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SHERMANThe Ruthless Victor
By Agostino Von Hassell Ed Breslin
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2011 Agostino Von Hassell and Ed Breslin
All right reserved.
Chapter OneNamed for a Warrior
General William Tecumseh Sherman's name didn't include "William" until his Catholic foster mother insisted that he be given a proper Christian name at a formal baptism and added William. No matter—for his whole life, family called him "Cumpy" or "Cump," and later his classmates and fellow officers called him simply "Sherman." There is a story behind "Tecumseh," the unusual original first name. His father, Judge Charles R. Sherman, chose the name because he admired the Shawnee chief who had fought so well for the British during the War of 1812. Chief Tecumseh had presented a deadly threat to the settlers in Ohio when Sherman's forebears first settled there. It was provocative of Charles to name his son after an enemy, and fellow settlers did not appreciate it. When one of them protested, Judge Sherman replied flatly that "Tecumseh was a great warrior"—and that settled that. This decisive attitude more accurately foreshadows General Ulysses S. Grant's treatment of General Robert E. Lee than General Sherman's inconsistent stance during and after the Civil War. The Shermans were a prominent family of lawyers, judges, militia leaders, and legislators. There had been Shermans in New England since the beginning of the seventeenth century, and the family could trace its roots even further back to the town of Dedham in Essex county, England. Almost certainly the surname "Sherman" derives from "shearman," which indicates the family was involved in the wool trade.
The Shermans quickly distinguished themselves as leaders and professionals in the American colonies. Daniel Sherman sat in the Connecticut General Assembly for three decades and played a fiery role in rallying forces during the American Revolution. Roger Sherman was a member of the "Committee of Five" that wrote the Declaration of Independence in a fetid room above a tavern on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia during the summer of 1776. In 1811, twenty-three-year-old Charles R. Sherman relocated on the advice of his attorney father, Taylor Sherman, to what was then called the "West." He advised Charles to settle down, establish his law practice, raise his family, and seek his fortune. When Charles Sherman took his father's advice and traveled west to Lancaster, Ohio, he fell into a social set made up of the newly booming settlement's principal families. He tactfully positioned himself for judicial assignments and his law practice soon became prosperous. After a short time he became a circuit judge, and then President James Madison appointed him revenue collector for the Third District of Ohio. His father had held this same position in Connecticut. Charles was seeking to relive his father's success, but, being an ambitious man, he overextended his time and his means.
In 1817, the U. S. Treasury Department suddenly declared that it would accept payment only in coin or in U. S. Bank notes. In Ohio, notes drawn on local banks had long been acceptable as loan payments by individuals and were even accepted by the federal government in payment for taxes. Suddenly these notes were worthless as federal payment. Left with significant debt, Charles Sherman was nearly bankrupted by this new law. He pledged to make good on every penny of the debt he had incurred, and this commitment, though admirable, proved onerous in the end. By 1828, he was a circuit judge and a revenue collector, the father of eleven children, struggling with debt, and overloaded with duties and responsibilities.
In time he was offered an appointment to the Ohio Supreme Court but vacillated about taking the position. Finally, he decided to take the job but did not hold it long. After the sudden onset of a fever one year later in 1829, the judge died.
Nine-year-old Tecumseh's world fell apart. This moment would mark the beginning of a new life for the entire family and a season of torturous turmoil for Tecumseh. In many historians' eyes, this serves as the most defining experience in General Sherman's developing psychology.
Friends and family rallied to the widow Mary's side, but it was clear that the family had to be broken up, the children separated. The two oldest had more or less reached adulthood. Charles Hoyt Sherman was on the brink of graduating from nearby Ohio University in Athens and went to work soon after in an established lawyer's office. His younger sister Elizabeth was already set to marry William Reese. As for the three youngest children, their mother was determined to keep them with her in the family's clapboard house on Main Street. The six middle children, including Tecumseh, were to be dispersed among relatives and friends.
In addition to losing his father and any close contact with his mother, Tecumseh was also separated from his grandmother, Elizabeth Stoddard Sherman, who had earlier migrated west to live with her son Charles and his family, but had to find other living arrangements after Charles died. A strong and sensible woman, Grandmother Stoddard had been a stabilizing influence on the entire family. Now, along with both of his parents, her positive force was gone for young Tecumseh too. It is difficult to say with certainty whether these changes were directly related to the violent frustration of his later years. Undoubtedly, though, these monumental shifts in his home life at such a young age left a permanent mark.
