Today on Twitter, the hashtag #50factsaboutme is a popular one. One of my newer projects still in development, which I call “Sherman Kitty,” will be geared towards children yet also will be entertaining for adults. I thought that it would be fun to list 50 facts about Sherman through the @GenShermanKitty Twitter account. And, since it’s relevant to the Civil War, I thought I would post them here as well.
William Tecumseh Sherman is a very unique individual with a lot of different complexities. He has been simplified in history books; he helped General Ulysses S. Grant win victory in the North, and is a villain in the South. Some of the things said about him include: He burned Atlanta to the ground; he raided homes & stole everything from the Southerners they came across; he was crazy. He is also called “The Father of Total War.”
As it turns out, it’s not that simple. And while you may disagree with some of his tactics & beliefs, I have personally found him to be so wonderfully complex & intelligent that he has become one of my favorite people in history to talk – and learn more – about. So here are 50 facts about Sherman:
1. He was born in Lancaster, Ohio, the 6th of 11 children.
2. His father, Charles, served on the Ohio Supreme Court until his unexpected death in 1829; Sherman was just 9 years old.
3. Original birth name was Tecumseh Sherman. His father had a great respect for the Shawnee Chief, who actually fought against the Americans with the British in the War of 1812, and died in battle in 1813. But he had earned a great reputation from both sides, for his “courage, fortitude, ambition, generosity, humanity, eloquence, military skill, leadership…above all, patriotism and a love of liberty.” As for Sherman, his nickname throughout his life was “Cump.”
4. His mom, Mary Hoyt Sherman, couldn’t support the 11 children. A close family friend, Thomas Ewing, took Cump into his home just a few doors over from Cump’s family home. Ewing, at the time, was a leading member of the Ohio Bar Association.
5. The reason Cump was chosen was because Ewing wanted the “smartest boy.” After some discussion between Mary & her oldest female child, Mary Elizabeth, it was decided that “Cump” was the best choice. At the time the decision was made, Cump was playing in a nearby sandbox.
6. W.T. Sherman was baptized & given the Christian name “William” by Ewing’s very religious wife Maria. She was shocked that the boy had not been baptized and remedied it immediately after he became a part of their family. She also felt “Tecumseh” was not an appropriate name, hence how he earned “William” as his new first name. Those that were close to him, however, would forever call him “Cump.”
7. He was appointed to West Point at age 16 by his unofficial adopted father, Ewing, who at this point is a U.S. Senator for the state of Ohio.
8. At West Point, William excelled academically, but could have cared less about their demerit system. He would write in his memoirs that “At the Academy I was not considered a good soldier, for at no time was I selected for any office, but remained a private throughout the whole four years. Then, as now, neatness in dress and form, with a strict conformity to the rules, were the qualifications required for office, and I suppose I was found not to excel in any of these. In studies I always held a respectable reputation with the professors, and generally ranked among the best, especially in drawing, chemistry, mathematics, and natural philosophy. My average demerits, per annum, were about one hundred and fifty.” Fellow cadet, Ohioan (& later fellow Civil War General) William Rosecrans would say that Sherman was “one of the brightest and most popular fellows” and “a bright-eyed, red-headed fellow, who was always prepared for a lark of any kind.”
9. He spent 4 years at West Point & graduated in 1840, 6th out of a class of 40. Sherman also would state in his memoirs that his demerits cost him his ranking; without them, he would have placed 4th.
10. After West Point, he was assigned to the 3rd U.S. Artillery & stationed in Florida. There, he fought in the 2nd Seminole War, which was against the Seminole Tribe. He served well but nothing happened that propelled him to a larger role or fame.
11. While many of Sherman’s fellow military generals during the Civil War received great experience while fighting in the Mexican-American War, Sherman was instead stationed in California at the time. He greatly disliked being stationed so far away from the action, but performed his duties well.
12. Sherman fell in love with one of the Ewing daughters, Ellen. He was 23, and she was 19, when he took a four month leave of absence so he could spend time with her & officially propose. They became engaged Fall 1843.
13. William & Ellen had to wait years before they could marry. Sherman’s unofficial foster father, Thomas Ewing, had gotten him in at West Point. However, he had hoped Sherman could join the Corp of Engineers. Since Sherman was not able to do so, Thomas opposed his daughter becoming a “soldier’s wife.” He was very close to Ellen, and Ellen was very attached to her parents. She did not want to travel with Sherman around the country, going wherever he was stationed, though she did love him. But given that he was sent to California, it further delayed a marriage. Ellen would live in Washington City (DC) at the time, where her father continued to have roles in politics.
14. It wasn’t until May 1, 1850 that William & Ellen married. Sherman had just received a promotion to Captain, and that seemed to satisfy Thomas enough to allow the marriage.
