My distant relative William Tecumseh Sherman stepped down as Commanding General of the United States Army on this date 130 years ago. It’s not much, as historic dates go, but I welcome any excuse to write about the man known in the South as “That Damned Pyromaniac” and in the North as the first modern army general. When he left the Army on Nov. 1, 1883, “Cump” Sherman was so popular (in the North, obviously) that the Republican Party tried to nominate him to run for President, prompting Sherman to write:
“I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected.”
He was not always in such demand.
In December 1861, The Cincinnati Commercial newspaper declared Sherman to be “insane.” This was a time when newspapers were expected to take strong views and express them forcefully, unlike today, when Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is described as merely “annoying.”
Just five months after the first battle of Bull Run, the perpetually melancholy Union General suffered what today would be called a “nervous breakdown.” Sherman had hallucinations and anxiety attacks. His commanding officer, Major General Henry Halleck, considered Sherman unfit for duty. Sherman wrote to his brother and confessed that he had contemplated suicide.
Sherman managed to channel his demons onto the battlefield, though, and famously led his army through Georgia and the Carolinas. The “scorched-earth” policy on his “March to the Sea” was so successful that Congress passed a bill promoting Sherman to Lieutenant General, the same rank held by his good friend Ulysses S. Grant. The politicians were scheming to have Sherman replace Grant as head of the Army. Sherman refused, saying:
“General Grant is a great general. I know him well. He stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk; and now, sir, we stand by each other always.”
Sherman was fond of quoting Shakespeare, and was quite quotable himself.
I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell.
But my favorite Sherman quotes are these:
I hate newspapermen. They come into camp and pick up their camp rumors and print them as facts. I regard them as spies, which, in truth, they are. If I killed them all there would be news from Hell before breakfast.
“I think I understand what military fame is: to be killed on the field of battle and have your name misspelled in the newspapers.”
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