Editor: Tom Brzezicki
The March 5, 2020 gathering of the Civil War Round Table of Greater Kingston featured a presentation by member Derek Sykes on one of the most colourful and controversial figures of the Civil War, William Tecumseh Sherman. Derek began his talk with Sherman's birth and early years growing up in Lancaster, Ohio. Born on February 8, 1820, Tecumseh Sherman was the sixth child of Charles and Mary Sherman, who would go on to have eleven children altogether. Charles Sherman was an admirer of the great Shawnee chief, Tecumseh, and so he gave his newborn son this unusual first name. Derek quoted Sherman as explaining years later, "I think my father caught a fancy for the great chief."
The boy Tecumseh would acquire an additional name in 1829 when his father died unexpectedly, throwing the family into turmoil. Mary Sherman was in no position to care for her entire brood of children on her own, so several were farmed out to various friends and relatives. Tecumseh was placed with the neighbouring family of Thomas and Maria Ewing. Maria was a devout Catholic and insisted that Tecumseh be given a Christian name, so Tecumseh Sherman now became William Tecumseh Sherman. Derek said that young Sherman was greatly affected by the death of his father, yet the move to the Ewing home would open up career opportunities to Sherman that he would never have enjoyed had he remained in the care of his mother.
Thanks to the influence of Thomas Ewing and in keeping with his late father's dying wishes, a sixteen-year-old Sherman arrived at West Point in 1836 where he soon became "one of the most popular and brightest fellows in the academy," as fellow cadet William Rosecrans later recalled. Besides Rosecrans, Derek listed the other future Civil War generals who shared Sherman's time at the Point. These included George Thomas, Richard Ewell, Braxton Bragg, and Sherman's future comrade-in-arms, Ulysses S. Grant.
Sherman graduated from West Point in June of 1840. Despite Thomas Ewing's efforts to persuade him to leave the army and take up the practice of law, Sherman was soon serving as a young first lieutenant in the Seminole War in Florida. As Derek described, Sherman was assigned to a number of U.S. Army posts in places such as Mobile, Alabama and Charleston, South Carolina as well as travels through Georgia. These postings gave Sherman a valuable insight into the motivations and political beliefs of Southerners. Unlike many Northerners, Sherman expressed no disapproval or opposition to slavery. He also acquired a knowledge of the geography of the Deep South that he would draw upon during his Civil War campaigns. Derek quoted Sherman as later declaring, "I knew more of Georgia than the rebels did."
Derek also described some personal turmoil that Sherman went through during the early 1840s. Sherman had an artistic side and was a keen amateur painter, but he reluctantly gave up his brushes and canvas when he became concerned that his hobby was distracting him from his military studies. Another distraction was Thomas Ewing's nineteen-year-old daughter Ellen. Sherman fell in love with her during a furlough home in 1843 and the couple hoped to get married. But Sherman was wary of Ellen's plan that he leave the army and settle with her in Lancaster, lest he become too beholden to the Ewings. At the same time, Sherman knew he could never support a wife on a mere lieutenant's pay.
The start of the Mexican War in 1846 looked like it might provide Sherman with the chance to distinguish himself and earn promotion through active service in the field. But as Derek told us, the Army had other plans. Rather than the fighting front, Sherman was assigned to recruiting duties and then ordered to take ship to California. The voyage took about six months and by the time Sherman arrived on the west coast the war was over. Sorely disappointed at having missed out on the fighting, Sherman decided to resign his commission, especially after he saw the riches to be made in the 1849 California Gold Rush. However, his resignation was not accepted and so Sherman remained in the army.
Sherman and Ellen Ewing finally married on May 1, 1850 and began having children, eight in all of whom six lived to adulthood. Captain Sherman, as he now was, was stationed at St. Louis, Missouri, where he became friends with a Major Henry Turner who shared Sherman's belief that career success was more likely to be found in civilian life rather than the army. Major Turner left the army to take up a banking job in California and was soon encouraging Sherman to follow his example. Derek described how Ellen and her parents encouraged Sherman to take the plunge into civilian life, and so Sherman took a six-month leave and he and Ellen traveled to California to seek their fortune. Sherman's banking business prospered and he eventually resigned from the army. But Ellen did not share her husband's love for the land and climate of California, and she was pleased when in 1857 her husband's bank closed and he was transferred to another bank in New York, closer to the Ewing clan.
