In contrast, Sherman had the advantage of not being second guessed by his Union superiors. President Abraham Lincoln gave him a free hand deciding everyday strategies, and General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant was a friend since early in the war when Sherman was deeply troubled. Stationed in Kentucky, Sherman grew despondent over failures of Union forces and what he perceived as his superiors' ineptitude. He was plagued by anxiety, often pronouncing, incorrectly, that Confederate forces vastly outnumbered his own. Pacing through his hotel at all hours of the night, he looked haggard and worried. He worked almost around the clock, rarely ate, and continued pacing during daylight hours as well. Sherman's extreme behavior and habit of wearing the same unlaundered clothes for days sparked rumors about his mental state, rumors he fueled by becoming obsessed with reporters. Worried in the winter of 1862-63 that they might ferret out information that he thought shouldn't be published, he tried to banish journalists from his presence, even threatening one New York reporter with hanging.
Several influential Union officials decided the strain of command was pushing Sherman to a mental breakdown. Thomas Scott, assistant secretary of war for the United States, said bluntly, "Sherman's gone in the head, he's loony." Sherman, removed from command in Kentucky, fell into deeper depression and considered suicide. A Cincinnati newspaper flatly labeled him insane.
Seemingly doomed, he was assigned to Grant's command. Here was a general, at last, who seemed organized, acted decisively, and had realistic goals for how to win. Far from shunning Sherman, Grant encouraged him. They fought together and won at Shiloh, and gradually Sherman recovered a sense of balance and confidence. Later, when Grant was lampooned for excessive drinking, Sherman jumped to his defense. "General Grant is a great general," he said. "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, like Grant before the war, had trouble adjusting outside the military. Born in Lancaster, Ohio, he was prophetically named for the Shawnee Indian chief, Tecumseh, whom Sherman's father admired for his courage and skill as a warrior. At nine, Sherman lost his father to a fever, and he and his 10 brothers and sisters were parceled out to various families. His father, a respected justice on the Ohio Supreme Court, had suffered serious financial reversals prior to his death, instilling fear in Sherman that he would also fail financially.
He grew to manhood in the home of U.S. Senator Thomas Ewing, treated as part of the family. Called "Cump" as a boy, Sherman loved baseball, playing frequently in a field next to a carpenter's garden. Occasionally, the homemade yarn ball sailed into the garden, and one of the boys would jump the fence to retrieve it. The carpenter, infuriated by the trampling of his plants, chopped up the baseballs whenever they landed in his path, prompting the boys to retaliate by placing rocks inside subsequent baseballs. When the carpenter attacked the next ball, he broke his hatchet. After that, the man threw the wayward baseballs into his stove, inspiring the boys to put gunpowder in the next ball, which exploded, as hoped. Singed and enraged, the carpenter ran down one of the boys and beat him.
Senator Ewing's daughter, Ellen, was Sherman's faithful correspondent after he left home, and with her father's approval, the two eventually married. Through the senator's influence, Sherman attended the United States Military Academy, graduating sixth in his class in 1840. Frustrated early in his military career, he was stationed in Florida in the midst of the second war against the Seminole Indians, but saw no action. Then, during the Mexican-American War, he was again distanced from decisive fighting and became depressed. As he wrote, "To hear of the war in Mexico and the brilliant deeds of the army, of my own regiment, and my own old associates, every one of whom has honors gained and I out in California - banished from fame." While he did not gain recognition in Mexico, he did win notice for meritorious service in California.
Stationed at Charleston, South Carolina, Sherman had rediscovered an early passion, painting. He had finished first in his drawing class at the military academy, and in Charleston produced both landscapes and portraits. He enjoyed painting so much that he found it "painful to lay down the brush" and worried that his compulsion would cause him to neglect his military duties. But after leaving Charleston, Sherman rarely drew again.
At his wife's urging, he quit the military after the Mexican-American War and tried banking, an unfortunate choice because the firm he worked for went bankrupt. In the process, Sherman developed an avid distaste for all bankers, calling them "selfish scoundrels." He wrote, "If one ever assisted an honest poor man without exaction and usury I would like to hear of it." Sherman next tried practicing law, but again proved unsuccessful.
Then, appointed superintendent of a military academy (now Louisiana State University), Sherman finally found an occupation away from the battlefield that he enjoyed. He was highly regarded in Louisiana, and because of his stay there and earlier military posts in the South developed a fondness for Southerners. Sherman, a slave owner as a young adult, seemed at times to support the practice, but he staunchly opposed any state seceding from the United States and later denied any endorsement of slavery. Soon after the Civil War began, he rejoined the military.
Sherman, who loathed the press, called reporters "infamous lying dogs" and carefully restricted their access to information. One journalist, from the same Ohio paper that earlier called Sherman insane, told his editors during the general's Atlanta campaign that they could get more accurate information from Southern newspapers than from his on-the-scene accounts because he was so restrained. Sherman's muzzling of the press meant that his actions went unnoticed for long periods in northern states, which apparently bothered him not at all.
