June 20, 1861. A little later he was placed in command of five regiments, composing the third brigade of the first division of McDowell's army corps, though retaining the rank of Colonel. He took command of these troops at Fort Corcoran early in July. Under General Tyler the division moved to the front about the middle of the month, engaged in a skirmish at Centreville, July 18th, and three days later took part in the battle of Bull Run. Though Sherman had seen thirteen years of army life, this was his first experience at real war. The part he took in that memorable battle of July 21st, however, was such as to secure for him the rank of Brigadier-General of Volunteers. In the battle mentioned, Sher-man led his command into action early in the afternoon, and with such determination was the charge made that the enemy was driven back for a mile. Then the retreating troops made a stand, and so valiantly resisted that defeat was turned into victory. Some of the Federal regiments took to flight, and a precipitate retreat of the whole army began. Sherman's troops, in spite of his threats and exhortations, joined in the flight, and the retreat to Centreville was spoken of in Sherman's report as "disorderly in the extreme." Under General Tyler's orders the retreat was continued to the Potomac, and the forward movement, which had set out with an "On to Richmond" enthusiasm, found itself at noon on the next day after Bull Run back at Fort Corcoran. Here, according to Sherman's own report, he found a miscellaneous crowd crossing the aqueduct and ferries and "conceiving this to be demoralization," says the report, "I at once commanded the guard to be increased and all persons attempting to pass over to be stopped. This produced the effect desired. Men sought their proper companies and comparative order was restored." That Sherman's brigade was in the thick of the battle of Bull Run is evidenced by the fact that he lost iii killed, 205 wounded, and 293 missing. He now devoted himself to reorganization, as it was expected that the Rebels would follow up the advantage they had gained by pursuit and attack. In the ranks of the Northern troops much dissatisfaction prevailed, and incipient mutinies sprung up everywhere. When this sentiment made itself apparent in Sherman's ranks, he promptly and sternly suppressed it. One day Sherman, always a rigid disciplinarian, was approached by a mutinous captain of the Sixty-Ninth New York Regiment, who announced his intention of leaving his post of duty. Sherman quietly turned upon the man and in that determined tone, which was one of his characteristics, said : "If you attempt to leave with-out orders, I will shoot you like a dog." The mutinous captain did not dare leave, but a few days later, when President Lincoln visited the troops, he complained to the President of the threat made by Sherman. Lincoln seriously replied, "Well, if I were you and he threatened to shoot, I would be mighty careful, for Sherman looks like a man who would do just what he says." On August 24th his commission as Brigadier-General having been issued, Sherman received an order transferring him to the Army of the Cumberland, where he was given command of a brigade under General Robert Anderson. Sherman had aroused the disapprobation of McClellan by characterizing the battle of Bull Run as the best planned but worst fought battle of the campaign, and therefore was highly pleased at the transfer. Anderson established headquarters at Louisville, and began the work of organizing his army against the threatened invasion by two Rebel forces under Johnston and Crittenden, which were advancing from Tennessee. As senior Brigadier-General the active work fell to Sherman, and when Anderson resigned on October 8th, the command of the Army of the Cumberland fell to Sherman. Soon after this, a visit by Secretary of War Simon Cameron to Sher-man's headquarters set into circulation a rumor which for a time clouded Sherman's career with a cruel slander. Cameron asked Sherman how many troops he needed, and told him to speak frankly, assuring him that the interview was confidential. At this time McClellan had 100,000 men to operate on a line sixty miles long, and Fremont in Missouri had a similar number for a line 'co miles long. Sherman had but i8,000 men to hold a line 300 miles in length. Under these circumstances the reply of Sherman to the question of Cameron was, "6o,000 now and 200,000 before we are done." His demands were regarded as preposterous, and soon after, while the matter was being discussed in the War Office, the remark was made, "Sherman must be crazy, he wants 200,000 men in Kentucky." This was overheard by a correspondent, and appeared in one of the New York papers. The report spread, and was, as usual, exaggerated, until half the country firmly believed that the Army of the Cumberland was in command of an insane man.

