General William Tecumseh Sherman, May 1865
The mouning ribbon on his left arm is for President Lincoln. Photography by Mathew Braby
~Courtesy of Library of Congress
He was fondly called "Uncle Billy" by the men who served under him, and thought of as the devil incarnate by the people of the South, an opinion which is steadfastly embraced to this day by their descendants. Historians remember him as the first modern general.
However he is remembered, General William Tecumseh Sherman started his young life as an unlikely person to generate strong emotion and controversy decades after his death.
Born in 1820 near the shores of the Hocking River in Lancaster, Ohio, Tecumseh Sherman was named in honor of a Shawnee chief for whom his father admired. He was nine-years-old when his father, a successful lawyer, died unexpectedly. Widowed with eleven children and no inheritance, Mary Hoyt Sherman sent the young boy to be raised by a neighbor and family friend, Thomas Ewing, a lawyer and senator from Ohio. His foster mother, Maria Ewing who was a devout Catholic, gave the boy his first name, William. Mrs. Ewing also made sure the boy was properly baptized. Senator Ewing sent the sixteen-year-old William off to West Point where he excelled academically and graduated in 1840. After graduation he entered into the Army as a second lieutenant in the 3rd U.S. Artillery and saw action during the Second Seminole War. During the Mexican War, Sherman performed administrative duty in the captured territory of California.
After the bombardment upon Fort Sumter, Sherman didn't respond to
President Lincoln's call for 75,000 volunteers to quell the Southern
states' succession, saying, "Why, you might as well attempt to put out
the flames of a burning house with a squirt-gun." He did offer his
services in the regular army in May however, reporting to Washington,
D.C. on June 7th. He wrote, "I still think it is to be a long war -
very long - much longer than any Politician thinks."
Sherman, who saw action and was grazed by bullets during the First Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861, doubted his abilities as an officer. President Lincoln, however, was impressed by the Colonel and promoted him to the rank of brigadier general of the volunteers. Pessimistic, Sherman frequently complained to Washington, D.C. Deemed unfit for duty, he was put on leave. Sherman returned to Lancaster, Ohio to recuperate. Some believe that Sherman had a nervous breakdown. The Cincinnati Commercial declared him "insane." Sherman himself later admitted that during this time he contemplated suicide.
Within two weeks Sherman had recovered and was assigned to provide logistical support for Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in the capture of Fort Donelson. On March 1, 1862, Sherman was promoted to commander of the 5th Division of the Army of West Tennessee. His first major test came on the morning of April 6, 1862 at the Battle of Shiloh. Fearing that "they'd call me crazy again" Sherman threw precaution to the wind and conducted an orderly fighting retreat which saved the lives of many of the men under his command. At Shiloh, Sherman was wounded twice in the hand and shoulder and had three horses shot out from under him. He was promoted to major general of the volunteers and assumed command of the Union's extreme right wing advancing upon Cornith.
After the surrender of Vicksburg, Sherman was promoted to the rank of brigadier general in the regular army in addition to his rank as major general of volunteers.
Historian John D. Winters described Sherman "as an eccentric mixture of strength and weakness. Although he was impatient, often irritable and depressed, petulant, headstrong and unreasonably gruff, he had solid soldierly qualities. His men swore by him, and most of his fellow officers admired him."
Sherman proceeded to invade the State of Georgia with three armies: the 60,000-strong Army of the Cumberland, the 25,000-strong Army of the Tennessee, and the 13,000-strong Army of the Ohio. The Atlanta Campaign concluded successfully on September 2, 1864 when Sherman's troops captured the city. After all civilians were ordered to leave the city, Sherman's orders were to burn all military and government buildings. In the process many private homes and shops were reduced to ashes as well.
In the spring of 1864, Sherman wrote to Gen. Grant, outlying his strategy to bring the war to an end. He concluded that "if you can whip Lee and I can march to the Atlantic, I think ol' Uncle Abe will give us twenty days leave to see the young folks."
