William Tecumseh Sherman — Facts and APUSH Notes

February 8, 1820–February 14, 1891

APUSH Definition — William T. Sherman (1820–1891) was an officer in the United States Army. He rose to prominence during the Civil War and is best remembered for the "Total War" tactics he used during the Atlanta, Savannah, and Carolina campaigns, which left a swath of destruction across the South during the latter part of the war.

William Tecumseh Sherman, Seated, Portrait, Brady

William Tecumseh Sherman played an important role in the Union’s victory in the Civil War. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Who was William T. Sherman?

William Tecumseh Sherman’s first commission during the Civil War was as a colonel of the 13th U.S. Infantry Regiment. Because he was one of the few Union leaders who distinguished themselves at the First Battle of Bull Run, President Abraham Lincoln promoted him to brigadier general of volunteers in July 1861.

The War Department transferred Sherman to the West where he held several commands, including the Department of the Cumberland and the Department of the Missouri. While in St. Louis, he underwent a personal crisis that rendered him unfit for duty. Sherman went home to recuperate amidst rumors that he had gone insane. He quickly recovered, however, and was back in the field providing rear-area support for the capture of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson in February 1862.

Throughout the remainder of the war, Sherman grew to become the major Union leader in the Western Theater. After the Battle of Shiloh and the Siege of Corinth, he became Ulysses S. Grant’s most trusted subordinate, taking part in the capture of Vicksburg and the Union breakout from Chattanooga in 1863. When Grant traveled east to assume command of all Union armies in 1864, he placed Sherman in command of all Union troops in the West.

Battle of Shiloh, Illustration, Thulstrup
Battle of Shiloh. Image Source: Library of Congress.

During the next year, Sherman led armies through Georgia that captured Atlanta and Savannah, and through North and South Carolina culminating with the largest surrender of Confederate forces in the war at Bennett Place, North Carolina, on April 26, 1865. 

Sherman’s most memorable operation was his Savannah Campaign. Following the destruction of Atlanta in November 1864, Sherman marched two armies across Georgia toward the coastal city of Savannah. For the next five weeks, his forces cut a swath of destruction across the state, aimed to “make Georgia howl,” by living off the land and destroying the property of Georgia civilians. Meeting very little resistance from the rapidly shrinking Confederate Army, Sherman captured Savannah on December 21. Sherman’s March to the Sea and subsequent marauding through the Carolinas broke the spirit of many Confederates and earned the enmity of some Southerners to this day.

William T Sherman at Atlanta, Photograph
Sherman in Atlanta. Image Source: Library of Congress.

When the war ended, Sherman remained in the regular army. After two assignments in the West, federal officials promoted him to the rank of lieutenant general in July 1866. When Grant became President of the United States in 1869, the War Department promoted Sherman to Commanding General of the United States Army. His main duties included subjugating hostile Native American Indian tribes, protecting settlers, and safeguarding the extension of railroads in the West. His treatment of Indians who resisted federal authority was similar to how he had treated Southerners who contested his advances through Georgia and the Carolinas. As was the case during the latter part of the Civil War, Sherman believed that the most efficient way to subjugate hostile Indians was to destroy the resources that enabled them to sustain their resistance.

Sherman retired from the army in April 1884. The same year, Republicans began promoting him as a candidate for the presidency. Sherman, however, had no political ambitions. He quashed any discussion of his selection by tersely stating, “I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected.”

Sherman spent the latter part of his life enjoying New York society and speaking at dinners, banquets, and Civil War veterans’ reunions. He died in New York City on February 14, 1891, of unspecified causes. Sherman’s final resting place is in Calvary Cemetery, St. Louis.

William T. Sherman Facts for APUSH

Birth and Early Life

  • Full Name: His full name was William Tecumseh Sherman.
  • Nickname(s): His nickname was “Cump.”
  • Parents: His father was Judge Charles Robert Sherman. His mother was Mary Hoyt.
  • Date of Birth: He was born on February 8, 1820.
  • Birthplace: He was born in Lancaster, Ohio.

Family Tree

  • Siblings: Sherman was one of 11 children.
  • Spouse: His wife was Eleanor “Ellen” Boyle Ewing.


  • Death: Sherman died on February 14, 1891.
  • Place of Death: He died in New York City.
  • Burial: He is buried at Cavalry Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri.


  • Sherman graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1840.

Professional Career

  • Sherman worked as a Bank executive, lawyer, university president, and military officer.

Military Career

  • US Volunteer Army Major General, United States Army Major General, Lieutenant General, General of the Army

William T. Sherman — Timeline of His Career and Accomplishments for APUSH

This timeline presents key events in the life of General William T. Sherman in chronological order.

Early Life in Lancaster, Ohio

  • In 1829, Sherman’s father died and he went to live with Thomas Ewing, a Lancaster resident who was a prominent lawyer and Ohio politician.

Early Military Career

  • On July 1, 1840, Sherman entered the United States Army as a second lieutenant in the Third Artillery.
  • He served in the Second Seminole War in Florida (1835–1842).
  • He was stationed in California during the Mexican-American War (1846–1848).

Marriage to Ellen Ewing

  • On May 1, 1850, He married Eleanor “Ellen” Boyle Ewing, the daughter of his foster father, Thomas Ewing.
  • The ceremony was held at the Blair House, in Washington, D.C.

Promotion and Resignation

  • On September 27, 1850, Sherman received a brevet promotion to captain.
  • He resigned from his commission in the army on September 6, 1853.