15. They married in Washington at the Ewing’s home – the Blair House – which was across the street from the White House. It was a highly social affair. At the time, Thomas was serving President Zachary Taylor as Secretary of the Interior. Not only did the President attend the wedding & reception, but it also included Senators Daniel Webster & Henry Clay.
16. After the wedding, Sherman served as Captain of the Subsistence Departments in St. Louis, Missouri & New Orleans, Louisiana. He resigned in 1853. During that time they had their first of eight children, Maria & Mary.
17. He had spent 13 years in the military, serving with honor but no real distinction. He had seen very little combat, unlike many of his former West Point classmates. Having a family to support, he turned to business.
18. A friend, Major Henry Turner, offers Sherman a job in San Francisco, California, where he would be responsible for opening a branch bank of Lucas & Symonds. He accepts the position.
19. While Sherman does a good job of running the bank in San Francisco & earns a reputation of being very honest, a severe economic downturn will force the bank to close in 1857.
20. Sherman heads to Leavenworth, Kansas, where he joins with brother-in-laws Thomas & Hugh Ewing. He attempts to become a lawyer.
21. Sherman spends less than two years trying to make a go of law, but is no good at it. He is offered a Superintendent position at the Louisiana Military Academy in 1859, which he accepts.
22. Sherman is not anti-slavery & sympathizes with the South. However, he is very against the idea of secession. He explains to a friend of his, a professor in Virginia, what he predicts would become of the South if they are to secede:
“You people of the South don’t know what you are doing. This country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end. It is all folly, madness, a crime against civilization! You people speak so lightly of war; you don’t know what you’re talking about. War is a terrible thing! You mistake, too, the people of the North. They are a peaceable people but an earnest people, and they will fight, too. They are not going to let this country be destroyed without a mighty effort to save it… Besides, where are your men and appliances of war to contend against them? The North can make a steam engine, locomotive, or railway car; hardly a yard of cloth or pair of shoes can you make. You are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical, and determined people on Earth—right at your doors. You are bound to fail. Only in your spirit and determination are you prepared for war. In all else you are totally unprepared, with a bad cause to start with. At first you will make headway, but as your limited resources begin to fail, shut out from the markets of Europe as you will be, your cause will begin to wane. If your people will but stop and think, they must see in the end that you will surely fail.”
23. Sherman is in Louisiana when it secedes from the Union in January 1861. He can see that the Southern people are very serious & willing to go to war. It’s a perspective many in the North will not fully understand for months to come.
24. William resigns his post in Louisiana, much to his displeasure. He enjoyed the people & the students there, but could not support an institution that would supply troops against the United States government. He would head to Washington City at the request of his brother John, now a U.S. Senator from Ohio.
25. John arranges a time for his brother to meet with newly elected President Lincoln. At this time John is hoping his brother will make a push to become a high ranking officer in the military effort that is likely to come together to bring the Southern rebellion to an end.
26. William meets with President Lincoln at the White House shortly after he has been sworn into office in March 1861. At first, the President wraps up a meeting with a few of his department heads. William’s brother John introduces him, saying “Mr. President, this is my brother, Colonel Sherman, who is just up from Louisiana, he may give you some information you want.” “Ah!” said the President, “How are they getting along down there?”
William is shocked, and abruptly answers “They think they are getting along swimmingly. They are preparing for war.”
“Oh well, I guess we’ll manage to keep house” responds the President.
William found himself with nothing to say. His brother & the President exchanged a few quick words, and then the two Sherman brothers leave. Sherman would write in his memoirs that he was sadly disappointed, and that he broke out in anger to John, “damning the politicians generally, saying ‘You have got things in a hell of a fix, and you may get them out as best you can.‘”
27. William feels there is no use for him in Washington after his brief discussion with President Lincoln. He heads to St. Louis to take a position as President of a streetcar company. He signs a contract stating it is a position he will hold for one year.
28. On April 6, 1861, Sherman was offered the Chief clerkship of the War Department with a promise to be made Assistant Secretary of War when Congress came back into session. Sherman declined, wishing the “Administration all success in its almost impossible task of governing this distracted and anarchical people.”
29. Cump witnesses the St. Louis riot on May 10, 1861, along with his son William (Willy), between the U.S. militia and Confederate supporters backed by the Missouri governor Claiborne Jackson. He will write an account to his brother John.
30. Sherman will correspond with his now father-in-law, Thomas Ewing, who is still in Washington. Ewing asks what Sherman wants; Sherman says he will come back if made Colonel in the U.S. Regular Army (not the volunteer army that President Lincoln had formed to combat the Southern rebellion).