But the "madman's" prophecy came true. Within six months there were 60,000 Union soldiers in Kentucky, and before the war closed there were 200,000. November 12th Sherman was relieved of his command and sent to St. Louis, where Fremont had been succeeded by Halleck. The latter placed Sherman in command of an instruction camp, but later, when Grant began the brilliant campaign against Forts Henry and Donelson, Sherman was dispatched to Paducah to gather troops from Ohio and Indiana for the purpose of reinforcing Grant. From this time forth sprang up a friendship between Grant and Sherman, which came to be of the most cordial nature. Each had the most unbounded admiration for the military genius of the other, and throughout the war, as Grant mounted step by step to the highest military command of the nation, Sherman followed, but one step behind, and when Grant became President, Sherman reached the eminence toward which his modest ambition had directed him, but which he would have scorned to dispute with Grant, for reasons of pure personal friendship. March 10, 1862, Sherman, in command of four brigades, which he had organized, was ordered to join General Smith, preliminary to the occupation of Pitts-burg Landing, where the battle of Shiloh was fought, Sunday, April 6th. This great struggle was the hardest in Sherman's career. He himself regarded the battle as the most severe of the war. Sherman held the most important point in that terrible conflict, and Grant's hope of success hung upon one thing, that he would be able to hold out against the enemy until nightfall, when Buell was due to arrive with reinforcements. For the victory at Shiloh General Grant has accorded to Sherman all the credit. Grant often related how, during the day, as he wavered between hope and despair, he rode up and down the lines calculating the chances of success, he was always cheered by the sight of Sherman's division, which held the key to the position. It always inspired him with renewed courage to exchange a few words with Sherman, who, he felt confident, would hold his position whatever might happen to the balance of the army. Although Sherman's ranks were composed to a large extent of raw recruits, who had never before been under fire, the daring and courage of their leader so inspired them that they fought like veterans and received the incessant showers of deadly fire without a murmur. Sherman was twice wounded during the battle, once through the hand and once in the shoulder. Another bullet passed through his hat, and several horses were shot under him. Yet he never faltered, and it is not difficult to realize how, with such a commander, the men who served under him became an army of victors. Sherman relates in his Memoirs of the inspiring effect the victory at Shiloh had upon him.. The newspapers, who had proclaimed him insane, now gave him credit for a military skill and daring that none had dreamed of. Yet after the repulse at Chickasaw Bayou the insanity story was once more revived. He could now, however, afford to laugh at it. He had gained the confidence and respect of his superiors, and the whole nation respected and applauded his prowess. Chickasaw was part of the early attempts of Grant upon Vicksburg, and although the defeat of Sherman on this occasion was a severe blow, it was succeeded by a most brilliant campaign, which fully retrieved what had been lost, and ended in the downfall of the Gibraltar of the Mississippi. In this campaign Sher-man played a most conspicuous and important part. Al-though he opposed the plan of Grant and tried to induce his chief to change it, he nevertheless entered upon his share with an energy and zealousness which was, in itself, half of the success achieved. During eighteen days of forced marching and almost continual fighting, and forty-nine days of siege, he never removed his clothes to sleep. Sherman led the advance in the final assault upon Vicksburg, and, following its fall, the battle of Chattanooga, in November, 1863, when Sherman's troops were joyfully greeted by the Army of the Cumberland as "Grant's Gophers," in allusion to the sapping and mining done by them at Vicksburg. Here Rosecrans was surrounded by the victorious foe, who occupied Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain. The history of the Civil War contains no more dazzling exploit than the assaults and captures of these great strongholds in which Sherman was, next to Grant, the central figure.