Like Ulysses S. Grant, General William T. Sherman’s career fluttered up and down before the civil war. After leaving the military, he became a banker in San Francisco. When his bank failed, he moved to Kansas City and practiced law; then, he became headmaster of a military school in Louisiana.
Sherman reentered the service at the start of the civil war.
After Bull Run, Lincoln promoted him to brigadier general of volunteers. His
next position with the Army of the Cumberland in Tennessee was the low point of
Sherman’s military career. He grew paranoid about how small and unprepared his
army was and called for 200,000 troops to support him.
Soon, the newspapers were having a field day labeling Sherman as
crazy or insane.
For a while, it looked
like his career was over. The New York
Herald reported Sherman wasn’t insane, but “he certainly acted strangely when he was in Kentucky… he has been known for many years as extremely
eccentric man and liable to all sorts of freaks of judgment.” The Herald
felt safe in saying Sherman would “never have an important command again.”
Two months later, Sherman was back in the field serving with
Grant at Fort Donelson and then at Shiloh. While Sherman proved his bravery at
Shiloh, his troops were among the first to turn and run.
He defended them as best he could. “My division was made up of regiments perfectly new,” explained
Sherman, “nearly all having received their muskets for the first time at
Paducah. None of them had ever been under fire or beheld heavy columns of an enemy bearing down on them…To expect of them the coolness and steadiness
of older troops would be wrong.”
When he recollected Pittsburg Landing in his memoirs, Sherman
defended Grant for not building intrenchments. “The battle of Shiloh, or
Pittsburg Landing,” said Sherman, “was one of the most fiercely contested of
the war.” The reason they hadn’t dug in was simple. They never figured
Beauregard would leave his fortifications at Corinth. General Grant planned to force the rebels out once Buell’s army