Sherman's plans were hotly contested but he eventually won approval to cut loose from his communications and march south. Sherman advised Gen. Grant that he could make "Georgia howl." On November 11, 1864, Sherman had the telegraph wires that connected Atlanta to Washington, D.C. cut. This act isolated the Union troops from any communication out of the city. On the morning of November 14th, Sherman and his force of 60,000 infantry and artillery and 5,500 cavalry began their march to the sea with the port of Savannah as their final destination.
The troops moved through Georgia for thirty-six days, meeting with very little opposition. They lived off the land and pillaged the countryside.
To this day many Georgians proclaim that Sherman and his men burned down great-great-great-grandpa's barn. In reality many of those barns were located over 150 miles from where Sherman and his men passed through the countryside.
Sherman's troops, by his own estimation, created more than $100 million in property damage. Sherman called his harsh tactic of material war "hard war."
Although looting was officially forbidden, there has always been some dispute as to how well this regulation was enforced. However the speed and efficiency of the destruction by Sherman's troops was effective. They bent train rails around trees, known as Sherman's neckties, which made any repair exceedingly difficult.
The loss of civilian life during this scorched earth strategy was relatively small. The consumption and destruction of supplies and wrecked infrastructure was tantamount in undermining the morale of the South.
Fearful of the Union tide advancing their way and unable to stop it, the representatives of Georgia's Confederate Congress called upon the citizens to "remove your negroes, horses, cattle, and provisions from Sherman's army. Burn what you cannot carry away. Burn all bridges and block up the roads in his route. Assail the invader in front, flank, and rear, by night and by day. Let him have no rest."
Before fleeing from Milledgeville, Governor Joseph E. Brown issued a proclamation which ordered a levy en masse of the whole white population of the State of Georgia between the ages of 16 and 45, offering to pardon prisoners in the penitentiary if they would volunteer and be good soldiers. Only approximately 100 convicts accepted Governor Brown's offer.
On November 30, Sherman's entire army with the exception of one corps had passed the Ogeechee River after destroying the principal railway into Georgia.
Within 15 miles of Savannah, all the roads leading to the city were obstructed with felled trees, earthworks and artillery. By the 10th of December, Savannah was completely beleaguered. All communications had been cut off. Supplies could not be brought into the city.
During the dark and stormy night of December 20th, 1864, Confederate General William J. Hardee and his 15,000 men secretly withdrew from Savannah. The city was claimed by Sherman and his men the following day. Consequently Sherman dispatched his famous message which offered President Lincoln the city as a Christmas present. He also included 25,000 bales of cotton as a stocking stuffer.
Upon his success at Savannah, the U.S. Congress introduced a bill to promote Sherman to Grant's rank of lieutenant general, an act that would cause Sherman to replace Grant. Sherman vehemently scoffed at any such promotion, proclaiming, "General Grant is a great general. I know him well. He stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk; and now, sir, we stand by each other always."
After the capture of Savannah Grant ordered Sherman and his troops to embark on steamers and join Union troops that were confronting General Lee in Virginia. Instead, Sherman convinced Grant that he should take his troops north, marching through the Carolinas to destroy everything of military value along their course. Sherman's main focus was South Carolina, the first state to secede from the Union. Sherman's troops began their march north on January 15, 1865.
Sherman's troops captured South Carolina's capital city of Columbia on February 17, 1864. That night and by the next morning most of the central city had been reduced to ashes, a source of controversy to the present day. Some believe that the fires were accidental; others proclaim they were deliberate acts of vengeance. Others believe that retreating Confederate troops set bales of cotton on fire as they left the city. Some say that the fires set to cotton bales situated in the streets and fanned by a high wind set fire to the dwellings. What is known is that a black path of desolation 40-some miles in width had been cut through South Carolina.