In the eighteen years that Judge Sherman and his wife, Mary, had lived in Lancaster, they had become close friends with the leading families in town, all of whom, like them, lived on Main Street. Charles Sherman made friends with a fellow barrister named Thomas Ewing. Thomas, a year his junior, was not only a genius in the law but also possessed a keen business mind, especially for real estate investment. He prospered, too, as part-owner of the Kanawha Salt Works.
In 1831, Tom was elected to one of the inaugural senate seats for Ohio. Ewing's wife, Maria Boyle, was devoutly Catholic. This was the household young Tecumseh was raised in, and the Ewing influence molded Sherman to a remarkable degree. His new foster mother immediately insisted that a priest baptize young Tecumseh, who carried the name "William Tecumseh" from then on.
Sherman never took his Catholicism seriously, nor any other form of religion. His biological father was a nominal Congregationalist whose strongest affiliation was to the Masons—so much so that on his deathbed he refused to see any member of the clergy and requested a funeral in the Masonic rite. His foster father, Tom Ewing, even more tellingly, never practiced any religion and seems to have regarded all religion as void of meaning. In these matters, Sherman followed in the footsteps of both men his entire life. Sherman lived with the four Ewing children and three other foster children. Maria was a notoriously harsh disciplinarian, unlike her husband. A generous man, Tom insisted that Sherman make himself at home and consider himself equal with Ewing's own children. As any child psychologist can confirm, this transposition rarely works out smoothly and often leaves scars. This seems to have been the case with Sherman.
Tom noted that Sherman was bashful and not fully at home with them. Many years later he commented that he had never known a boy as young as Sherman to be so dutiful and prompt about fulfilling chores and errands. Overly conscientious children often feel deprived of any real childhood.
Nevertheless Sherman was privileged in many ways while growing up. Maria Ewing encouraged all the children to read and insisted they receive a first-class education. Both Judge Sherman and Tom Ewing had been driving forces in setting up the first school in Lancaster, and Sherman attended there with the rest of his foster siblings. When Sherman was twelve years old, the school came under the supervision of an esteemed set of teachers known as the Howe brothers, who then taught all the lessons. From these two gifted instructors, Sherman learned French, Latin, and the rudiments of Greek. He also acquired his first taste of Shakespeare and of Sir Walter Scott, as well as reading a wide range of fiction, history, arithmetic, and geography.
The Ewing household was lavish in contrast to the Sherman home from which William had been removed. Not only did he feel the gnawing insecurity of being an outsider in his new home—of having lost his sense of belonging—he also was aware of the contrast between his wildly successful foster father and his miserably failed natural father. For the remainder of his life, William Sherman refused to discuss the judge, claiming his memories were sparse and sketchy. Furthermore, it seems that living under a legend such as Tom Ewing caused a mixture of admiration and rebellion in Sherman and an inclination to free himself of dependency on his foster father. This proved to be much more difficult than he might have imagined.
Ewing's politics played an undeniable role in Sherman's development. In the senate, Ewing was a staunch Whig and had no time for abolitionists. Sherman permanently adopted both his foster father's political party and his attitude toward slavery, including a sympathy toward the South. Senator Ewing became a ranking member within the Whig Party and hobnobbed with fellow senators Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and the fiery John C. Calhoun. All three were among the most influential and eloquent senators ever to sit in the upper chamber of Congress. For the most part, Ewing shared a negative view toward President Andrew Jackson with most Whigs, referring to the swashbuckling hero of the Battle of New Orleans as "King Andrew" and deeming his administration tyrannical and hideously corrupt. Ewing and Calhoun parted company over the issue of states' rights, however. Like the late Judge Sherman, Ewing was a bedrock constitutionalist and a devout believer in the importance of the union's preservation. His family considered the union sacred.
So it was that William Tecumseh Sherman acquired his political convictions. At the heart of his civic worldview was a belief in the sanctity of the American union. When the time came in 1861, Sherman was ready and willing to do his part.
Chapter TwoAt Home at West Point0
In the summer of 1835, Sherman completed his studies at the Howe brothers' academy. When it came time to choose a career for him, the Ewings followed Charles and Mary Sherman's wishes that Sherman pursue national service in the military. Judge Sherman had wished his third-born son to enter either the army or the navy, but his wife believed the navy too dangerous, and her fears regarding her son's safety took priority. Thus, West Point became the sole option.