Early in his march through Georgia, Sherman also tried to curb his troops from pillaging, but like Confederate generals had mixed success. Particularly notorious for stealing from civilians were cavalry units from both sides, although strong leaders enforced discipline when they were present. Wheeler acknowledged the problem in an order to his troops, stating that civilians were "frequently robbed of their horses, provisions, and grain by mounted men" claiming to be Confederate cavalry. He instructed officers to stop these "marauders" and to enforce rules that nobody should confiscate supplies without authorization.
As the summer wore on, Sherman steadily pushed south, making few serious errors, avoiding big battles with Johnston's forces. While there was nearly continual fighting, Sherman was never long diverted from his goal, Atlanta. He methodically evaded the Confederates when they ducked into fortifications. Only once did Sherman lose patience, ordering head-on assaults on June 27,1864 on Confederates dug in at Kennesaw Mountain, north of Atlanta. In futile attacks against Confederates entrenched on the mountain, 3,000 Union soldiers were killed, wounded or captured before Sherman called a halt and resumed the advance to Atlanta. The toll of Sherman's ongoing Georgia assault was mounting rapidly for both sides. In May and June, each army lost about 17,000 soldiers, wounded, killed or captured.
By July 1864, Sherman was finally knocking on Atlanta's front door, and Johnston, continuing to retreat, was at last ready to make a major counterattack. But President Davis had run out of patience. He removed Johnston from command on the eve of the battle for Atlanta. Many Confederates thought getting rid of Johnston was a ghastly mistake, and several key generals appealed to President Davis to wait while the fate of the city hung in the balance. But he was adamant and on July 17 placed General John Bell Hood in command.
A brave and religious man, Hood was simply outmatched in developing grand strategies. His entire plan was simply to attack. Three furious battles erupted on the edge of the city under his leadership, all failing to dislodge Sherman. What was worse, there were heavy Confederate casualties, with some 17,000 killed, wounded or captured in a single week. Out of options, the Confederates retreated behind Atlanta's earthworks, hoping to survive a siege.
Confederate cavalry, heavily engaged in the battles around Atlanta, had fought little on horseback, battling dismounted so often that many had discarded their sabers. But on July 28, 1864, they rode hard after alarm spread that much of Sherman's cavalry was rampaging south of Atlanta. Wheeler led about 3,000 men, two divisions. These troops had to contend with three divisions of Union cavalry on the move in different locations. The Confederates attacked one division in the morning, sending it in scattered retreat. Then Wheeler and his men headed south, pursuing the other two divisions.
These two Union divisions were supposed to meet the night of July 28 to destroy sections of the Macon and Western Railroad, the main Confederate supply line, but they were both delayed and never connected. The division commanded by Brigadier General Edward McCook was sidetracked attacking a Confederate wagon train. The Union troops took hundreds of prisoners and burned some 500 wagons. They also slaughtered more than 1,000 mules, killing the animals with sabers.
The other division, led by Major General George Stoneman, moved slowly because soldiers plundered along the way, stuffing their saddlebags with anything useful. Many, drunk from stolen whiskey and brandy, could barely stay in their saddles. Furthermore, Stoneman decided that he would not join up with the other Union cavalry after all. Instead, he would ride south after trophies more noteworthy than a mere railroad. He would attack the important central Georgia city of Macon, and after conquering Macon, would proceed to the Confederate prison at Andersonville in southwest Georgia and free all the Union prisoners.
The first part of his plan, attacking Macon, had some expectation of success if Stoneman's soldiers had not been diverted by scavenging. As it was, they didn't arrive near the city until July 29, and by then the alarm had spread about their approach. More than 2,000 defenders crouched behind fortifications, ready to defend Macon.
Stoneman attempted a halfhearted assault anyway. His soldiers dismounted and ran toward a fortified hill, but quickly retreated after Confederates fired their first few shots. Stoneman soon gave up his plans for glory, and hearing that Confederate cavalry might be near looked for a way back to Sherman's infantry.
Throughout July 29, Wheeler, south of Atlanta, pushed the Confederate cavalry hard to find the Union raiders. He divided his force, heading off with part of the cavalry to chase after McCook and sending Brigadier General Alfred Iverson with the rest to search for Stoneman.
After traveling all day and into the night, Wheeler and his soldiers came upon McCook's rear guard, which was moving rapidly forward. The Confederates fired their pistols, triggering return fire from Union soldiers who shot back over their shoulders. The two forces, Union in front, Confederates in back, rode like this, swapping gunfire, the rest of the night and into the morning. McCook's soldiers finally stopped in the afternoon near Newnan to face their pursuers. Wheeler's troops and other Confederate units soon converged and seemed to have the Union force penned, but suddenly, Union soldiers charged, scattering a group of Texas cavalrymen and capturing many. Wheeler's troops responded by bringing more cavalry into the fight and managed to rescue the captives. McCook, realizing the fight was hopeless, advised his soldiers that it was every man for himself. The Federals scattered in various directions. Many escaped, including McCook, but many others did not. The Confederates took 600 prisoners.
