General William Tecumseh Sherman is one of the best known Union generals of the Civil War. His famous “March to the Sea” was the death knell for the Confederate States. His services prior to the war were as the superintendent of the Alexandria Military Academy in Louisiana. With the pending secession of Louisiana, Sherman submitted his request to be relieved of command of the academy on the grounds that if “Louisiana withdraw from the Federal Union, I prefer to maintain my allegiance to the Constitution as long as a fragment of it survives; and my longer stay here would be wrong in every sense of the word.”
He then moved his family to Lancaster Ohio and had an occasion to the meet President Abraham Lincoln with his politician brother John Sherman. He came away adamant on staying out of the hostilities that were coming, instead preferring to dedicate himself strictly to his family. He relates in his memoirs that,
I was sadly disappointed, and remember that I broke out on John, damning the politicians generally, saying, “You have got things in a hell of a fig, and you may get them out as you best can,” adding that the country was sleeping on a volcano that might burst forth at any minute, but that I was going to St. Louis to take care of my family, and would have no more to do with it. John begged me to be more patient, but I said I would not; that I had no time to wait, that I was off for St. Louis; and off I went.
Sherman resided in St. Louis on Locust Street between Tenth and Eleventh streets at the time South Carolina seceded in 1861 and was employed by the St Louis Railroad Company. After the bombardment of Ft Sumter, he was offered the position of chief clerkship of the War Department, which he declined, stating that,
Hon. M. Blair, Washington, D. C. I received, about nine o’clock Saturday night, your telegraph dispatch, which I have this moment answered, “I cannot accept.”
I have quite a large family, and when I resigned my place in Louisiana, on account of secession, I had no time to lose; and, therefore, after my hasty visit to Washington, where I saw no chance of employment, I came to St. Louis, have accepted a place in this company, have rented a house, and incurred other obligations, so that I am not at liberty to change.
I thank you for the compliment contained in your offer, and assure you that I wish the Administration all success in its almost impossible task of governing this distracted and anarchical people.
Yours truly, W.T. SHERMAN
The letter, Sherman tells, was told that it gave offense and that the President’s cabinet felt Sherman would “prove false to the country.” Even his friends were a bit skeptical of Sherman’s political position, so Sherman addressed a letter to the War Department, showing his allegiance to the Union, but only to a certain extent:
Office of the St. Louis Railroad Company, May 8,1861.
Hon. S. Cameron, Secretary of War, Washington, D. C.
Dear Sir: I hold myself now, as always, prepared to serve my country in the capacity for which I was trained. I did not and will not volunteer for three months, because I cannot throw my family on the cold charity of the world. But for the three-years call, made by the President, an officer can prepare his command and do good service.
I will not volunteer as a soldier, because rightfully or wrongfully I feel unwilling to take a mere private’s place, and, having for many years lived in California and Louisiana, the men are not well enough acquainted with me to elect me to my appropriate place.
Should my services be needed, the records of the War Department will enable you to designate the station in which I can render most service.
Yours truly, W. T. SHERMAN.
However, he was present and witnessed the events at Camp Jackson and the discontent the people held for the Union, hurrahing Jeff Davis, and eventually shots being fired. He realized that he could no longer hold back his desire to avoid getting involved. He received a dispatch from Washington telling him he had been appointed Colonel of the Thirteenth Regular Infantry. He had originally believed he would come back to St. Louis to raise his own regiment at Jefferson Barracks, however, he notes in his memoirs that “the Government was trying to rise to a level with the occasion. Mr. Lincoln had, without the sanction of law, authorized the raising of ten new regiments of regulars, each infantry regiment to be composed of three battalions of eight companies each; and had called for seventy-five thousand State volunteers.”
His stay in St. Louis of two months ended. He stated that
…satisfied that I would not be permitted to return to St. Louis, I instructed Mrs. Sherman to pack up, return to Lancaster, and trust to the fate of war. I also resigned my place as president of the Fifth Street Railroad, to take effect at the end of May, so that in fact I received pay from that road for only two months’ service, and then began my new army career.
When the war ended Sherman remained in the military, rising to General in Chief of the Army from 1869 to 1883. During that time, he moved his headquarters back to St. Louis. When he retired from the Army he moved to New York City and died on February 14, 1891 at the age of 71. At his request, Sherman was transported back to St Louis and buried in Calvary Cemetery.