Choose another Topic

Return to People Introduction

Return to Georgia Military Leaders

Sherman, William T.


Although he was a native of Ohio, the name of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman remains inextricably linked with Georgia. Born Feb. 8, 1820 in Lancaster, Ohio, he graduated from West Point as a second lieutenant in 1840. His first tour of duty was in Florida in a campaign against the Seminole Indians. In 1844, Sherman was stationed for six weeks in Marietta, Ga. (see This Day in Georgia History, Feb. 17, 1844). He later served an aide to a commanding general during the Mexican War. After three years of administrative duty in Washington D.C., Sherman resigned his commission and became a partner in a failed banking venture. In 1859, he accepted a position as superintendent of a new military academy in Baton Rouge (which later became Louisiana State University), but after Louisiana seceded in 1861, he resigned and offered his services to the U.S. Army. He was commissioned as an infantry colonel. His first action was in Battle of First Manassas (Bull Run) in July 1861. In July 1863, Sherman was promoted to brigadier general and named commander of the Army of the Tennessee. In this capacity, he contributed to the Union victory at the Battle of Chattanooga. On Nov. 26, 1863, as Confederate forces retreated into Georgia, Sherman was one of several commanders to briefly lead their corps across the Tennessee state line into Georgia in pursuit of the Confederates. His more noted foray, however, came on May 5, 1864, when he marched his army of close to 100,000 men into Georgia. With a force roughly half that size, Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston did what he could to slow Sherman’s advance. For three months the Confederate army tactfully engaged and retreated before Sherman’s far superior numbers, until Johnston was replaced July 17 by Gen. John Bell Hood. Within six weeks, Confederate casualties had doubled, and on Sept. 1 Sherman occupied Atlanta. Intending to burn only buildings used for military purposes, his army set fires that raged out of control and destroyed much of the city. Sherman then launched his March to the Sea, with 60,000 of his most seasoned soldiers foraging off the land and cutting a swath of destruction through the heart of Georgia. On December 23, Sherman’s forces occupied Savannah. After giving his army a rest, Sherman then proceeded on a path of destruction through South and North Carolina. Three weeks after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Gen. Joseph Johnston—who was in command of all Confederate forces in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida—gave his formal surrender to Sherman at Durham Station, N.C. on April 26, 1865. Though foes in battle, the Union and Confederate generals had earned each other’s respect—so much so that Johnston would later serve as a pallbearer at Sherman’s funeral.

After the war, Sherman served as commander of the U.S. Army’s Division of the Mississippi. In this role, he helped in the building of the transcontinental railroad by protecting the workers and trying to maintain peace with the Indians along the railroad’s path. Under Pres. Grant, Sherman was named commanding general of the Army (1869-1883). After his retirement, Republicans tried to persuade him to run for President, but he repeatedly declined, noting, “If nominated I will not run. If elected I will not serve.” Sherman spent his final years in New York City, where he died on Feb. 14, 1891.