- With-out having had a moment's rest after the arduous task at Chattanooga the commands of Sherman and Howard were dispatched to the relief of Burnside at Knoxville, and having encountered the enemy at Loudon and put him to flight, learned, to their relief, that Knoxville was safe, and returned through the miry roads to Chattanooga. In his report of the campaign Sherman says nothing of his own sufferings or the hardships that he was always willing to share with his troops, but speaks of them in the following language : "In reviewing the facts, I must do justice to my command for the patience, cheerfulness, and courage which the officers and men have displayed throughout, in battle, on the march, and in camp. For long periods, without regular rations or supplies of any kind, they have marched through and over rocks, sometimes barefooted, without a murmur, without a moment's rest. After a march of over 400 miles, without stop for three successive nights, we crossed the Tennessee, fought our part of the battle of Chattanooga, pursued the enemy out of Tennessee, and then turned more than 10o miles north, and compelled Longstreet to raise the siege of Knoxville, which gave so much anxiety to the whole country." In February of 1864, Sherman conducted the campaign across the State of Mississippi from east to west, which is known in history as the Meridian raid. With more than 25,000 troops he penetrated the enemy's country and foraged successfully for men and animals throughout the entire march. It was a shining example of what could be accomplished by an army without a base of supplies, and its success was so great that it suggested to Sherman another similar march on a larger scale. It was, in fact, a prelude to the great March to the Sea. Following the promotion of Grant to the command of all the Union forces, Sherman naturally succeeded to the leadership of the four armies of the Cumberland, the Tennessee, the Ohio, and the Trans-Mississippi. This great change, which marked the beginning of the end, took place March 4, 1864. An example of the true friendship that existed between Grant and Sherman, and the characteristic modesty of both, is shown by the correspondence between them at this time, when Grant attained the high position of Lieutenant-General. Instinctively he turned first to Sherman in his hour of triumph, and wrote : "Dear Sherman I want to express my thanks to you and McPherson, as the men to whom, above all others, I feel indebted for whatever I have had of success. How far your advice and assistance have been of help to me you know. How far your execution of whatever has been given you to do, entitles you to the reward I am receiving, you cannot know as well as I. I feel all the gratitude this letter would express, giving it the most flattering construction. The word 'you' I use in the plural, intending it for McPherson also. I should write to him, and will some day, but starting in the morning, I do not know that I will find time just now." The reply of Sherman to this letter was no less generous and modest. He refers to Grant as the legitimate successor of Washington, and says in part, "I believe you are as brave, patriotic, and just as the great prototype, Washington as unselfish, kindhearted, and honest as a man should be but the chief characteristic is the simple faith in success you have always manifested, which I can liken to nothing else than the faith a Christian has in the Savior. This faith gave you the victory at Shiloh and Vicksburg. Also when you have completed your best preparations, you go into battle without hesitation, as at Chattanooga-no doubts-no reserve; and I tell you, it was this that made us act with confidence. I knew that, wherever I was, that you thought of me, and if I got in a tight place you would help me out, if alive. My only point of doubt was in your knowledge of grand strategy, and of books of science and history; but, I confess, your common sense seems to have supplied all these." Sherman had now about 100,000 men after allowing for the garrisons, which he would have to supply. With this force he proposed to strike a deadly blow at the Confederacy. With deliberation and care he prepared for his campaign upon Atlanta. April 27th, his formidable force was assembled at Chattanooga, and the next day Sherman established his headquarters there. On May 6th the march to Atlanta began, and on the following day a large force of the enemy was met and routed at Dalton. From that moment battles formed a daily part of the march of 100 days. When Atlanta fell and Hood escaped from the grasp that was stretched out after him, and went into Alabama, Sherman disdained pursuing, but decided instead upon the most daring project of his career to strike for Richmond, and get in the rear of the army of Lee. To protect Nashville against a possible attack of Hood, he Sent Thomas with two corps, and then, after destroying his own communications, started from Atlanta to the sea with a force of 60,000 troops. The distance was 300 miles, through the country of the enemy. He was confident that he would be able to feed his army during this long march. If the country through which he had to pass should for some reason fail him, he had 12,000 horses and mules which would keep the troops from starvation. Sherman issued a set of orders for the march, which stand as a marvel for brevity and conciseness, and took in every possible contingency that might arise during the march. His correspondence with Grant in regard to his great project ended November 2d, when Grant simply telegraphed, "Go on then, as you proposed." On November 12th Sherman