Sherman's admirers rate him perhaps the outstanding Federal commander of the Civil War. His masterly marches of 1864-65 carried Union forces a thousand miles, from Chattanooga through Georgia and the Carolinas to the southern reaches of Lee's Virginiacampaigns of maneuver that doomed the main Confederate army around Richmond and hastened the collapse of the rebellion.
The son of a jurist, prominent in his home state, he was orphaned at the age of nine and raised by a well-to-do friend of his parents', Thomas Ewing. He received his early education at a local academy, entered West Point in 1836, and graduated four years later, a solid sixth in his class.
Entering the army as an artillery second lieutenant, Sherman saw service in Florida and in California during the Mexican War. Garrison and survey duty in South Carolina and Georgia provided unwitting preparation for his later career, when his troops would credit him with a virtually encyclopedic knowledge of every road, path and byway in the two rebel states.
For the most part, though army life dull and unchallenging. Bored and frustrated by the slow pace of promotion, he resigned in 1853 to become a banker. Like many soldiers of his era, he knew little success in Civil life. He failed at banking, then turned to the law. He lost his only case.
Sherman returned to the cloistered life in 1859 as superintendent of the Louisiana Military Academy. From this vantage, he witnessed the rise of the secession movement from up close, and agonized over the breakup of the Union. When it came finally, he turned down the offer of a Confederate commission and in May 1861 accepted the colonelcy of the 13th U.S. Infantry, a regular unit.
Sherman commanded a division under Grant at Shiloh in 1862, the beginning of the most successful Union military partnership of the war. Grant thereafter gave him leading roles in the decisive Vicksburg and Chattanooga campaigns of 1863. In march 1864, he succeeded Grant as the senior Federal commander of the West.
In a much-quoted passage, the young Massachusetts officer John Gray described the red-haired, red-bearded Ohioan as "the concentrated essence of Yankeedom, tall, spare and sinewy, a very homely man, with a regular nest of wrinkles in his face." He was nervous voluble, and conversant on an astonishing range of subjects. His soldiers idolized him for his competence, his care with their lives, and his disdain for the romantic view of the war. "Its glories are all moonshine," he once said of battle, "even success the most brilliant is over dead and mangled bodies, with the anguish and lamentation of distant families."
In May 1864, Sherman launched the grand offensive that, in combination with Grant's vise-grip on Lee in Virginia, closed out the war in less than a year. After a four-month campaign maneuver, his army drove the Confederates out of Atlanta, next to Richmond the South's most military target. "Atlanta is ours and fairly won," he wired Washington exultantly.
Almost at once, Sherman began preparations for his famous March to the Sea. Grant was skeptical at first. "I can make this march," Sherman insisted. "I can make Georgia howl. If you can whip Lee and I can march to the Atlantic, I think Uncle Abe will give us 20 days' leave of absence to see the young folks." "Go on, then, as you propose," Grant wired.
Setting out on November 15, 1864, the 60,000-strong army blazed a 60-mile-wide trail of destruction through the heart of Georgia. The two-month campaign showed Southerners that the Confederacy could no longer protect them: it cut the deep south off from Virginia, and it denied food, forage and military necessities to Lee's hungry army in Virginia. Sherman ordered his troops to leave nothing of valuefrom crops to railwaysin their wake. In December, after a remarkable 325-mile march from Atlanta to the sea, Sherman offered President Lincoln a Christmas gift of Georgia's city of Savannah, "with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, also about 25,000 bales of cotton."
After resting the army for six weeks, Sherman opened the Campaign of the Carolinasa longer, more difficult and more decisive operation, Sherman always believed, than the Georgia march. Union forces wreaked a terrible vengeance on South Carolina. Careless and arsonous troops, Rebel and Yankee, burned out the heart of Columbia, the state capital. Charleston, the cradle of secession, fell with hardly a shot fired. Battles of Averasboro and Bentonville in North Carolina barely slowed Sherman's advance. On April 26, 1865, he accepted the surrender of Confederate forces in the Carolinas, effectively ending the Civil War in the East.
Sherman's campaigns were noteworthy for their promiscuous destruction of property and their comparatively low casualty rates. He preferred maneuver to frontal assault and held that the war would end only when its realities were brought home starkly to the civilian population. "War is cruelty," he told Atlantans not long before their city went up in flames, "and you cannot refine it.
Sherman succeeded Grant as commander-in-chief of the army in 1869. His tenure in office saw completion of the transcontinental railroad and the waging of merciless war on the Plains Indian tribes. His excellent Memoirs appeared in 1875. He resisted all enticements to enter politics, for which he had profound contempt. Sherman's off-the-cuff definition of war to an Ohio veterans' group in 1881could stand as his epitaph: "It is all hell, boys." He died of pneumonia in New York City in 1891.