Sherman, William Tecumseh (1820–1891), a United States army officer who was one of the great Union generals of the Civil War. A tough, tenacious soldier, Sherman sought to cripple the Confederacy's will to fight through a policy of total war. He was the first to use this tactic, now a part of modern warfare, when he deliberately laid waste the territory through which his army marched. Sherman's march to the sea—from Atlanta to Savannah—in 1864 hastened the collapse of the Confederacy, and left lasting bitterness in the South because of the devastation it caused. Sherman said at the time of the burning of Atlanta, “War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it." (He made his famous statement “War is hell" in 1880.)
Sherman was born in Lancaster, Ohio; his younger brother was John Sherman (later to be a United States senator). After graduation from the U.S. Military Academy in 1840, Sherman served in the Second Seminole War in Florida. He was an aide to Philip Kearny during the Mexican War but saw little action.
Sherman resigned his commission in 1853 to become a partner in a San Francisco bank; it failed in 1857. He practiced law briefly and unsuccessfully, then became superintendent of a Louisiana military academy (now the state university) in 1859. The state's secession from the Union in January, 1861, compelled him to resign his post. Although he hoped war could be averted, he felt that preservation of the Union was of the utmost importance.
During the months that preceded the outbreak of the Civil War, Sherman held the presidency of a St. Louis street railway company. In May, 1861, he reentered the army as an infantry colonel. He fought at Bull Run in July, 1861. A month later, Sherman was made a brigadier general of U.S. Volunteers and commanded troops in Kentucky and Missouri. His courage at the battle of Shiloh (1862) won him a promotion to major general of volunteers. Sherman was advanced to brigadier general in the regular U.S. Army for his leadership in the battle of Vicksburg in 1863. As commander of the Army of the Tennessee, he participated in the victorious Chattanooga campaign.
When General Grant became commander in chief in 1864, he put Sherman in charge of operations in the West. Sherman drove the Confederate forces back toward Atlanta and, after winning a series of bitter battles, captured and burned the city. On November 12, 1864, he began the march through Georgia. Sherman and his troops cut a swath of devastation 20 to 25 miles (32 to 40 km) wide for more than 300 miles (480 km). He reached Savannah and the sea on December 21, 1864, having broken the Confederate supply system. Sherman received the surrender of General Joseph E. Johnston's army, the only large Confederate force left in the field, in North Carolina on April 26, 1865.
Sherman was promoted to lieutenant general in 1866 and in 1869, he succeeded Grant as commanding general with the rank of full general. He held that post until his retirement in 1884.
Sherman's Memoirs appeared in 1875.