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William T Sherman- The Most Overrated General of the Civil war?

4 years 1 month ago #1 by stonewalljackson

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  • William T Sherman- The Most Overrated General of the Civil war?

    “The literature is frequently slanted in favor of Grant and Sherman”
    -Thomas J Rowland George B McClellan and Civil war History Kent State University Press

    William Tucumseh Sherman or “Uncle Billy” in my opinion was the most overrated general of the civil war. He is usually ranked within the top four of almost every civil war rankings done. I think he was a good general, a good tactician, but not a top premier general.

    Bull run

    “Even Sherman, a future American military hero, sent his four regiments into battle not together, but in secession, one deadly advance at a time”
    -John J Hennessy The First Battle of Manassas

    Sherman's first action came at bull run where he commanded a brigade in Tyler's division, he had mixed results. Sherman sent his regiments in one at a time, instead of in force as he should have, against Henry Hill. The first 3 regiments were repulsed one at a time with heavy losses. Than with some help from other union attacks at the same time on his flank, the last of Shermans regiment met with some success capturing a house held by the confederates and pushing them back under the pressure. Sherman's command, however, was than routed by a counterattack from the 8th and 18th Virginia. After his men routed, he would see no more action at Bull run. Sherman brigade suffered higher loses than any union brigade at Bull Run.

    Disaster in Kentucky

    “Sherman stumbled badly in his first independent command in Kentucky”
    -Thomas J Rowland George B Mcclellan and Civil war History in the Shadow of grant and Sherman

    Sherman was transferred to a command in Kentucky where he literally went insane. After the defeat at Bull Run Sherman was scared and nervous of another confederate victory or attack. He started having asthma attacks, extremely nervous behavior, he did not sleep, had panic attacks, he contemplated suicide. He was described by citizens in his hotel as “a bundle of nerves all strung to their highest tension.”* he “talked incessantly while never listening” “pacing the floor, chain-smoking cigars.” He showed all the sighs of mania. Sherman claimed his force was outnumbered by Siomon Buckners 5-1 despite what every other general in the area said. *“He outdistanced even McClellan in describing the vast enemy hosts assembling against him.” He said the state was infested by pro confederate forces and sympathy and was in imitate danger. He said Louisville was in imitate danger and he needed 200,000 men to hold Kentucky. Sherman would not leave the fort until massively reinforced and refused to go on the offensive.

    Relived From Command in Missouri

    Sherman was shipped to St Louis were again he was convinced the enemy was ready to pounce on the disorganized union forces their. A physicians declared him to nervous for command and sent him home to Ohio.


    Sherman would in time recover mentally and be sent to a command with his friend General Grant. The next engagement he was involved in was the battle of Shiloh where because of grant, he was given command of a division. Sherman was the one man most responsible for allowing the confederate army to surprise attack the union forces on day 1 at Shiloh. This was a near fatal mistake that almost destroyed the entire union army under Grant. The main confederate force was opposed Sherman the day before the battle. Many regiments and soldiers of the south did nothing to concile the upcoming “surprise attack” as men starting firing off shots [to clear muskets] sounded bugles and drums, drilled, and skirmished with the enemy in the woods all within 2 miles of the enemy main encampment.

    Sherman “Failed to inteprit acculturate the numerous signs of the confederate surprise attack on April 6 at Shiloh.”
    -David Martin The Shiloh Campaign

    Sherman received multiple reports from his subordinates of large enemy units movements and skirmishing etc and he rejected them and even called one of his regiment commanders a liar. Sherman refused to even send them on to Grant. The day before the attack a few confederate soldiers taken prisoner boasted of the whole confederate army was near, yet these were also ignored by Sherman. Sherman did not even bother to scout the area he was in. Lew Wallace had to scout his area because Sherman failed to. Because of Shermans negligence, the union almost suffered its worst defeat of the war.

    “Sherman should have been court martialed he was guilty of gross negligence.”
    -Historian Otto Eisenschiml

    Sherman himself fought hard once the battle was under way, but his command [division] was whipped and brook three times that day. His entire line collapsed and his command was saved from complete destruction by Mcclerand on day 1. After his poor performance at Shiloh, Sherman was given no direct command.

    Deception at Corinth

    The union under the command of general Halleck moved on the vital rail junction of Corinth Mississippi with a force twice the size of confederates under Beauregard who had around 60,000 troops. However Halleck, Grant and Sherman all believed the true confederate force to be 130,000 men. So instead of attacking they waited in a siege. Beauregard had set up dummy guns and positions to fool the union command. He was also able to fool the union into thinking he was being reinforced when he was in fact retreating. Every time a train pulled in Beauregard had his men let out a loud cheer, this made the union think he was being reinforced, this allowed Beauregard to pull his men out safely.

