Academic journal article Vitae Scholasticae

The Educational Administration of William Tecumseh Sherman: A Northern Military Officer's Tenure at a Southern University Prior to the American Civil War

Academic journal article Vitae Scholasticae

The Educational Administration of William Tecumseh Sherman: A Northern Military Officer's Tenure at a Southern University Prior to the American Civil War

Article excerpt

William Tecumseh Sherman, a Union General known for his "March to the Sea," led the life of a soldier, businessman, and educational administrator. Largely remembered and recognized for his Civil War conquests, Sherman employed stern military tactics during the war years (1861-1865) and coined the phrase "War is Hell." (1) He is less known, however, for his role as the first president or superintendent of the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning and Military Academy, now named the Louisiana State University and Agricultural & Mechanical College (LSU). Modern biographies of Sherman, such as James Lee McDonough's text, William Tecumseh Sherman: In Service of My Country, and Robert L. O'Connell's, Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman, focus on the famed military officer's lived experiences in the army undoubtedly due to his influential role in the Union victory over the Confederate cause. These same authors provide ample details regarding Sherman's family life, his government work after the war, and his mental difficulties associated with combat leadership. Despite this copious life exploration, Sherman's short-lived tenure as a college administrator is treated in passing, with only a few pages dedicated to events associated with higher education in Louisiana. (2) Even in his memoirs, Sherman briefly recounts his employment at the seminary. What does exist therein largely centers on the political climate of Louisiana prior to its secession in 1861 and not so much the experiences of Sherman or his students during that first eventful year of the institution's existence. (3)

As a significant historical figure, Sherman was one of the only Union officers to direct a southern military college immediately prior to the onset of the Civil War. Likewise, he is the only college president to vacate his leadership post to rejoin the Union armies and fight against the secessionist South. In the absence of biographical literature dedicated to Sherman's higher education administrative experience, this article details his life while at the Louisiana seminary prior to his appointment as a Union military general. It showcases how Sherman's personal military background, combined with curricular considerations of peer military institutions and interactions with southern citizens intertwined to influence the burgeoning academy. Indeed, this study links the narratives of both Sherman the educational administrator and the early seminary. These narratives illustrate crucial events that occurred before the institution opened; the implementation of military curricula modeled after other popular military colleges; and how Sherman played a part in the history of Louisiana higher education. Moreover, this study depicts southern social perceptions of a northern military officer presiding over Louisiana's newest, state-supported college in the pro-slavery, pro-secession South and details Sherman's thoughts on regional politics and slavery. In addition, the experiences of LSU's early faculty and students are described in relation to Sherman's leadership and disciplinary actions. Finally, long-lasting aspects of Sherman's influence on the seminary are provided to better illuminate how this northern officer helped shape the seminary's trajectory to become a well-known university in the American South.

Before working as an academic administrator, Major Sherman (he was promoted to the rank of colonel in 1861, brigadier general later that year, major general in 1862, lieutenant general in 1866, and, finally commanding general of the U.S. Army in 1869 (4)) engaged in military assignments and business negotiations. Afterwards, as the head of an institution of higher education, he demonstrated his leadership abilities by opening and effectively managing the fledgling academy accompanied by an able set of professors and a dedicated governing board. Local citizens acknowledged him for developing a rigorous military curriculum and ensuring that the sons of Louisianans received a practical, highly-disciplined education. …

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