31. Thomas Ewing will meet with U.S. General Winfield Scott & other political allies to get Sherman what he has requested. Eventually Ewing has a one-on-one meeting with President Lincoln. It results in William being made Colonel in the U.S. Army. He resigns his President position in St. Louis with the streetcar company. He hates backing out of obligations, but at this point Missouri is still up for grabs as to whether it will be kept under U.S. control or if it will officially become a part of the Confederate States of America.
32. Sherman writes to his brother John on June 3, 1861: “I still think it is to be a long war – very long – much longer than any Politician thinks.” This is important & unique, as most people – on both sides – were saying it was going to be a “90 day war.”
33. Colonel William T. Sherman led his men at the Battle of Manassas on July 21, 1861. It was considered the first major battle of what would be called the Civil War. The Union originally had the advantage, but the Confederates rallied and were claimed the victors. It was a startling realization to both sides; the North realized that the South had the energy & enthusiasm needed to make this beyond just a “one battle & done” scenario. At the same time, the South realized that even though many of the Union men were from a more “industrialized” part of the country, they still put up enough of a fight where a total victory of independence wasn’t going to be easy. This would be no 90-day war.
34. William was promoted to Brigadier General, back dated to May 17, 1861, after his actions at Manassas were thought to be impressive. Sherman was much harder on himself & didn’t think he had been any good. He was sent to Kentucky to serve under General Robert Anderson, who was there overseeing the Department of the Cumberland.
35. U.S. General Robert Anderson had been the hero of Fort Sumter. However, he was older in years, and the organization of troops & defenses within the Department of the Cumberland territory was too much for him. Shortly after Sherman arrives, Anderson steps down & Sherman is put in command. Sherman is upset. He had asked several months before to never be the one in charge; he always wanted someone over him. This move, he felt, went against that promise made to him by President Lincoln.
36. Sherman begins to request hundreds of thousands of troops to defend the region, which the U.S. cannot supply. Though the Confederate threat is strong, he makes it out to be much worse than it really is. Newspapers begin to report that Sherman is crazy. There is a history of insanity on his mom’s side, which further propels gossip. A local Cincinnati newspaper called the Cincinnati Commercial calls him “insane.”
37. Secretary of War Simon Cameron visits Sherman in October 1861. At that time he does not believe Sherman is fit to oversee that command. Instead of being completely relieved of duty, General Henry Halleck who is stationed in St. Louis has Sherman transferred under him. However, by December 1861 Halleck puts Sherman on leave, feeling he is unfit for duty at that time.
38. Sherman returns to his boyhood home of Lancaster, Ohio. His wife & children are there with him. He is severely depressed & without a command. He feels like a failure & contemplates suicide.
39. William’s wife Ellen writes his brother John & also President Lincoln in an effort to help her husband. She asks for their help in restoring him to command. She also asks John to reach out to William & help him through what was likely a nervous breakdown, though it was never officially classified as such.
40. William is restored to duty by mid-December under Halleck in St. Louis. The army is restructured & he now falls under the Department of the Missouri. He starts with receiving admin duties, as well as “rear-duties” that keep him & any men he commands at the back instead of the front of the lines.
41. In February 1862, while U.S. Grant makes a push to take Fort Henry & Fort Donelson in Tennessee, it’s Sherman who is back helping him with troops, supplies, etc. Every time troops arrive, they come to Grant with a message of support from Sherman. Even though Sherman is higher in rank (and older), he tells Grant he will help in any way he can, and if needed he can help out on the field & will gladly follow his orders & surrender his authority. Sherman technically didn’t have the right to make such an offer, but Grant was still very impressed by it. Grant, up until this point, had dealt with so many people fighting for the command spotlight that he thought it was very noble. He had never met Sherman, but he liked the man. One of Sherman’s messages: “Command me in any way.” The interaction was a start of a friendship & bond that would last throughout the Civil War & beyond (though not without a few misunderstandings along the way).
42. Sherman joins Grant in the field & once again is put in command of men, though it’s under Grant’s leadership. Sherman’s first major assignment is at Shiloh, Tennessee. While waiting for reinforcements & Grant to arrive – where the plan is to then head to Corinth, Mississippi, a key railroad depot for the South – Sherman & his men are taken by surprise by Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston, who attacks them at camp while many men are asleep or just making breakfast. Sherman had been receiving reports of Confederates in the area for days, but he dismissed them as he thought they were just patrols or scouts. The incident in Kentucky a few months prior where he thought the threat was worse than it was likely made him more cautious. Unfortunately it left the Union army completely unprepared.
