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When people think about important leaders during the Civil War, they often think of the man named General William T. Sherman. Throughout the southern part of the United States, General Sherman is a name often associated with the burning and destruction of many cities during the Civil War; namely Atlanta and Savannah, Georgia, and Columbia, South Carolina. A prominent general for the Union Army, General Sherman was often thought of as a relentless leader who promoted total war on the Confederate states.
William Tecumseh Sherman was born in Ohio in 1820. He had 10 siblings and was the son of a prominent lawyer and his wife. Sherman’s dad died in 1829, and his mom was left with eleven children and very little money. William moved into a neighbor’s home and was raised by another lawyer, Thomas Ewing, Sr. and his wife. Coincidentally, William would marry his half-sister, Ellen Ewing, in 1850, and they would eventually have eight children.
At the age of sixteen, William Sherman entered the United States Military Academy at West Point. Although he excelled academically, he was not always a rule follower. Sherman would later write in his Memoirs that “At the Academy, I was not considered a good soldier, for at no time was I selected for any office…” When Sherman graduated from the Academy in 1840, he joined the army as a second lieutenant in the 3rd U.S. Artillery. He was involved in some conflict in the Second Seminole War in Florida before he was stationed in parts of Georgia and South Carolina.
In 1853, William Sherman resigned from the military and dabbled in banking, legal work, and administration at the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning & Military Academy (later known as Louisiana State University). Around this time, tensions between the northern states and the southern states began to bloom. Sherman did not actually oppose slavery and the causes of the southern states, but he did oppose the idea of the Union dissolving over the conflict. With the anticipation of a Civil War, Sherman stated, “This country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end. It is all folly, madness, and a crime against civilization”.
Sherman eventually decided to leave his work in Louisiana and return to Washington, DC. In 1861, he rejoined the military. His first military action during the Civil War was at the First Battle of Bull Run, where the Union army was defeated. During the next couple of years, he would serve under General Ulysses S. Grant and the two men would form a mutual and devoted friendship.
Throughout his time as a Union Army general during the Civil War, General William T. Sherman proved to be very effective and ruthless. He was often described as a person who dealt with a lot of depression and eccentric ideas and behaviors, although he was usually admired by his fellow officers. Leadership within the military proved to be one of his strengths, and there is little doubt that General Sherman played a very pivotal role in the outcome of the Civil War.