William Tecumseh Sherman, 1820–91, Union general in the American Civil War, b. Lancaster, Ohio. Sherman is said by many to be the greatest of the Civil War generals.
After the death of his father (1829) Sherman lived as a member of the family of Thomas Ewing. In 1850 he married Ewing's daughter Eleanor Boyle Ewing, well known for her many philanthropic activities. After graduating (1840) from West Point, he spent several years at various Southern garrisons, served in the Mexican War, and was later stationed at St. Louis and at New Orleans. Resigning from the army in 1853, he was a banker in San Francisco and New York (1853–57) and a lawyer in Leavenworth, Kans. (1858–59), before he became superintendent of the state military academy at Alexandria, La. (now Louisiana State Univ. at Baton Rouge).
Civil War Career
When Louisiana seceded Sherman resigned from the military academy (Jan., 1861), and in May he rejoined the U.S. army as a colonel. Sherman commanded a brigade in the first battle of Bull Run (July) and in August was made a brigadier general of volunteers and sent to Kentucky. There he succeeded Robert Anderson in command of the Dept. of the Cumberland (Oct.), but in November he was transferred to the Dept. of the Missouri.
Sherman distinguished himself as a division commander at Shiloh (Apr., 1862) and was promoted to major general in May. He took part in the operations about Corinth, occupied Memphis (July), and commanded the Dist. of Memphis (Oct.–Dec., 1862). After his defeat at Chickasaw Bluffs in the first advance of the Vicksburg campaign, he served under John A. McClernand in the capture of Arkansas Post (Jan., 1863). In the successful move on Vicksburg, Sherman ably led the 15th Corps. In July he was made a brigadier general in the regular army.
When Ulysses S. Grant assumed supreme command in the West, Sherman became commander of the Army of the Tennessee (Oct., 1863). He commanded the Union left at Missionary Ridge in the Chattanooga campaign (Nov.), went to the relief of Ambrose E. Burnside at Knoxville (Dec.), and destroyed Confederate communications and supplies at Meridian, Miss., in Feb., 1864.
When Grant became commander in chief, Sherman succeeded him as supreme commander in the West (March). His Atlanta campaign (May–Sept., 1864) resulted in the fall of that city on Sept. 2. The Confederate attempt to draw him back failed, and Sherman burned (Nov. 15) most of Atlanta and the next day, with 60,000 men, began his famous march to the sea. With virtually no enemy to bar his way, he was before Savannah in 24 days, leaving behind him a ruined and devastated land. Savannah fell on Dec. 21.
In Feb., 1865, Sherman started northward to close in on Robert E. Lee from the rear. Every step now reduced the area upon which the Confederates in Virginia could depend for aid. His advance through South Carolina (the state that in the eyes of Sherman's men had provoked the war) was slower but even more destructive than the march through Georgia.
In North Carolina, Joseph E. Johnston opposed Sherman in engagements at Averasboro and Bentonville, but after hearing of Lee's surrender, he asked for terms. Sherman, understanding the South and the devastation it had suffered better than any other Union general, offered him generous terms, but Secretary of War Stanton repudiated them. Johnston then surrendered (Apr. 26, 1865) the last major Confederate army on the same terms as Lee.
Sherman saw more clearly than any other Civil War general that modern warfare was completely unlike its 18th-century counterpart. In fact, he is sometimes credited with reinventing war, stressing the destruction of the infrastructure necessary to support an enemy army more than the killing of its soldiers, and establishing rules of conflict that are still in effect today. Since the Civil War was a war between free peoples, Sherman maintained that only by breaking the war spirit of the enemy, noncombatant as well as combatant, could victory be won—hence the march through Georgia and South Carolina. His famous statement that
"war … is all hell"
epitomizes his sentiments.
Sherman was promoted to lieutenant general in 1866 and to general in 1869, when he succeeded Grant as commander of the U.S. army. He retired in 1884. He resisted all efforts to draw him into politics, vetoing Republican attempts to make him a presidential candidate in 1884 with the words:
"If nominated I will not accept; if elected I will not serve."
See his memoirs (1875; ed. with foreword by B. H. Liddell Hart, 1957), The Sherman Letters (correspondence with his brother John Sherman, ed. by R. S. Thorndike, 1894), and Home Letters of General Sherman (ed. by M. A. DeWolfe Howe, 1909); biographies by B. H. Liddell Hart (1929, repr. 1960), L. Lewis (1932; with appraisal by B. Catton, 1958), R. G. Athearn (1956), J. M. Merrill (1971), J. Marszalek (1993), M. Fellman (1995), S. P. Hirshson (1997), and L. Kennett (2001); A. McAllister, Ellen Ewing, Wife of General Sherman (1936); T. H. Williams, McClellan, Sherman, and Grant (1962); J. B. Walters, Merchant of Terror (1973); J. F. Marszalek, Sherman's Other Wars: The General and the Civil War Press (1981); M. B. Lucas, Sherman and the Burning of Columbia (1988, repr. 2000); L. Kennett, Marching through Georgia (1995); C. B. Flood, Grant and Sherman: The Friendship That Won the Civil War (2006); N. A. Trudeau, Southern Storm: Sherman's March to the Sea (2008).