    Chickasaw Bayou

    In December of 62 Sherman was sent as part of grants first attempt to capture Vicksburg down the Mississippi river with 30,000 men. After landing, Sherman evaluated the position and decided on a frontal attack on the heavily fortified confederates under Pemberton who had a force of around 13,000. In a decision that makes Fredircksburg look like an easy task, Sherman assaulted and was repulsed over two days suffering heavy losses and 10 times the causalities the confederates suffered, a far worse ration than at Freadricksburg. After this horrific defeat Sherman was temporarily relived of command once more and replaced by a political officer John Mcclerand who was “almost universally despised in regular army circles.”

    Vicksburg Campaign

    Vicksburg was one of the great campaigns of the civil war and Sherman was given a corps to command by general Grant. However the credit belongs to Grant. It was his planning, maneuvering and command that led to the great victory. Sherman did not think Grants plan would even work. Mcpherson and Mcclernard did all the hard fighting at Raymond and Champions Hill. The only battle Sherman was involved in was the capture of Jackson Mississippi were he and other union forces skirmished with the greatly outnumbered confederates who were evacuating the town.

    Assault on Vicksburg

    The retreating confederates within Vicksburg were outnumbered, beaten, low on morale and not fully prepared within Vicksburg. Grants army was victorious over multiple battles, high on morale and ready to capture the city, Grant decided to attack. On May 19 Grant ordered Sherman to assault Vicksburg and win the prize, Sherman's men attacked and were easily repulsed. This failed attack and first loss on the union army in the campaign was damaging to union morale and boasted confederate resolve to hold Vicksburg. Union losses of 157 killed, 777 wounded, and 8 missing, versus Confederate casualties of 8 killed and 62 wounded. “The Confederates, assumed to be demoralized, had regained their fighting edge.” For the second time Sherman suffered 10X the losses of the defenders of Vicksburg. Grant would try one more time on the 22 with all his forces. Their was some limited success butt Sherman was repulsed and the union could not capture Vicksburg by assault and dug in for a siege.


    Grant attacked Bragg to break out of Chattanooga and set up a plan that was to make Sherman out to be the hero and win the day. Sherman controlled a large force and was sent around the confederate flank for what was to be the decisive action and win the battle. Hooker and Thomas were to be the distraction and holding forces. The confederates sent a small force under General Patrick Cleburne perhaps the best infantry commander in the confederate army of Tennessee at the time to meet Sherman. Sherman was repulsed time and again by Cleburne with heavy loses. Cleburne outmaneuvered, out thought, and used the terrain better than Sherman, also courageously leading counter attacks that repulsed Sherman attacks.

    “Cleburne had bested Sherman”
    -Steven E Woodworth Six Armies in Tennessee University of Nebraska press 1998

    Sherman's failures left Grant with no choice but to push full ahead with Thomas at the confederate center as “Sherman's attack was going nowhere.” However Thomas would lead a charge up the fortified center of the confederates on Missionary ridge a place considered impossible to take and Thomas routed the confederate center while hooker would finally push through on his flank. The only place the confederates held the line was under Cleburne who could not be bested by Sherman. Cleburne had suffered so little that he was than able to cover the rest of the confederate armies retreat and avoid total disaster for the south.

    So not only did Sherman fail to win the battle against the flank, Thomas won the battle against the confederate center over the worst terrain to attack. Where victory was most unlikely and against more men. Even Hooker finally won on his flank. The only thing that kept it from a total disaster for the south was Cleburne. Sherman could not even inflict enough damage to him to prevent him from covering the army's retreat.

    The Capture of Atlanta

    Sherman's campaign to capture Atlanta was by far his best performance of the war. His flank maneuvers that dislodged Johnson from multiple defensive positions make his campaign one of the great ones of the war. I do not wish to take away from the credit he fully deserves. However it also has to be put in context.

    “Confederate western command less skilled than their eastern coutnerparts, they also made egrigoius tactical decistions that enabeled Grant and Sherman to overpower them”
    -Thomas J Rowland George B McClellan and civil war history Kent state university press

    Foremost Sherman fought in the west against sub par confederate generals. The generals he faced were Joe Johnson who was mediocre at best. Johnson had a habit of withdrawal that eventually led to his replacement with Hood. When in command in Virginia Johnson was losing ground to McClellan and constantly fell back, this Fabian tactics is what Johnston would become known for. Later Sherman faced the untested and dismal Hood. Also By 64 the confederate armies were a shell of their former selves. The confederate army under Johnson was low on morale, supplies and had suffered defeat and causalities that could not be replaced. When Johnston took command he had just 43,000, demoralized troops with large scale desertion. Johnston would be reinforced to around 66,000 and restore some morale to the army while in command.

