Leaders of the American Civil War: A Biographical and Historiographical Dictionary

By Charles F. Ritter; Jon L. Wakelyn | Go to book overview

WILLIAM TECUMSEH SHERMAN
(February 8, 1820–February 14, 1891)

John F. Marszalek

One of the Union Army’s most distinguished generals, William Tecumseh Sherman was associated with uncertainty from early in his childhood. Born on February 8, 1820, in Lancaster, Ohio, he was the sixth of eleven children in the family of Connecticut expatriates Charles and Mary Sherman. Charles was a lawyer and, beginning in 1813, a collector of internal revenue for the Third District of Ohio. In 1816, when the federal government began accepting for government obligations only specie or Bank of the United States notes, Sherman found himself with a pile of worthless paper and, despite heroic efforts, a huge debt. He could have declared bankruptcy but resolved, instead, to pay back all he owed. He went back to the practice of the law, in 1823 becoming a judge of the Ohio Supreme Court. In 1829, he collapsed suddenly of a fever, dying virtually penniless because of his internal revenue losses. His death left his widow no choice but to break up the family and parcel out the children to helpful friends and neighbors.

It was under these trying conditions that the nine-year-old Tecumseh Sherman, or Cump as he was known to friends and relatives, entered the home of successful Lancaster lawyer and politician Thomas Ewing. The Ewings lived just up the street from the Shermans, and the two couples had long been friendly, their children running in and out of each other’s homes. Still, the move produced a lifetime of uncertainty for Sherman. He never ceased considering himself an orphan and chronically worried that, like his father, he would die in debt and leave his family in poverty.

The Ewings accepted Cump as one of their own, adding the name William at the time of his baptism into the family’s Catholicism. He had a stable and enjoyable childhood, but he never overcame the trauma of his father’s death. He developed an ambivalence toward the ever more publicly influential Ewing. He admired him and his success, but it bothered him to depend on his benevolence. The economic contrast between Thomas Ewing and Charles Sherman

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