But as Derek explained, the good times did not last. The financial Panic of 1857 spelled the end of Sherman's banking career in New York, and he ended up back in St. Louis regretting that he had ever left the army. Sherman made use of his contacts with friends still in the military and learned of a new military academy being established in Alexandria, Louisiana that would require someone to fill the post of Superintendent. Sherman's lack of any abolitionist sympathies recommended him for the position, and he took up his new job at the Louisiana Military Seminary (eventually to become Louisiana State University) in the fall of 1859 with Ellen and the children soon joining him.
As Derek outlined, Sherman's return to the South took place against a backdrop of increasing sectional tension, including John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry and threats of secession from the slaveholding states. Ignoring his advice, Sherman's younger brother John had entered politics and was a member of the new Republican Party in Congress. As the Presidential election of 1860 approached, Sherman wrote to his brother that he feared the outcome of the vote might lead to civil war. He also poured cold water on the rhetoric of Southern fire-breathers, telling them that their secession plans would mean a protracted civil war with all its attendant horrors.
When Louisiana joined the Confederacy, Sherman resigned his Superintendent's post and offered his services to the Union. He was given a colonelcy and commanded a brigade at the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861. Derek said that Sherman showed himself to be a good tactician, though he was highly critical of the undisciplined volunteer troops filling the ranks of the Union army. Unlike many other officers, Sherman shunned opportunities for higher command. He realized that without more experience in the field, he would only be setting himself up for failure. Sherman also realized that the war would be a long one and he was willing to be patient and learn the art of commend until advancement came his way.
In August, Sherman was promoted to brigadier-general of volunteers and posted to the crucial border state of Kentucky. He was glad to be away from the world of Washington politics, but other challenges soon confronted him. First, Sherman found himself appointed to command of the Department of the Cumberland, a responsibility he did not want. Derek also described how Sherman's loose way of talking in front of reporters led to sensational stories about his views of the war appearing in the papers. As the stresses piled up, Sherman experienced something like a nervous breakdown and began predicting that he was about to be overrun by superior numbers of Confederate troops. The authorities at the War department decided Sherman needed a rest, so he was ordered home to Ohio. In December 1861, Sherman was humiliated to read newspaper stories claiming he had gone insane.
Sherman's career had reached its lowest ebb, but he was rescued from professional oblivion by Ulysses S. Grant who employed him in his successful campaign against Fort Henry and Fort Donelson in the early spring of 1862. Sherman was grateful to Grant and performed well in his subordinate role. He soon recovered his confidence in himself.
Derek then described how Sherman was able to return the favour to Grant in the aftermath of the Battle of Shiloh in early April 1862. The Union victory was a close-run thing and there were newspaper reports that Grant was not only surprised by the Confederate attack but was drunk as well. Grant felt his reputation was now under such a cloud that he considered leaving the army. Sherman, however, encouraged his friend to ignore the gossip and soldier on with the task of suppressing the rebels.
The Vicksburg campaign of the summer of 1863 cemented the partnership between Grant and Sherman. Derek stated that Sherman felt himself to be more intelligent and knowledgeable than Grant, but he acknowledged that Grant was more adept at handling the politics of military command, something Sherman despised. Sherman also admired Grant's iron nerve and determination.
Derek's presentation continued with brief but colourful accounts of Sherman's participation in the battles around Chattanooga in the late fall of 1863 and his subsequent command of the Union war effort in the Western Theatre. Grant had been posted to Washington D.C. in March of 1864 to begin his Overland Campaign against Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. While Grant and the Army of the Potomac bludgeoned their bloody way towards Richmond, Sherman advanced on Atlanta with Confederate General Joe Johnston trying to parry his every flanking movement.
After a number of late summer battles outside Atlanta, Sherman finally captured the city on the 2nd of September. He gave his troops two-and-a-half months to rest and refit, and then began his famous March to the Sea in November 1864, his goal being to "make Georgia howl" and demonstrate to the Confederate leadership that resistance was futile. On December 21st Sherman reached Savannah and the sea and then turned his army north into the Carolinas.
Meanwhile, Grant had run the tattered remnants of the Army of Northern Virginia to ground and accepted Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. About a week later, Joe Johnston surrendered to Sherman near Durham Station, North Carolina. Even in his moment of victory, Sherman had no illusions about war. Derek quoted him as saying: "I confess, without shame, I am sick and tired of fighting ... its glory is all moonshine."
Derek also outlined Sherman's postwar career. He was posted to St. Louis again in charge of the Department of the Mississippi where his responsibilities centred around policing the western frontier and trying to maintain peace between the native Americans and the settlers who were constantly encroaching on their lands. Privately, Sherman expressed as little sympathy for the Sioux, Cheyenne, and other tribes as he had for African-Americans under slavery, writing to Ellen that, "in the end, it will probably be better to kill them all off."