43. Though Sherman is caught of guard, his men put up a fight. Though the Confederates almost entirely take their camps on the first day of battle, that night Grant arrives. Sherman, who has been shot in the hand & had three horses shot from under him that day, goes to find Grant to tell him they need to retreat. He finds Grant under a tree by the river. It’s pouring rain, cold, but there sits Grant against the tree, with his army brimmed hat pulled down slightly to shield his face, smoking a cigar. Instead of giving him the recommendation he had prepared in his mind, Sherman instead says “Well, Grant, we’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we?” Grant takes a puff of his cigar and responds “Yup. Lick ’em tomorrow though.” Sherman decides against saying anything about a retreat. The next day U.S. troop reinforcements that arrive in the night help push the Confederates back to where they started, and by the end of the day the victory is the Union’s. One thing that also helped the Union was that the key Confederate commander who had planned the attack, C.S.A. General Albert Sidney Johnston, was shot in the leg the first afternoon of battle. He had an injury from the Mexican-American War that left him with no feeling in that leg, so he didn’t realize he was shot until blood was later pouring out of his boot & his officers found him reeling on his horse. He died, leaving C.S.A. General P.G.T. Beauregard in charge. Beauregard had won the Battle of Fort Sumter the previous year, but he did not win on that day as he had not been involved in Johnston’s plans. The end of the second day, the Confederates retreated from the field.
43. Shiloh was a bloodbath. Up until that point, casualties had not been as horrific as what they were these two days of battle. While the Union celebrated victory, they were shocked when the numbers came in to see what the price of that victory had cost them: 13,000 Union & 10,600 Confederate casualties (dead, wounded, missing). It was called “Bloody Shiloh.” But much of the criticism fell on Grant, not Sherman. Sherman was promoted to Major General of Volunteers as of May 1, 1862.
44. Questions arose as to why Grant was not on the field that first day at Shiloh, and accusations started that Grant was a drunk & that is why he was unprepared. General Halleck started to take over Grant’s men, essentially leaving him without a command. One day in May 1862, Sherman came across Grant at his tent & noticed his stuff packed. Grant said he was going home on leave, but Sherman could tell that Grant wasn’t planning on coming back. Sherman begged him to stay, telling him to at least not make a decision until saying goodbye to him. Sherman told Grant that “Before the battle of Shiloh, I was cast down by a mere newspaper assertion of ‘crazy’, but that single battle gave me new life, and I’m now in high feather.” He told Grant that, if he remained in the army, “some happy accident might restore you to favor and your true place.” Sherman’s words worked: Grant stayed in the Army. His words were also correct, as Halleck was sent to Washington in July 1862 & Grant was given his old command back.
45. In mid-1862, Sherman was made military governor of the now-Union occupied Memphis, Tennessee.
46. From Memphis, Sherman assisted Grant in taking Vickburg, Mississippi. On several occasions Sherman led his men down to Vicksburg, often having to abort plans; the city was practically a fortress with water almost completely surrounding it. However, to have Vicksburg meant that the Union would once again have full control of the Mississippi River. It also would cut the Confederacy in two. Vicksburg finally fell on July 4, 1863. Out East, the Union was celebrating at the same time their victory at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
47. When Grant is promoted to General of all Union forces & is moved East to fight C.S.A. General Robert E. Lee & his Army of Virginia, Sherman is given command of forces in the West. This was a far cry from the individual who never wanted to be in charge & always wanted a superior right above him. Though Grant was still his superior, it was still William’s responsibility for troop movements, battles, etc.
48. Sherman & Grant would meet at the Burnet House in Cincinnati, Ohio, just blocks from the Ohio River. It was also within a mile of where Grant’s parents lived in Covington, Kentucky, and not too far from where Sherman was stationed in 1861 when he came to Kentucky. It was there that they planned strategy for how they would win the war for the Union. Grant would take Lee; Sherman would take C.S.A. General Joseph E. Johnston.
49. Sherman would send a telegram to the White House on September 22, 1864, stating “Atlanta is ours & fairly won.” He would order his men to burn factories, military & government buildings, though some homes & stores were also burned. While many say that Sherman burned Atlanta to the ground, in reality about 30% of the city was burned.
50. He had to work hard to convince President Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton & even Grant himself that his next move should be a “March to the Sea.” He told Grant he could “make Georgia howl.” His plan was reluctantly approved. He would be out of communication range from November 15 through December 21, 1864. Sherman & his 62,000 troops basically made two columns/paths and lived off the land during their march. Sherman’s orders were to only take what they needed to survive. While they had a few skirmishes along the way, for the most part there was no fight from the Confederacy, as most of the troops were kept with Lee in Virginia or with General John Bell Hood in Tennessee.
So those bring us to 50. Think we are through? Well, we are for today. But stay tuned for Part 2 in the near future!
If you are ever in the Lancaster, Ohio area, the Sherman House is a great place to visit to learn more!