William Tecumseh Sherman was born on February 8, 1820 in Lancaster, Ohio. Tragically, his father suffered an early death when William was young, leaving the family destitute. William's mother found herself unable to care for the family on her own and was forced to send William to live with a friend of his father, Thomas Ewing. While living with Mr. Ewing, William fell in love with his daughter, Ellen, and the two were married.
William later studied at West Point Military Academy, graduating in 1840 to become a soldier in the US Army. During the Mexican War, he was assigned to a post in San Francisco, California but saw little action. In 1853, he resigned from his military post to become a partner in a local bank.
In the latter part of the decade, William became the Superintendent of the Louisiana State Seminary and Military Academy in Alexandria, Louisiana. By this time, tensions between the Northern and Southern states were reaching a climax and talks of secession were taking place at the academy. Although he was living in the south, William retained his loyalty to the federal government and disliked the notion of secession. On January 18, 1861, he resigned from his position at the academy and moved back to Ohio soon after.
Sherman lived in his hometown of Lancaster, Ohio for only a month before moving his family to St. Louis, Missouri. There, he was appointed president of the local Fifth Street Railroad Company. Sherman, growing increasingly concerned about the clouds of war, wrote to the Secretary of War with an offer to serve the military again.
On June 20, 1861, Sherman was given the rank of Colonel and the command of a brigade in the Thirteenth Regular Infantry under Brigadier General Tyler. His brigade saw their first firefight at the battle of Bull Run and suffered heavy losses under artillery bombardment. After the battle, he sent a letter to Abraham Lincoln asking that he be relieved of command, but Lincoln promptly refused. In August, he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General and assigned to a post under Robert Anderson.
In October, 1861, he was given Anderson's position as commander of the Department of the Cumberland in Louisville, Kentucky. During his stay there, he had something of a nervous breakdown from all of the stress and was forced to take some time off. He was relieved of command by Don Carlos Buell and returned home to Lancaster, Ohio to recuperate.
After that fiasco, Sherman was transferred to Missouri to serve under Major General Halleck. The media in St. Louis continued to speculate that he was insane, causing him a great deal of grief. On February 13, 1862, Sherman was given command of troops at Paducah, Kentucky, relieving General Ulysses Grant. Grant was placed in command of a new army, the Army of the Tennessee, and Sherman was later given command of its fifth division.
Sherman's division saw its first conflict at the Battle of Shiloh in early 1862. Despite having mostly new recruits, the Union forces managed to fight back the Confederate troops. In July of 1862, Sherman was given command of the District of Memphis. Later that year, his forces failed to seize the city of Vicksburg, but with some help from Grant's forces managed to capture the stronghold in July of 1863.
In the fall of 1863, Sherman was given command of the Army of the Tennessee. He fought in several battles, including the Battle of Chattanooga, in which his forces attacked the Missionary Ridge. In early 1864, Sherman was made supreme commander of the military forces in the west and given orders to "create havoc and destruction of all resources that would be beneficial to the enemy."
With nearly 100,000 troops under his command, Sherman initiated the Atlanta Campaign. He led his forces southeast, facing resistance from Confederate forces under Joe Johnston. The Confederates put up a strong defense, but could not hold back the sheer number of Union soldiers advancing upon them and were forced to fall back.
Johnston's loss of ground forced Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, to replace him with John B. Hood. Hood turned out to be even less effective at fighting the advancing Northern Army and was pushed back all the way to Atlanta, Georgia, which was captured by Sherman's troops on September 1, 1864.
With the city under his control, Sherman ordered all civilians to leave the city such that he could make it into a military encampment. Once all civilians had left the city, Sherman's forces dug in and fought off retaliatory attacks by Hood. A frustrated Hood turned his forces North to destroy Sherman's supply line, but Sherman had a plan to put the final nail in the Confederates' coffin.
Sherman kept 60,000 troops in Atlanta and sent the remainder back to Nashville to serve under Major General Thomas. On November of 1864, he began his infamous March to the Sea, burning all buildings that could help the Confederacy on the way. Although he did not intend to raze the entire city of Atlanta, that was the eventual result as fires spread, turning the city into a charred wasteland.
Sherman continued his march to the east, continuing to burn buildings and fight pockets of resistance. On December 23, 1864, he seized the city of Savannah, Georgia and telegrammed President Lincoln, offering the city as a Christmas gift. After seizing Savannah, Sherman turned north, fighting his way through South and North Carolina.
Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union forces on April 9, 1865 and General Joe Johnston surrendered to Sherman on April 17th in Raleigh, North Carolina. With the war over, he continued to serve as Lieutenant General and was later given command of the entire U.S. Army.
During his time as commander in chief of the Army, Sherman established the Command School at Fort Leavenworth. He also fought numerous battles against hostile Indian tribes although he protested their inhumane treatment in reservations by the government. In 1875, he published his memoirs, which proved to be mildly popular.
In 1884, he retired from the military and moved to New York City. He was a frequent visitor to the theater and was often hired to speak at banquets. Although he was proposed as a Republican candidate in the election of 1884, he refused to run, stating "If nominated I will not run; if elected I will not serve." His style of candidacy rejection became known as a "Sherman Statement."
Sherman died in New York City on February 14, 1891 and a statue of him was erected in Central Park. His famous opponent General Joe Johnston served as a pallbearer at his funeral and Sherman was buried in St. Louis, Missouri.
Today, Sherman remains a controversial figure, particularly in the Southern United States. Many think that his scorched earth tactics were excessive and caused too much damage to the Southern economy. Others think the destruction was necessary to sap the spirit out of the Confederate Army.