After Grant was elected President in 1868, Sherman was appointed General-in-Chief of the Army. Despite holding this high position, Derek described the 1870s as an unhappy decade for Sherman, at least in his personal life. Sherman disagreed with some of Grant's policies as President and their friendship cooled.
He and Ellen grew farther apart as she continued to cling to her father's opinions and attitudes, even after he died in October 1871. Sherman's firstborn son Willy had died of typhoid fever in 1863, and another boy, Charles, passed away in 1865. In 1878 Sherman's sole surviving son, Tom, announced he was joining the Catholic priesthood. This was a severe disappointment to Sherman as there was now no son to carry on the family name. He was convinced that Ellen and the Catholic church had alienated his son from his father.
In August of 1880 Sherman was in Ohio with President Rutherford B. Hayes. In an impromptu speech which he was called upon to make, Sherman made his famous declaration that war was not all glory, "it is all hell."
Sherman retired in 1884. He had planned on living in St. Louis but, true to form, Ellen and the rest of the family prevailed upon him to move to New York. Four years later, Ellen died, and Sherman followed her to his grave on February 14, 1891. In a final posthumous victory for Ellen, Sherman was buried with a Catholic funeral service.
As noted, we are shut down for an unspecified period of time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our April program will be rescheduled for next year. And our May program will have to await developments. Dr. Cheryl Wells has be scheduled into May and Gord Bell into June.
All this throws a curve into our annual collection for the Civil War Trust arm of the American Battlefield Trust. If we meet in May, please take your donation with you, otherwise June please.
Book Sale on hold
Lloyd Therien is reducing his inventory, unloading some of his Civil War books. When we next meet, come early: opens at 7 p.m. $10 for full-sized books, $5 for lesser tomes, and $2 for paperbacks, CDs, etc. As you all know, all the monies raised are contributed to the American Battlefield Trust (Civil War Division) towards preservation and interpretation of Civil War sites.
A REVISIT TO SHERMAN'S PRIVATE LIFE
What a coincidence that, a few days after Derek's presentation, Bill Cookman found this article in The Blue and Gray Dispatch which we are glad to reproduce for you all. [Pictures from the article are not included.]
General Sherman's Confederate Girlfriend by Norman Dasinger Jr
In 1836, William T Sherman was a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York and his roommate that year was Marcellus Stovall from Augusta, Georgia. The Stovall family was well known for their entrepreneurial spirit and owned several successful businesses in Augusta and other towns in Georgia. Cadet Stovall stayed only one year at West Point but during a visit from his family, including his sister Cecilia, roommate Sherman would remember the Stovall's for the remainder of his life.
Future general Sherman was smitten with Cecilia after dancing with her at an event at West Point. He followed up his interest by writing to the 16 year old beauty. Later, Cecilia would note that she told him,
"Your eyes are so cold and cruel. I pity the man who ever becomes your antagonist. Ah, how you would crush an enemy!"
Young Sherman replied with feeling:
"Even were you my enemy I would love and protect you!"
Obviously, young Billy was interested in her but the correspondence soon ceased. Maybe Cecilia ended it but probably, her father, Pleasant, played a role in closing this long distance romance. Cecilia would marry Charles T Shelman and the newlyweds moved to Cass (now Bartow) County, Georgia near Cartersville and into a large plantation on the banks of the Etowah River.
As the years passed, apparently, Sherman kept up with the location of Cecilia. Because in 1864, as commander of the combined Union Armies in the campaign to capture Atlanta in the War Between the States, fate would have it that the path of the soldiers and their leader went directly through Cartersville.
Once he arrived in Bartow County, Sherman began to search for the exact location of the Shelman home, called Etowah Heights. He found it! He stopped at the gate that led up the slope to the house and asked an older black man about the whereabouts of Mrs. Shelman. He was told the family had left the area in anticipation of the arrival of the Yankee Army. Sherman immediately posted guards to protect the house and its contents and he handed the man a message:
"You once said I would crush an enemy and pitied the foe. Do you recall my reply? Although many years have passed my answer is the same. I would ever shield and protect you. That I have done. Forgive all else. I am only a soldier".
Cecilia and Charles would return to Etowah Heights. They would have seven children. He would die in 1886 and she in 1904 and they are both buried in Cartersville. Brother Marcellus would move to Rome, Georgia in the 1850's and would become a Confederate general fighting against his old roommate while defending Atlanta. Based on this story, Cecilia must have had a powerful effect on the young West Point cadet in 1836.