received a last message from Thomas at Nashville, and sent a reply. Then the wire of the last instrument was cut and a few moments later a burning bridge over which the telegraph wires were strung fell with a crash. Sherman was now absolutely and completely isolated from the North. The inhabitants had been ordered out of the city, and when the last train load had disappeared the rails were torn up for miles and the city was given to the torch. On March 27, 1865, the great march had come to an end, and Grant and Sherman met at City Point for a conference. Sherman had already received letters from Grant and Lincoln complimenting him in the most flattering terms for his success, and his arrival at City Point was marked by a salute from the guns of Porter's fleet. Later the generals met Lincoln on board the River Queen, and the final plans for the crushing of the Confederacy were laid. The Atlanta campaign followed by the March to the Sea, and the movement through the Carolinas practically gave the death blow to the Southern cause. When Lee surrendered to Grant he did so from dire necessity, for he had no place to turn with his army. Thus the credit for bringing the war to a close must stand divided between Grant and Sherman. But even in this great hour of victory, Sherman could not escape without the bitter flings which had been thrown at him from time to time. He was accused in connection with the surrender of Johnston in North Carolina, of every crime from stupidity to treason. Sherman's terms were simply that the soldiers return home and obey the laws, pledging them that they would not be molested so long as they did not take up arms. He also pledged that the States would be allowed to carry on their civil governments as previously. These terms Sherman knew to have coincided with Lincoln's sentiments, but Lincoln had been assassinated and President Johnson, who succeeded him, was full of bitterness against the South. After the close of the war and the great review in Washington, Sherman was placed at the head of the Military Division of the Mississippi, later called the Military Division of the Missouri, with headquarters at St. Louis. He had charge of protecting the construction of the Pacific Railroad, then being constructed west from the Missouri. When Grant became President, Sherman rose to the full rank of General of all the armies, and he fulfilled the duties of that high position in fact as well as name. He visited every military post i i the country, with two exceptions, and by telegraph directed the movements of troops in the far West from his headquarters at Washington. It was affirmed that no living man was so conversant with the topography, geography, and resources of every section of the United States as General Sherman. He was a great traveler, and spent his vacations among the mountains and deserts of the West on horseback in preference to watering resorts or the society of city life. In 1871 and 1872 he spent a year in foreign lands. In 1877 Sher-man spent 115 days visiting the Indian country and the Northwest. During this time he traveled nearly 10,000 miles. His description of this trip shows him to be a forceful and graphic writer, even more than his descriptions of battlefields. Sherman's home was blessed with eight children, and the first great misfortune in his domestic life was the death of his son, Willie, who died of typhoid fever at Memphis, October 3, 1863. He was with his father in the campaign of the Mississippi, and was a favorite with the troops, who made him an honorary sergeant of the Thirteenth. Mrs. Sherman died in New York, November 28, 1888, after a long illness. February 14, 1891, the famous warrior passed away. He had taken a cold some days previously, which fastened itself upon his lungs, and caused his rapid decline. Only a gentle sigh escaped the veteran's lips as his spirit took flight. An imposing military funeral was held in New York, and the remains were carried by special train, accompanied by a guard of honor, to St. Louis, which for many years had been the home of the General. At every station along the long journey bands of music played solemn dirges and crowds gathered to show their respect for the departed hero. Arrived at St. Louis, a funeral procession was formed, composed of the regular troops, State and municipal officers, and great numbers of friends of the deceased. He was buried beside the graves of his wife and two of his children. His son, Rev. Thomas E. Sherman, performed the last religious services over the flag-covered casket. A company of troops fired a fare-well salute of three volleys, followed by an answering roar from the artillery. Then a solitary bugler stepped forward and sounded taps over the grave of the distinguished soldier, and the solemn and impressive ceremonies came to an end. According to his own wish, the monument over his grave contains no inscription beyond his name, the dates of his birth and death and the simple epitaph, "True and Honest."

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