Sherman, William Tecumseh (1820–1891)

By: Thomas W. Cutrer

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: February 24, 2021

William Tecumseh Sherman, United States Army officer, was born in Lancaster, Ohio, on February 8, 1820, the son of Charles Robert and Mary (Hoyt) Sherman. His father was a justice of the Ohio Supreme Court. With the death of the elder Sherman in 1829, William became the ward of Senator Thomas Ewing, secretary of the treasury in the William Henry Harrison and John Tyler administrations and secretary of the interior in the Zachary Taylor administration. With Ewing's influence, Sherman was appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point on July 1, 1836; he graduated sixth in his class and received a commission as a second lieutenant in the Third Artillery in Florida on July 1, 1840. On November 30, 1840, he was promoted to first lieutenant. During the Mexican War he was avid to be stationed in Texas, where he pledged "most heartily . . . [to] give all the aid I can to further the views of the Government to extend the `Area of Freedom,'" but was sent instead to California, where he received a brevet promotion to captain on May 30, 1848. After the war he served as adjutant general of the Division of the Pacific, and on May 1, 1850, after an engagement of seven years, he married the daughter of his guardian, the socially prominent Eleanor Boyle Ewing; the couple had eight children. On September 6, 1853, Sherman resigned from the army to pursue the banking business in San Francisco. The firm for which he worked failed in 1857, however, and he turned first to the practice of law in Leavenworth, Kansas, and after experiencing failure there in 1859 to the superintendency of the Louisiana Seminary of Learning and Military Academy in Pineville (now Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge).

When Louisiana seceded from the Union, Sherman moved to St. Louis, where he ran a streetcar company until he was appointed colonel of the newly authorized Thirteenth United States Infantry regiment on May 14, 1861. Three days later he was named brigadier general of volunteers and assigned to the command of a brigade of the Army of the Potomac, which he led at the first battle of Manassas or Bull Run. In September 1861 he was reassigned to Kentucky. There he was reported to be mentally deranged for panicked comments on Confederate military strength and was relieved of command by Gen. Don Carlos Buell. After reassignment to the army of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, Sherman commanded a division at the battle of Shiloh. He earned promotion to major general of volunteers on May 1, 1862, and subsequently saw action at the capture of Arkansas Post and in several unsuccessful assaults on the Rebel fortifications at Vicksburg, Mississippi. As commander of Grant's Fifteenth Corps, Sherman took part in the capture of Vicksburg, for which he was rewarded with promotion to brigadier general in the regular army to date from July 4, 1863, the date of the city's surrender. Sherman's corps helped to raise the siege of Chattanooga, and with Grant's promotion to general in chief of the United States armies, Sherman was promoted to commander of the Division of Mississippi on March 18, 1864, and to major general on August 12, 1864. With this promotion he assumed command of all troops in the western theater of operations. Moving southeast from Chattanooga, Sherman's army captured Atlanta on September 1, 1864, and made its famed and devastating "march to the sea"; it reached Savannah, Georgia, on December 21, 1864. Sherman then pushed north and received Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's surrender at Durham Station, North Carolina, on April 17, 1865.

With the reorganization of the army that followed the war, Sherman was made lieutenant general on July 25, 1866; he superseded John Pope on August 11, 1866, as commander of the Division of Missouri. After President Grant was inaugurated, Sherman was elevated to general, on March 4, 1869, and named commanding general of the army four days later, a rank that he held until November 1, 1883.

Extensive Comanche and Kiowa raids along the West Texas frontier brought Sherman on a personal tour of inspection in May 1871. Accompanied by Inspector Gen. Randolph B. Marcy and a small cavalry escort, Sherman traveled northwestward from San Antonio and visited forts Mason, McKavett, Concho, Griffin, and Belknap. Nothing that Sherman saw on this ride altered his opinion that the frontier was pacific and that claims of Indian raids were greatly exaggerated. "I have seen not a trace of an Indian thus far and only hear the stories of the people, which indicates that whatever Indians there be only come to Texas to steal horses," he wrote to Gen. Joseph J. Reynolds, commander of the Department of Texas. On the ride from Fort Belknap to Fort Richardson, however, Sherman and his party barely missed falling victim to the war party of Satanta, Satank, and Big Tree. Only a few days later, on May 17, this band of Kiowas perpetrated the Warren Wagontrain Raid near the spot where it had observed but failed to attack Sherman's entourage. On learning of the raid, Sherman ordered Col. Ranald S. Mackenzie to pursue the Indians across the Red River and onto their previously sacrosanct reservation. Satanta's boastful confession of his responsibility for the raid led Sherman to order his detention and that of his colleagues at Fort Sill, Indian Territory, and thereafter the United States Army's attitude toward the defense of the Texas frontier became much more aggressive. Sherman had been pleased with the state's climate, finding it much more pleasant than he had been led to believe, and pronounced that White settlement would in time take care of the Indian problem and that Texas would "become a prosperous and rich state."

Sherman retired from active duty on February 8, 1884. After 1886 he made his home in New York City, where he died of pneumonia on February 14, 1891. Although he received the last rites of the Catholic Church after becoming unconscious, Sherman was never a member of any church. He is buried in Calvary Cemetery, St. Louis, Missouri. His autobiography, Memoirs of General William T. Sherman, was published in 1875.

Bruce Catton, This Hallowed Ground (New York: Pocket Books, 1956). Basil H. L. Hart, Sherman (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1930; rpt., New York: Praeger, 1958). Dictionary of American Biography. Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army (2 vols., Washington: GPO, 1903; rpt., Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1965). James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988). Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies (Washington: Department of the Navy, 1894–1927). Raphael P. Thian, comp., Notes Illustrating the Military Geography of the United States, 1813–1880 (Washington: GPO, 1881; rpt., with addenda ed. John M. Carroll, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1979). Rachel Sherman Thorndike, ed., Sherman Letters (New York: Scribner, 1894). The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington: GPO, 1880–1901). Ezra J. Warner, Generals in Blue (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1964).

  • Peoples
  • Native American
  • Military
  • Soldiers
Time Periods:
  • Civil War
  • Reconstruction
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Thomas W. Cutrer, “Sherman, William Tecumseh,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 26, 2022,

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February 24, 2021

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