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William Tecumseh Sherman

Military Leader / Civil War Figure

Born: 8 February 1820
Died: 14 February 1891
Birthplace: Lancaster, Ohio
Best known as: Union general who said, "War is hell."

William Tecumseh Sherman is the U.S. Civil War general who famously said, "war is hell" -- and proved it with a destructive campaign through the South that burned the cities of Atlanta, Georgia and Columbia, South Carolina. A graduate of the military academy at West Point (1840), Sherman served without distinction during the Mexican War and, as a young lieutenant, was sent by President James Polk to report on California's gold rush (1847). Sherman left the military in 1853 and tried unsuccessfully to build a career in banking in California and law in Kansas before becoming the superintendent of the Louisiana Military Seminary (the forerunner of Louisiana State University). After the South seceded, he returned to the army in 1861 as a colonel and went on to participate in some of the Civil War's biggest campaigns, including Bull Run, Shiloh, Vicksburg and Chattanooga.

In the spring of 1864 Sherman, who commanded the Union armies of the Cumberland, the Tennessee and the Ohio, began a spectacular drive against the armies of General Joseph E. Johnston that ended with the Union occupation of Atlanta. Sherman ordered the city evacuated and razed, part of his strategy to economically cripple and psychologically intimidate the rebels. After the Atlanta campaign he began his "March to the Sea," a property-destroying drive that began in November and ended with the occupation of Savannah on 21 December (his "Christmas present" to President Lincoln). Sherman then marched up through the Carolinas and received Johnston's surrender in North Carolina on 26 April 1865, just after Robert E. Lee surrendered to U. S. Grant at Appomattox (9 April). After the war Sherman served as the commander-in-chief of the army from 1869 to 1884, during which time he applied his ferocity to the Indian Wars in the West. His policy of expanding warfare beyond the battlefield and into the civilian infrastructure, called "total warfare" and "scorched earth" strategies, has led to him being known as one of the fathers of modern warfare. He is considered by some to be one of the Civil War's greatest heroes, but residents of the American southeast, especially Georgia, pretty much still hate him.

Extra credit: Sherman was named Tecumseh after the Shawnee chieftain; as a boy Sherman was raised by family friends, who had him baptized as William... Sherman was a prolific writer and published a two-volume memoir in 1875... Unwilling to be drafted to run for president, Sherman is known for saying, "If nominated, I will not run. If elected, I will not serve."

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