William Tecumseh Sherman

In 1835, the Second Seminole Indian War began in Florida and lasted for seven years. A young 2nd lieutenant just one year out of West Point was assigned to a post at Fort Pierce, Florida, and later was transferred to Fort Dallas at the mouth of the Miami River and Biscayne Bay. Some of the old Fort Dallas buildings have been removed and are now in Fort Dallas Park on N.W. 3rd Street and Miami River.
This young lieutenant later became a famous—or infamous—general, depending on what part of the country you came from. He also disliked war and made some remarks to the effect that war was the handiwork of the devil. Can you name this man? William Tecumseh Sherman. What was his most spectacular feat as a general? His march from Atlanta to the sea.
Sherman was born in Lancaster, Ohio, and after graduation from West Point, he served in Florida and later in the war with Mexico. After twelve years in the army, he resigned and tried his hand at practicing law in Kansas but soon gave that up. He then accepted a position as superintendent of a military academy in Louisiana.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, he returned to the army and commanded a brigade at the first battle of Bull Run where the Union forces were badly beaten. We next find Gen. Sherman at the battle of Shiloh, where he gained a promotion to major general from General Grant. He served under Grant in the Vicksburg campaign that opened up the Mississippi to Union transportation and split the Confederacy in two.
When Grant was summoned to Washington by President Lincoln and appointed Commander-in-Chief, Sherman was appointed Commander of the Union armies in the West. The Union armies under Grant began a two-pronged attack on the South. The Army of the Potomac moved against Richmond, Virginia, capital of the Confederacy. Sherman’s forces moved against Atlanta, Georgia. Sherman and his army left Chattanooga, Tennessee, and headed for Atlanta, but a Confederate army commanded by one of the ablest generals of the Confederacy, Joseph E. Johnston stood between Sherman’s army and Atlanta.
General Sherman, in a brilliant campaign lasting four months, finally pushed the Confederate army aside and captured Atlanta and burned the city. It was here that Sherman decided to march to the sea. The target was Savannah over 300 miles away through enemy territory. This decision meant that his army of 68,000 men would have to live off the land since their supply base remained at Chattanooga. Sherman, who was called by his soldiers “Uncle Billy,” said “let’s go,” and the great march to the sea began through the heart of Georgia.
The army marched in columns on parallel roads covering an area sixty miles wide. Public buildings, railroads, bridges, factories, homes, farm buildings, and crops were destroyed. Food supplies that were not used to feed the army were destroyed. The march lasted three months and twenty-one days and left behind nothing but dust, desolation, and ashes. One hundred million dollars worth of property was destroyed.
The army arrived at Savannah on December 21, 1864, and occupied the city without opposition. Gen. Sherman wired President Lincoln that he was presenting him a Christmas present—the city of Savannah and 38,000 bales of cotton. Turning toward the north, Sherman marched his army into South Carolina and soon captured the city of Columbia, the capital of the state. As a boy I lived in Columbia and heard many stories about the burning of that city. I remember one legend in particular about the burning of a church. It seems that the convention that voted to secede from the Union was held in the Baptist church in Columbia, and when Sherman’s army occupied the town, soldiers went to that church to burn it. The custodian met them at the door and when they asked him if this was the church where the secession convention was held, he told them no, that it was the church around the corner. So the soldiers went around the corner and burned down the Methodist church.
Leaving Columbia, the army marched north through my hometown of Cheraw, South Carolina. Just south of the town my grandfather had a plantation with farm buildings filled with bales of cotton. All of the farm buildings were burned to the ground. His livestock were driven off and all food the soldiers could find was confiscated. The army then moved on into North Carolina.
Sherman has been the most hated and reviled general of all time by the people of the South, but he has been considered by some historians to be the first modern general—a soldier who believed in total war. Sherman said, “We are not only fighting hostile armies, but a hostile people, and we must make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war.” This he did, and most southerners thought he was unnecessarily cruel and hard. Many referred to him as “the brute.”
After the war, he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the army by President Grant, and when some politicians approached him in later years about running for President, he made that famous reply, “If I am nominated I won’t run and if I am elected I won’t serve.”
After the war, one Confederate general was asked about Sherman. His reply: “General Sherman was a good general, but he sure was careless with his matches.”

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