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William Tecumseh Sherman Essay, Research Paper

On May 8, 1861, William Tecumseh Sherman wrote to the Secretary of War, offering his services not for three months, but for three years. He did not want to become a political general and on June 20, 1861 accepted the grade of Colonel in the Thirteenth Regular Infantry. He assumed command of a brigade in the First Division of McDowell’s army under the command of Brigadier-General Daniel Tyler. His brigade, stationed at a stone bridge during the battle of First Manassas( Bull Run), was routed by devastating Confederate cannon fire.

In August, 1861, Sherman and George H. Thomas were promoted to Brigadier General and were assigned to the Department of the Cumberland under the command of Brigadier-General Robert Anderson. Anderson was in command of Ft Sumter when P.T. Beauregard opened fire upon it, beginning the war. Sherman had previously served under Anderson, and it was Anderson that requested that Sherman be transferred to his command.

In October, 1861, Sherman relieved Anderson. Filling quotas for Kentucky volunteers was extremely difficult. The State was split on their beliefs and where their allegiance should be placed. Later that month, Sherman told Secretary of War Cameron that if he had 60,000 men, he would drive the enemy out of Kentucky, and if he had 200,000 men, he would finish the war in that section. When Cameron returned to Washington, he reported that Sherman required 200,000 men. The report was given to newspapers and a cry of indignation arose from the public. A writer of one of these newspapers even went as far as saying that Sherman must be crazy in demanding such a large force. The public accepted this insinuated statement as a valid one, thus writers have always declared that he was crazy. Due to the pressure of the press and politicians that believed the suggestion, on November 12, 1861, Brigadier-General Don Carlos Buell relieved Sherman of his command, and Sherman was assigned to the Department of the West, in St. Louis, Missouri under Major-General Halleck. After moving to Missouri, newspapers and gossip continued to harass him with reports that he was insane and that he was not fit to command, demanding his recall. He was in a state of depression from all the harassment, but not mentally incompetent. On February 13, 1862, Sherman assumed the command of the post at Paducah Kentucky relieving U.S. Grant of that position. On March 11, 1862, Halleck was assigned to command the Department of the Mississippi and Major-General U.S. Grant to command the army in the field. The organization and the name given to this army was the Army of the Tennessee. Sherman was placed in command of the Fifth Division of this army.

The Army of the Tennessee saw its first battle at Shiloh. With green troops, the North lost the first day’s battle, but with re-enforcements from Buell and the Army of the Cumberland, routed the Confederate troops. In July 1862, Sherman was assigned to command the District of Memphis. Later that year Sherman failed to seize the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg, but was with Grant in the campaign that finally ended in the capture of that city in July 1863. Sherman was given command of the Army of the Tennessee in the fall of 1863 and fought in the Battle of Chattanooga with his troops unsuccessfully assaulting Pat Cleburne’s troops on Missionary Ridge, whose cannon’s, especially Swet’s Battery, were too much for them to be successful. Later Federals did capture the Ridge and Bragg’s troops retreated eastward.

In the spring of 1864, Sherman was made supreme commander of the armies in the West and was ordered by Grant to destroy everything useful to the Confederates. With a grand aggregate of 98,797 troops and 254 cannons, on May 4, 1864, Sherman began the Atlanta Campaign.

The red-haired Ohioan found fierce resistance from the Confederate troops under Joe Johnston. Johnston held off the troops of McPherson at Resaca, but then had to withdraw after the battle when federal troops were endangering his position by outflanking him, a tactic often used by Sherman. The strength of the Union army and the ability to supply themselves was too much for Johnston’s struggling forces. Johnston defeated Sherman’s armies at the battle of Kennesaw Mountain on June 27, 1864, but once again had to move his troops back southward to Smyrna due to the numbers of troops at Sherman’s disposal.

Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, had little faith in Johnston’s ability to oppose Sherman and on July 17, 1864, Davis relieves Johnston of his command and replaces him with the aggressive John B. Hood. Hood was even more unsuccessful in stopping Sherman’s armies. Finally on September 1, 1864, Sherman’s troops captured the city of Atlanta, but not before Hood destroyed the railroad yards.

Sherman declared Atlanta to be a military encampment and ordered the civilians to leave the city. He made arrangements with Hood for safe passage of these civilians, that because of where they lived, no matter if they had Confederate or Union sympathies, they could not remain in their homes if they were within the city of Atlanta. From September to November, Sherman’s forces were on the defensive guarding the city. Hood tried several unsuccessful attacks but his efforts were futile. Hood then began marching northward, hoping to destroy Sherman’s supply line. Sherman wanted to split the Confederacy, and began planning his March to the Sea. He kept his most seasoned veterans, 60,000 in all and sent the rest of the troops back to Nashville to be under the command of Major-General George Thomas. With four Corps of troops in two columns, in November 1864, Sherman began his infamous March to the Sea. Prior to leaving Atlanta, he set fire to munitions factories, railroad yards, clothing mills, and other targets that could be resourceful to the Confederacy. Sherman never intended to burn the whole city, but the fire got out of hand and spread throughout the city.

With the four Corps in two columns, Sherman cut a swath 60 miles wide marching towards Savannah, destroying anything that could aid or be resourceful to the enemy. On December 23, 1864, Sherman sent a telegram to Lincoln stating that he was presenting him the city of Savannah as a Christmas gift.

Following his victory at Savannah, Sherman’s troops battled the troops of General Joe Johnston through South Carolina and North Carolina. Lee surrendered to Grant on April 9, 1865 and General Joe Johnston surrendered to Sherman on April 17, 1865 at Raleigh, North Carolina. After the war, Sherman was commissioned Lieutenant General in the regular army, and after Grant was elected was promoted to the grade of full general and given command of the entire U. S Army. He retired in 1883.


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