With the assistance of local Native American Lumbee guides, Sherman's troops marched through torrential rains across the Lumber River, through swamps, wetlands and creeks into North Carolina. When they weren't exposed to driving rain, the men endured extreme heat. Food was scarce and the troops were put on short rations. They pushed on, marching up to 30 miles in a single day. One Union officer noted that "it was an army composed of men whose bodies were so inured to hardship that disease could make no impression on them."
Sherman himself proclaimed that this was "the damnedest marching I ever saw."
North Carolina, unlike its southern neighboring state, sustained little damage to its civilian infrastructure as Sherman's troops proceeded north. Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston and his troops surrendered at Salisbury, North Carolina.
Sherman and his men rendezvoused at Goldsborough, North Carolina with Union troops awaiting their arrival. Sherman and 60,000 of his troops marched in the Grand Review of the Armies on May 24, 1865 in Washington, D.C.
Sherman summarized his hard-war philosophy, stating, "My aim then was to whip the rebels, to humble their pride, to follow them to their inmost recesses, and make them fear and dread us. 'Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.'" He downplayed his role in conducting total war, often stating that he was merely carrying out orders as best he could to fulfill his part of General Grant's master plan for ending the war.
In May of 1865, Sherman wrote, "I confess, without shame, I am sick and tired of fighting—its glory is all moonshine; even success the most brilliant is over dead and mangled bodies, with the anguish and lamentations of distant families, appealing to me for sons, husbands and fathers ... tis only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded and lacerated ... that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation."
Sherman stepped down as commanding general on November 1, 1883, and retired from the army on February 8, 1884. He lived most of the rest of his life in New York City. He was devoted to the theater and to amateur painting and was much in demand as a colorful speaker at dinners and banquets, in which he indulged a fondness for quoting Shakespeare.
During this period, he stayed in contact with war veterans. Many times he responded to a knock at his door to greet one of those who had served under him standing on his stoop, wishing to pay homage to "Uncle Billy." Sherman would give the veteran coins from his own pocket and thanked the man for his service to the Union.
Sherman died in New York City on February 14, 1891. General Joseph E. Johnston, the officer who commanded the Confederate resistance to Sherman's troops in Georgia and the Carolinas, served as a pallbearer. The funeral was held on a bitterly cold day. One of Johnston's friends, fearing that the General might become ill, advised him to put on his hat. Johnston replied, "If I were in Sherman's place, and he were standing in mine, he would not put on his hat." Johnston caught a serious cold and died of pneumonia one month later.
General Sherman was interred at Calvary Cemetery in Saint Louis.
Among the posthumous tributes, the World War II M4 Sherman tank was named in his honor.
Thousands of Iowans took part in General William Tecumseh Sherman's famous "March to the Sea" through Georgia and South Carolina. Those from Ringgold County who were among General Sherman's troops during the siege of Atlanta and on the march to the sea are as follows, as best as can be determined:
4th Iowa Infantry, Company A· Barnum S. Tourance, Private from Benton; mustered out of service July 24, 1865
· George A. Tourance, Corporal; mortally wounded May 19, 1864, Resaca GA
· Cornelius Voorhies, Private from Mount Ayr; died of smallpox February 7, 1864
· William C. Wright, Private from Benton; mustered out of service July 24, 1865
4th Iowa Infantry, Company F· William B. Vogle, Corporal from Benton; mustered out of service July 24, 1865
