Sherman (William T.) Papers, 1863-1865, 3 Items

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Copyright: The copyright of these letters is held by Navarro College Archives, Navarro College, 3200 W. 7th Ave., Corsicana, Texas. Internet: archives@navarrocollege.edu.

Cite As:William T. Sherman Papers, 1863-1865, Pearce Civil War Collection, Navarro College, Corsicana, Texas

Forms Part of: Pearce Civil War Collection

Location: 1-S10

Transcription(s): Yes

Scanned Copies on File: No

Accession Number: 1995.010; 1999.010b; 2001.010c

Processed by: Julie Holcomb, February 2001; revised August 2001

Reproductions of original materials and transcriptions may be available. Please contact the archivist for further information.

Abstract: William Tecumseh Sherman remains one of the best-known Northern commanders during the Civil War despite his never having commanded in a major Union victory. Five letters and one field order provide insight into Sherman’s Civil War military career. He writes of press leaks, conditions at Vicksburg, his grief over his son’s death, and Confederate strategy.

Five carte-de-visite images (not in the item count) are included in the Prints and Photographs collection.

Biographical/Historical Sketch

Though William Tecumseh Sherman (known as ‘Cump’ by those close to him) never commanded in a major Union victory, he remains one of the best known of the Northern commanders. Born Tecumseh Sherman in 1820 in Lancaster, Ohio, his father died when Cump was nine years old leaving his widow unable to care for all eleven of her children.. Sherman was taken in and reared by the family of Senator Thomas Ewing. The Ewings, devout Roman Catholics, insisted that Sherman be baptized into their faith and it was at that event that he was given the name William. Through the influence of his patron, Sherman obtained an appointment to West Point where he graduated sixth in the class of 1840. He was assigned to the artillery, and brevetted to Captain for his services in California during the Mexican War but resigned in 1853.

Living in California and Kansas, the years prior to the Civil War were not successful ones; he failed in banking and the law. In 1859 he was appointed Superintendent of the Louisiana State Seminary (now Louisiana State University) where he seemed to have found his niche. However upon the secession of the state, Sherman resigned his post and went to St. Louis as head of a streetcar company, later volunteering for the Union army. He was commissioned a colonel in the 13th U.S. Infantry regiment.

Briefly commanding a brigade around Washington, Sherman was sent to Kentucky as deputy to Robert Anderson, whom he succeeded in command of the department. However, Sherman was removed from command for overestimates of enemy strength. During Grant’s campaign against Forts Henry and Donelson, Sherman was stationed at Paducah, Kentucky and charged with forwarding reinforcements. During that period he formed a good working relationship with Grant, and although he was senior to him., Sherman offered to waive seniority and take a command under Grant. Commanding a division, he was largely responsible for the poor state of preparedness at Shiloh, but redeemed himself during the defensive fighting of the first day and was wounded. The next day his command played only a minor role. Praised by Grant, he was soon made a major general of volunteers.

Following the fall of Vicksburg, Sherman was named brigadier general and forced Joseph E. Johnston’s army all the way back to Atlanta. There Johnston was replaced by John Bell Hood who launched three attacks against Union troops near the city, which proved disastrous for Hood’s forces. Eventually taking possession of Atlanta, Sherman ordered the population evacuated and the military value of the city destroyed. Sending George H. Thomas back to Middle Tennessee to deal with Hood, Sherman embarked on his March to the Sea. Taking Savannah, he claimed the city as a Christmas gift to the president and the country. Marching north to aid Grant in the final drive against Richmond, he drove through the Carolinas and accepted Johnston’s surrender at Durham Station.

During the last two campaigns Sherman had earned a reputation for destruction and for the lack of discipline of his troops. His marauding stragglers were known as “Sherman’s bummers.” Southerner’s especially resented him as they believed he was responsible the burning of Columbia, South Carolina, but there are indications that the fires had spread from cotton set ablaze by the retreating Confederates under Wade Hampton. On August 12, 1864, he vacated his volunteer commission after being promoted to major general in the regular army.

After the war Sherman remained in the service, replacing Grant as commander-in-chief. He retired in 1884. He was noted for his absolute refusal to be drawn into politics. (Source: Sifakis, Stewart, Who Was Who in the Civil War.)

Scope and Content Note

Five letters (1863-1865, and one field order, 1865) document the Civil War career of William Tecumseh Sherman. In the first letter, written February 24, 1863 to Edward Ortho Cresap Ord, Sherman complains of press leaks interfering with his strategy and his ability to conduct battle. Sherman writes: “Of course I know full well the power of the Press and of Correspondents. It is folly to carry on War thus. They reveal every plan and will surely defeat us toto. Is it not better to make up the issue at once, rather than wait for time to develope [sic] the truth. This time may be fatal to Our Cause.”

The next two letters were written from camp on the Big Black River shortly after Vicksburg was taken. Both were written to Phil (Philemon Ewing, Ellen Sherman’s brother).. On July 28, 1863 Sherman describes the physical attributes of his location and the surrounding country “Nothing is left between Vicksburg & Iuka so I can have peace here – nearly all the officers & many of the men have gone on furlough . . . But I remain to prepare for new labors as soon as the heat of summer will admit of motion.” August 5, 1863; “. . . I still presume Ellen [Sherman’s wife, Ellen Ewing Sherman] to be on her way here, and have made every preparation in the way of transportation, subsistence tent &c – if she will cry war, she must come down to hard tack & canvas” Continuing, he writes “As a nation however we must not commit the Fatal blunder of Supposing the war over . . .”

Ellen Sherman and the four oldest children joined Sherman in camp on August 14 and remained with him until September 28. Arriving in Memphis on October 2, the Shermans realized their son, Willie, was very ill and they sought medical attention for him. Unfortunately, the following evening, Willie succumbed to Typhoid Fever. Just three weeks later, on October 24, 1863, Sherman again writes to Phil who apparently had sent sympathies on Willie’s death. Expressing his grief, he writes “Somehow by the accidents of life that have buffeted me about, this boy seemed to me more a part of myself than any other human being . . .” and he continues “I feel in my heart that we all loved & cherished him in Life as he deserved, and that In his Death we are the losers.”

In the same letter he writes of Grant, “He and I have been always perfect friends. I confide to him my innermost thoughts . . . Grant would stand by his friend, . . . Grant has felt in his own person the wrong that may be done by popular clamor, and he appreciates it at its worth.”

The last letter, (January 28, 1865), written to Major General J. G. Foster, advises him that the enemy is holding back, taking a wait and see attitude: “the bridges have been burned by the enemy who seems to occupy the opposite bank but his force if amounting to anything is kept well back . . . I suppose the enemy is watching me and keeps his main force where it can be thrown rapidly at exposed points.”

The field order (April 12, 1865) is a True Copy of Sherman’s Field Order No. 54 written and signed by Sherman’s secretary. Field Order No. 54 announces the surrender of General Robert E. Lee.


The copyright of these materials is managed by the Navarro College Archives on behalf of the Navarro College Foundation, 3100 W. Collin St., Corsicana, Texas 75110. Phone: 903-875-7438. Internet: archives@navarrocollege.edu.