Professional Career Outside the Military

  • Sherman worked as a bank manager in San Francisco and briefly in New York from 1853 to 1858. The bank failed as a result of the Panic of 1857.
  • In 1858, he moved to Leavenworth, Kansas, and practiced law.
  • He served as the first superintendent of the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning & Military Academy (later Louisiana State University) from 1859 to 1861.
  • He resigned from the Academy on January 18, 1861, when he learned Louisiana planned to secede from the Union.
  • He moved to St. Louis, where he was president of a streetcar company called the St. Louis Railroad.

Return to the Army for the Civil War

  • Sherman stayed in St. Louis for a few months and then volunteered for military service in the Union Army.
  • He turned down an offer to serve in the War Department in 1861 and was commissioned as colonel of the 13th U.S. Infantry Regiment, effective May 14, 1861.

Civil War — 1861

  • Sherman fought in the First Battle of Bull Run (July 21, 1861).
  • On July 23, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln rewarded him for his effort in the battle and promoted him to brigadier general of volunteers, effective May 17, 1861.
  • Sherman replaced General Robert Anderson as commander of the Department of the Cumberland on October 8, 1861.
  • On November 15, 1861, the Department of the Cumberland was reorganized as the Department of the Ohio, and General Don Carlos Buell replaced Sherman as department commander at Sherman’s request.
  • In November 1861, Sherman was transferred to St. Louis and served under Major General Henry Halleck in the Department of the Missouri.
  • In December 1861, Halleck determined Sherman was unfit for duty, due to stress, and sent him home to Lancaster to recuperate.
  • Sherman returned to active duty in mid-December 1861. He served with the Department of the Missouri and was assigned to rear area positions, where he provided support for Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant’s capture of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson in February 1862.
  • On March 1, 1862, Sherman was given command of the 5th Division of Grant’s Army of West Tennessee.

Civil War — 1862

  • Despite being surprised by the Confederate attack at the Battle of Shiloh on the morning of April 6, 1862, Sherman distinguished himself by preventing a Union rout and by helping Ulysses S. Grant plan and execute a successful counterattack on April 7.
  • After the Battle of Shiloh, Sherman was criticized for dismissing intelligence reports that Confederate forces were in the area of Pittsburg Landing prior to their surprise attack.
  • On May 1, 1862, he was promoted to major-general of volunteers.
  • On July 21, 1862. he was appointed to command the District of Memphis.
  • After his defeat at the Battle of Chickasaw Bluff (December 29, 1862), he was demoted to corps commander and served under Major General John A. McClernand.

Civil War — 1863

  • Sherman played a minor role in the Union’s capture of Vicksburg, Mississippi.
  • After the surrender of Vicksburg to the Union forces under General Grant on July 4, 1863, Sherman was promoted to the rank of brigadier general in the regular army, in addition to his rank as a major general of volunteers.
  • On October 27, 1863, he was assigned to the command of Department of the Tennessee.
  • His Army of the Tennessee played a major role in the Battle of Missionary Ridge and the Union breakout from Chattanooga on November 25, 1863.
  • In December 1863, the Army of the Tennessee, under his command, played a major role in lifting the Siege of Knoxville.

Civil War — 1864

  • Sherman succeeded Ulysses S. Grant as commander of the Military Division of the Mississippi, which included all Union armies between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River, on March 18, 1864.
  • Sherman launched his successful Atlanta Campaign on May 7, 1864.
  • On August 12, 1864, he was promoted to the rank of major general in the regular army.
  • On September 2, 1864, Sherman’s forces captured Atlanta, Georgia, after Confederate General John B. Hood’s Army of Tennessee evacuated the city.
  • Sherman ordered all civilians to evacuate Atlanta, Georgia on September 7, 1864.
  • In November 1864, Sherman ordered his army to burn all military and government buildings in Atlanta. The resulting fire also destroyed many private residences and shops in the city, which angered the South and created animosity toward him that still exists.
  • On November 15, 1864, started his Savannah Campaign, also known as his “March to the Sea.”
  • He captured Savannah, Georgia on December 21, 1864. After he took control of the city, he telegraphed President Lincoln and said, “I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the City of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty guns and plenty of ammunition, also about twenty-five thousand bales of cotton.”

Civil War — 1865

  • Sherman began his Carolina Campaign in late January 1865.
  • His forces captured Columbia, the state capital of South Carolina, on February 17, 1864, and fires that night destroyed most of the central city.
  • On April 18, 1865, Confederate General Joseph Johnston surrendered his army and all Confederate forces in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida to Sherman.
  • On April 26, Northern leaders forced Sherman to renegotiate Johnston’s surrender, because Sherman was not authorized to arrange political terms.

Military Career After the Civil War

  • Sherman was given command of the Military Division of the Mississippi, which included all land west of the Mississippi River and east of the Rocky Mountains, in June 1865.
  • He was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general in the regular army on July 25, 1866.
  • On March 5, 1869, he was promoted to General of the Army.
  • On April 11, 1880, during a speech he gave in Columbus, Ohio, Sherman said, “There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but, boys, it is all hell.”
  • He stepped down as General of the Army on November 1, 1883.

Retirement, Death, and Burial

  • Sherman retired from the army on February 8, 1884.
  • Later in 1884, Sherman quashed a movement to nominate him as the Republican candidate for president by tersely stating, “I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected.”
  • Sherman died on February 14, 1891, in New York City.
  • He was buried at Cavalry Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri.

Citation Information

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  • Article Title William Tecumseh Sherman — Facts and APUSH Notes
  • Date February 8, 1820–February 14, 1891
  • Author
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date June 13, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update January 12, 2024