Charles Ewing's influence played a primary role in Sherman's appointment to West Point. In 1835 Ewing wrote to Secretary of War Lewis Cass about the possibility of William being admitted. Cass wrote back that the deadline for consideration for that year had passed, but Ewing, persistent and efficient as always, wrote again in early 1836. In short order young Sherman received his appointment to the academy for the class of 1840, admitted as cadets in the fall of 1836. Sherman resigned himself to his fate, initially nervous at the prospect of living under a strict military regimen for four long years. Sherman had some time to kill before he left the following summer for West Point. Again, the senator stepped in. Ever a man with projects under way, Ewing was president of the company in charge of building the Lancaster Lateral Canal, which would connect the town of Lancaster to the larger Ohio Canal. Thanks to him, Sherman acquired a job working as an assistant to the surveyor engaged in laying out the canal path.
This was Sherman's first job, and it paid him half a dollar a day. Like any teenager he enjoyed having his own money, but that was not the job's only benefit. He acquired surveying skills that would prove helpful in his West Point engineering classes. The job also instilled in him a keen awareness of terrain and its possibilities— a critical skill for military command. Yet psychologically there was a dark side to all this good fortune for Sherman. He was developing an aversion to the feeling of indebtedness brought on by his foster father's power and generosity. He had ended up under the senator's roof as a child because of chance, but Sherman's progress in adult life was now beginning to owe itself entirely to Ewing's influence. Sherman struggled for decades to wrest his identity from that connection and pursue goals absent any boost from Ewing. According to his biographers, Sherman, like many intensely driven young men, wanted to emerge as his own man. It's a measure of his commitment to that goal that during the time he worked on the Lancaster Canal he devoted his free time to studying mathematics and French, two core subjects at West Point. In May 1836, the day of departure arrived. Both foster parents and Mary, Sherman's mother, tearfully bid the boy farewell. It was time for the future general to embark on his first long journey. He climbed aboard the waiting stagecoach and headed east for the first time in his life, taking the initial step toward becoming the celebrated conqueror of the Confederacy twenty-nine years later.
Young William was absorbed by his first trip across the country to visit the fabled sites long described by his foster father. At that time in America, the earliest railroads were only one or two years old, and passengers were exposed to smoke and cinders thrown back by prototype engines. It was not uncommon for the clothing of passengers to catch fire. In some instances, the engines—which were merely primitive boilers—had been known to explode and scald passengers.
And so, perhaps wisely, Sherman chose to take a coach instead of a train for the entire trip to Washington. The first three days of travel landed him in Frederick, Maryland, after having been confined the whole trip to the inside of the coach by extremely inclement weather. At Frederick, he exchanged coaches and headed for the capital, avoiding a train ride not only for safety reasons but because he wanted to see the countryside. The love of topography that would make him a fine engineer and military leader already drew him. This last leg of the journey took the remainder of the month of May and on June 1 Sherman showed up in Washington, D.C. at "Mrs. Hill's," the boarding house favored by many senators and where Tom Ewing resided.
Sherman's first taste of Washington must have been overwhelming. At that time Washington was nothing like the sophisticated cosmopolitan metropolis it is today. In fact, it was scarcely more than a giant village with dirt streets that produced clouds of choking dust in the dry season and a mire of mud when the rains came. It was built on swampland, and the city was like a steaming cauldron in the summer months, making the congressional recess a blessed institution very early on.
When Sherman arrived, the capital was anything but placid. President Andrew Jackson, also known as "Old Hickory" and the "hero of the Battle of New Orleans," was stirring things up, revamping the national banking and currency systems and causing dramatic change in many areas. Some suspected Jackson enjoyed stirring up the old wags of the Whig Party, of which Senator Ewing was a prominent and longstanding member. Jackson's fondness for drink and habitual cronyism also drew much criticism, and caricatures of him set a standard for future political cartoonists. In short, Washington was a town in full foment. The impressionable young Sherman went out for a walk one day and, passing the White House, spotted the president pacing the gravel drive, wrapped in his overcoat and cap, looking very much the old soldier and apparently deep in contemplation. The impression the legendary hero made on Sherman was that Jackson was somehow smaller and less monumental than expected. Nevertheless, Sherman watched the president for a full hour from the far side of a wooden fence.
Excerpted from SHERMAN by Agostino Von Hassell Ed Breslin Copyright © 2011 by Agostino Von Hassell and Ed Breslin. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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