    Sherman for his campaign commanded 104,000 troops high on morale from recent victories and well supplied with a technological advantage over the enemy. Sherman would also receive replacements as the campaign moved on that gave him often a 2-1 advantage over the confederate force he faced.

    Sherman Rescued

    However at Dalton Shermans flank maneuver was repulsed by Johnston, so Sherman accepted the flanking maneuver as planned by General Thomas with success. Than at the battle of Resaca US losses were 3,500 and CS 2,600 in another repulse of Sherman.

    At Adairsville at a fork in the road Johnston set an ambush for Sherman and Sherman took the bait. Johnston was able to isolated McPherson 35,000 troops against his whole army. But happenstance union Calvary in the area and subordinate failure to attack on time saved McPherson. Johnson out did Sherman but Sherman was rescued by luck.

    New Hope/ Pickett's Mill

    “There hasn't been more than twenty reb's there today”
    -William T Sherman

    “Once again Sherman found that he deluded himself when the federals encountered stiff resistance as they fell on the main confederate line”
    -John Canaan The Atlanta campaign

    Sherman misread the strength of the enemy at New hope and Picketts Mill that led to costly frontal assaults. At the battle of new hope church US losses were 1,665 confederate losses were half that number. At Picketts mill US losses were 1,600 and confederates under Cleburne only 420. Sherman omitted this battle and its losses from his memoirs and his official reports. These battles along with the battle of Dallas stopped Shermans flanking maneuver in its tracks. During the month of May US losses were 9,209 to CS 8,500.


    At the battle of Kennesaw mountain Sherman relied on frontal assaults against heavily fortified confederates. US losses were 3,000 CS 700. Sherman wanted to do more direct attacks on the fortified mountain justifying it by saying Grants losses were far greater in Virginia, general Thomas talked him out of it. However General Schofeild found a way to outflank the enemy allowing the union to force the retreat of the confederates and rescuing Sherman from more direct assault with heavy losses.

    John Bell Hood Takes Command

    “Hes is bold...I am doubtful to other qualities necessary”
    -Robert E Lee on John Bell Hood

    The most important event that happened to influence the campaign and fight for Atlanta, was when Jefferson Davis replaced Johnston with Hood. Davis was upset with Johnston for giving ground to easy and replaced him with the aggressive Hood. This would prove a fatal error by Davis as Sherman said he could not have taken Atlanta by direct assault.

    Sherman Rescued Once More

    “Sherman failed to show concern for his exposed flank. Sherman overruled and sent dodge to destroy rail. McPherson went to Sherman talked him out of it.”
    - Ronald H Bailey Battles for Atlanta Sherman Moves East

    Hood went to work right away, he caught Sherman off guard. Hood spotted a mistake in Shermans lines as Sherman left a flank vulnerable to attack and unguarded. Hood than got 2 corps around and behind McPherson for the attack without Sherman knowledge. McPherson had complained about the flank and Sherman was warned Hood was very aggressive and would attack Sherman. Sherman was overconfident and instead overruled McPherson and send General Dodge not to protect McPherson flank, but to tear up rail line. McPherson than complained personally to Sherman and Sherman relented. Dodge was allowed to cover the flank just in time to respond to Hoods attack. This saved McPherson command and in turn, Sherman from a sound defeat of McPherson command. Hood had a 2 corps flanking against McPherson by surprise. Had Sherman had his way, Instead Hood met with small, but costly success in the battle and McPherson corps was saved.

    “that fortunate peace of work was mcpherson”
    -Ronald H Bailey Battles for Atlanta Sherman Moves East

    Shermans Calvary Raid

    Sherman sent Mccook and Stoneman behind enemy lines on a Calvary raid in an attempt to destroy rail and release union soldiers held captive at Andersonville. Instead Mccook was routed and only a few hundred made it back to union lines while Stoneman was surrounded and surrendered. Instead of freeing prisoners the attempt added thousands.

    “The entire raid had been a costly and embarrassing failure. All in all, Sherman lost 4,200 troopers during this escapade, almost half of his entire Calvary force”
    -John Cannan The Atlanta campaign

    The Capture of Atlanta

    Hood than went on to destroy 1/3 of his army in failed, unorganized, unsupported assaults on fortified union lines when the defender outnumbered him, and had hundreds of wagons captured by cavalry. Later Sherman was “obsession with tearing up rails missed opportunity to destroy Hardee at Jonesboro .” Shermans slow action and focus on rail, allowed Hardee to escape and the confederate army along with it. But with the capture of the rail line, Hood retreated out of Atlanta.

