William Sherman, the son of a judge, was born in Lancaster, Ohio, on 8th February, 1820. He studied at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and after joining the United States Army he was sent to Florida fight in the Seminole War. He was then transferred to California where he had a series of administrative post.
Sherman resigned from the army in 1853 and joined a banking firm in San Francisco. This was unsuccessful and two of his old friends, Pierre T. Beauregard and Braxton Bragg, helped him to find work as a superintendent of a newly established military academy in Louisiana.
On the outbreak of the American Civil War Sherman immediately resigned and returned to St. Louis. With the help of his brother, Senator John Sherman, he obtained an appointment in the Union Army. Commissioned as a colonel under Major General Irvin McDowell. He was with him at the disastrous Bull Run. The Confederate troops led by Joseph E. Johnston, Thomas Stonewall Jackson, James Jeb Stuart, Jubal Early and Pierre T. Beauregard easily defeated the inexperienced Union Army.
Promoted to brigadier general he was sent as serve under General Robert Anderson in Kentucky. He succeeded Anderson on 8th October, 1861, but some of his comments led to the press describing him as insane. Sherman suffered a mental breakdown and was replaced by General Don Carlos Buell.
With the support of General Henry Halleck Sherman was sent to serve under Ulysses S. Grant. On 6th April, 1862, the Confederate Army attacked Grant's army at Shiloh. Taken by surprise, Grant's army suffered heavy losses until the arrival of General Don Carlos Buell and reinforcements. However, Sherman did well during the battle and as a result of this he was promoted to the rank of major general.
Sherman fought with Ulysses S. Grant at Vicksburg. After two failed assaults, Grant decided to starve General John Pemberton out. This strategy proved successful and on 4th July, Pemberton surrendered the city. The western Confederacy was now completely isolated from the eastern Confederacy and the Union Army had total control of the Mississippi River.
In March, 1864, Ulysses S. Grant was named lieutenant general and the commander of the Union Army. He now appointed Sherman as the commander of the Army of Tennessee. After assembling an army of 100,000, Sherman entered Georgia. Joseph E. Johnson and his army retreated and after some brief skirmishes the two sides fought at Resaca (14th May), Adairsvile (17th May), New Hope Church (25th May), Kennesaw Mountain (27th June) and Marietta (2nd July).
Sherman decided to deprive the South of its resources. He cut a swathe of destruction 60 miles wide and 40 miles wide. Sherman commented: "If the people of Georgia raise a howl against my barbarity and cruelty, I will answer that war is war, and not popularity-seeking." His forces moved fast covering 450 miles in 50 days.
President Jefferson Davis was unhappy about Johnson's withdrawal policy and on 17th July replaced him with the more aggressive John Hood. He immediately went on the attack and hit George H. Thomas and his men at Peachtree Creek. Hood was badly beaten and lost 2,500 men. Two days later he took on Sherman at Atlanta and lost another 8,000 men.
By the early weeks of 1865 the Union Army removed all resistance in the Shenandoah Valley. Sherman and his army moved north through South Carolina. On 17th February, Columbia, the capital of South Carolina, was taken. Columbia was virtually burnt to the ground and some people claimed the damage was done by Sherman's men and others said it was carried out by the retreating Confederate Army.
Sherman now headed towards central Virginia to unite with General George Meade and his Army of the Potomac east of Richmond and with General Benjamin Butler and his forces at Bermuda Hundred. Sherman concluded an armistice with General Joseph E. Johnston on 21st April. This upset Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War, when he realized that Sherman had signed an agreement that recognized existing Confederate state governments, guarantees of property rights, and a universal amnesty. There was nothing in the surrender document that confirmed the emancipation of the slaves or the rights of freemen.
George Boutwell, a Radical Republican, was so angry that he called for Sherman to be court-martialed. Even his brother, the Congressman, John Sherman, expressed dismay at what he had done. Eventually General Ulysses S. Grant had the job of telling Sherman that the agreement was unacceptable to the government. He later recalled how he "was hurt, outraged, and insulted at Mr. Stanton's public arraignment of my motives and actions".
Some military historians consider Sherman as the most outstanding Union Army commander in the American Civl War. He has been described as the first modern general because of his "total war" tactics in his march through Georgia in 1864. As he said at the time: "If the people of Georgia raise a howl against my barbarity and cruelty, I will answer that war is war, and not popularity-seeking."
In July, 1866, Sherman was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general and in 1873 he succeeded Ulysses S. Grant and commander in chief of the United States Army. He served in this position until his retirement fourteen years later. William Sherman died in New York City on 14th February, 1891.