4th Iowa Infantry, Company G· Randolph Sry, 2nd Lieutenant from Ringgold County; promoted to Major June 10, 1865; mustered out July 24, 1865
· Branson Lee Addington, Corporal from Ringgold County; mustered out August 30, 1864
· Joseph C. Addington, Private from Ringgold County; accidentally killed Louisville KY July 22, 1865
· James P. Albee, Private from Ringgold County; slightly wounded at Vicksburg; mustered out September 4, 1864
· Leander H. Barton, Private from Ringgold County; mustered out September 4, 1864
· Marion Barton, Private from Ringgold County, mustered out August 15, 1864
· Francis Bennett, Sergeant from Ringgold County, mustered out July 24, 1865
· Michael Danelly, Musician from Ringgold County; term of service expired July 24, 1865
· Casper King Denhart, Private from Mount Ayr; mustered out July 24, 1865
· Eli Drake, Sergeant from Ringgold County, died in service February 15, 1864
· Joseph L. Dugan, Corporal from Ringgold County; mustered out July 24, 1865
· Joseph C. Gilliland, Private from Ringgold County; mustered out July 24, 1865
· Charles Hagans, Corporal from Ringgold County; captured March 14, 1864; prisoner exchange & mustered out May 8, 1865
· Jasper N. Hagans, Sergeant from Ringgold County, mustered out July 24, 1865
· Samuel R. Jacobs, Corporal from Mount Ayr; mustered out July 24, 1865
· Peter O. James, Sergeant from Ringgold County; mustered out August 13, 1864
· Gustavas A. Kindblade, Private from Ringgold County; wounded at Vicksburg; mustered out July 24, 1865
· Swain C. Kindblade, Corporal from Ringgold County; wounded at Vicksburg; mustered out July 24, 1865
· Nathan B. Mauldin, 1st Lieutenant from Mount Ayr; mustered out July 24, 1865
· David B. Marshall, Principal Musician from Mount Ayr; mustered out July 24, 1865
· William H. Nobels, Corporal from Ringgold County; mustered out July 24, 1865
· Charles W. Powers, Private from Mount Ayr; gunshot wound at Atlanta August 18, 1864; disability discharge April 17, 1865
· Allen Rains, Private from Mount Ayr; mustered out of service on July 24, 1865
· William Riley, Private from Mount Ayr; mustered out July 24, 1865
· Joseph F. Robinson, Corporal from Ringgold County; disability discharge July 15, 1864
· Preston Runyan, Private from Ringgold County; mustered out September 4, 1864
· Job Rush, Corporal from Ringgold County; mustered out July 24, 1865
· Lewis Sens (Sims?), Corporal from Ringgold County, mustered out July 24, 1865
· Daniel B. Smith, Private from Ringgold County; expiration of service & mustered out August 30, 1864
· William Smith, Private from Ringgold County; mustered out July 24, 1865
· Ferdinand B. Soles, Corporal from Mount Ayr; mustered out July 24, 1865
· Joseph W. S. Soles, Private from Mount Ayr; mustered out July 24, 1865
· Benjamin W. Talbot, Sergeant from Ringgold County; mustered out July 24, 1865
· Elijah Walden, Corporal from Ringgold County; mustered out July 24, 1865
· Charles H. Warford, Private from Ringgold County; expired term of service & mustered out August 30, 1864
· Stanberry Wright Jr., Private from Ringgold County; mustered out September 4, 1864
4th Iowa Infantry, Company I· John H. Miller, Corporal from Benton; mustered out July 24, 1865
· Charles O'Bryan, Sergeant from Benton; mustered out July 24, 1865
· James Poplin, Corporal from Benton; mustered out July 24, 1865
4th Iowa Infantry, Company K· Ferdinand Verges, Private from Benton; mustered out July 24, 1865
13th Iowa Infantry, Company C· George W. Gartin, Private from Middle Fork Township; mustered out July 24, 1865
39th Iowa Infantry, Company K· William H. Imus, Sergeant from Mount Ayr; mustered out June 5, 1865
NOTE: Soldier surnames appear as spelled in the Roster and Record of Iowa Soldiers in the War of the Rebellion, 1908-11.
~Iowa, Adjutant General Office. Roster and Record of Iowa Soldiers in the War of the Rebellion, Together with Historical Sketches of Volunteer Organizations, 1861-1866. Des Moines: E. H. English, State Printer, E. D. Chassell, State Binder, 1908-11.
~Compilation by Sharon R. Becker, August of 2011