    Atlanta Campaign Conclusions

    “Sherman had failed in his primary objective of destroying the confederate army”
    -Ronald H Bailey Battles for Atlanta Sherman Moves East

    Sherman captured Atlanta, but did not achieve his main objective of destroying the confederate army. Sherman performed well during the Atlanta campaign against sub par generals and sub par armies. He had vast advantages in manpower and equipment and performed multiple great flanking maneuvers. However he was bested at least once by both Hood and Johnston and was saved by his subordinates a few times. It was a war of maneuvering and Shermans manpower advantage gave him a distinct advantage to be able to outmaneuver his enemy. During the siege Sherman said “we are more besieged than them...the enemy holds us by an inferior force.” In reality it was not such an amazing feat, but the consequences of the capture of Atlanta, given the time and circumstance of the war. Made it a impact-full victory and perhaps overrated.

    Sherman's March to the sea

    “I can make Georgia howl!”
    -William T Sherman

    Grant and Lincoln wanted Sherman to pursue and destroy Hood his main objective of the Atlanta campaign. Instead Sherman wanted to use his army as a large raiding party through the deep south. What Sherman really did was wage war on private property and civilians. The confederacy could offer no resistance to Sherman by late 64 and I don't see this as great military genius needed to command a raiding party with no opposition. He did a great job collecting and living off the land,[using census data to help] but as to view this from a great military commander perspective does not seem to work. In fact maybe the one time he could have won a military victory when he had Hardee's 10,000 men garrison of Savannah vastly outnumbered. Yet Sherman decided to lay siege and allowed Hardee's entire force to escape. Than later in North Carolina a vastly outnumbered confederate army under Joe Johnston attacked Sherman's with a insignificant result at Bentonville. Johnston would surrender soon after.

    Sherman failed to complete what would have been a great military accomplishment by destroying Hood. This would have done more to end the war that stealing private citizens food and property. Yes this prevented supply from helping Lee, but Lee was near spent anyways and would surrender to Grant had Sherman marched to the sea or not. With Lee gone the rest of the south follows.

    Why is Sherman Overrated?

    It is my opinion that General Sherman is the most overrated general of the war. I believe in many ways during the early years it was only his friendship with Grant that held him above water and gave him chance after chance. He seemed to have failed over and over and only when the confederacy was near spent 64-65, did Sherman begin to have success.

    After the war Sherman and his friend Grant both wrote popular memories and held each other up. These kind of works had influence on the public opinion of the men. Grant being elected president gave even more sway to Sherman and Grant. The fact that Sherman went on to fight the Indians and helped the expansion of America out west, I think also makes him one of the “good guys” and inflates his reputation. But I believe most of all the capture of Atlanta is the cause of Sherman being overrated. Viewed simply from a military point of view it was his best performance and a good campaign. But the fact it literally ensured Lincoln would be reelected and the war won for the north tends to inflate the accomplishment militarily. He shined at just the right time. Helping the republican party that would be in power the next 70 years and would influence and control education. Sure does not do anything that would diminish his reputation by seceding generations taught in schools.


    -Great Campaigns The Shiloh Campaign David G Martin Combined Books PA 1996
    -Great Campaigns the Atlanta campaign John Cannan Combined Books PA 1991
    - John J Hennessy The first battle of Manassas Stackpole Books 2015
    -Receding Tide Vicksburg and Gettysburg the Campaigns That changed the civil war Edwin C Bearess and J Parker Hills National Geographic D.C 2010
    -Thomas J Rowland George B Mcclellan and Civil war History in the Shadow of grant and Sherman Kent State University Press 1998
    -Six Armies in Tennessee the Chickamagua and Chattanooga Campaigns Steven E Woodworth University of Nebraska press 1998
    -Battles for Atlanta Sherman Moves East Ronald H Bailey Time-Life Books, Alexandria, Virginia 1985
    -Personal Memoirs of U.S Grant Da Capo Press 2001 -The Campaigns of General Nathan Bedford Forrest and of Forrest's Cavalry Da Capo Press 1996 --The Confederate war Gary Gallagher Harvard University press 1999 -A History of the south the Confederate States of America E Merton Coulter Louisiana State Press 1950
    -James V Murfin Battlefields of the Civil war
    -America's Civil war Magazine
    -Civil war Trust

    "How do you like this are coming back into the union"
    Confederate solider to Pennsylvanian citizen before Gettysburg

    "No way sherman will go to hell, he would outflank the devil and get past havens guard"
    southern solider about northern general sherman

    "Angels went to receive his body from his grave but he was not there, they left very disappointed but upon return to haven, found he had outflanked them and was already there".
    northern newspaper about the death of stonewall jackson

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