On July 31, the rest of Wheeler's force, commanded by Iverson, surrounded the Union cavalry led by Stoneman at Sunshine Church. A number of Union soldiers escaped, leaving Stoneman with 700 men atop a hill with two cannons. When the Union force seemed out of ammunition, the Confederates closed in. Union soldiers jammed the last shell into a cannon and fired, then Stoneman ordered the raising of a white flag of surrender. He sat slumped on a log, his face buried in his hands, as the Confederates approached.
Wheeler's Confederate cavalry, over several days, had defeated three separate Union forces, disabling nearly two thirds of Sherman's cavalry. When the Union general received word of the disaster, he immediately guessed what would happen next. Wheeler's cavalry, freed of constraints, would now raid behind the Union Army. Sherman dictated orders and fired off telegrams, alerting all Union supply stations in north Georgia and Tennessee to be ready for a Confederate assault.
On August 9, Sherman ordered a massive bombardment of Atlanta. Some 3,000 shells rained down, destroying downtown. Sherman telegraphed Washington, D.C., that he planned to "make the inside of Atlanta too hot to be endured...I am too impatient for a siege... One thing is certain, whether we get inside of Atlanta or not, it will be a used-up community by the time we are done with it."
The 2,000 to 5,000 terrified residents who had not fled city huddled for long hours in cellars and dugout bombproofs, any shelter they could find. Despite the enormous destruction, there were surprisingly few casualties, according to historian Albert Castel. Bombardment continued for nearly two weeks before Sherman ordered a halt. The Confederates still held Atlanta.
By mid-August, the Confederate cavalry raid began that Sherman had predicted. Wheeler, with 5,000 to 6,000 troopers, rode north into the same battle-scarred landscape that the two warring armies had passed through earlier. The Confederates destroyed railroad tracks, seized cattle, fought skirmishes, and burned buildings, then moved into southern Tennessee. Sherman, well prepared for all this, seemed unconcerned. Instead, he saw the absence of the Confederate cavalry as an opportunity for him to stage a cavalry raid of his own.
On August 17, he met outside Atlanta with Kilpatrick, recently recovered from his leg wound. The two men and their staffs sat on flimsy stools and upended barrels, discussing Sherman's plans. Kilpatrick would take 4,700 men, most of what remained of the cavalry, and try again to destroy the Macon and Western Railroad south of Atlanta. Kilpatrick was told to wreck as much of the line as possible before Confederate soldiers interfered.
Kilpatrick's force set out the next day. Pockets of Confederates shot at them from behind trees, then disappeared only to reappear farther down the road, fire quickly, then vanish again. The Confederates also built barricades and destroyed bridges, slowing the Union soldiers who plodded forward, traveling only some 20 miles in 24 hours.
Finally, late in the afternoon on August 19, Kilpatrick's force reached the Georgia village of Jonesboro and the railroad where they encountered a small Confederate detachment. They fought briefly, then the Confederates withdrew, leaving the Union soldiers to pull up the tracks. Heavy rain began and persisted just as the troops tried to build fires to heat the iron rails to make them pliable for bending out of shape. Rather than wait for the rain to stop, they merely tossed the rails to the side, a mostly wasted effort. As one Union cavalryman later wrote, the rails could be "relaid and repaired about as quickly as we had torn [them] up."
Kilpatrick wanted to move quickly because Confederates were nearly everywhere around them. The Union soldiers torched several buildings in Jonesboro, including the county courthouse, then left about 10:00 p.m. By late the following morning, a large contingent of Confederate soldiers finally located Kilpatrick's men and attacked. The Union troops fell back, only to run into more Confederates. Trapped, Kilpatrick ordered a cavalry charge. Slashing with sabers, the Union soldiers scattered their attackers and managed to break free. When they returned to Union positions near Atlanta, Sherman summoned Kilpatrick, who exaggerated his success, claiming that the railroad would be useless for at least 10 days, when, in fact, a train pulled into Atlanta within a day. Sherman, alert to Kilpatrick's bragging, nonetheless admired him for his fearlessness, his willingness to battle whatever the odds, and his coolness under fire. "I know Kilpatrick is a hell of a damned fool, but I want just that sort of man to command my cavalry on this expedition," Sherman wrote later that fall.
Still, the general's forbearance was exhausted by Kilpatrick's inept attempt on the railroad, which Sherman fervently wanted destroyed. He ordered most of the Union infantry to maneuver toward Jonesboro, with the railroad once again their objective. Confederate soldiers stormed out to confront this Union force, and many from both sides died, but Sherman ultimately succeeded. He won control of the railroad and held on, strangling the Confederate lifeline. Hood had no choice but to abandon Atlanta. On September 2, 1864, the city fell into Union hands.
Hood marched his soldiers out of Georgia, while Sherman dispatched part of his army, under Major General George Thomas, to keep watch on them. With his remaining 62,000 soldiers, Sherman prepared to leave Atlanta and head east toward the Georgia coast. The Union soldiers destroyed everything in the city that might be useful to any returning Confederates. Union forces also dismantled train bridges and telegraph wires farther north in the state that they had earlier risked their lives to protect. They would now live off the land, cut off from supplies and communications.
On November 15, 1864, the triumphant Union Army paraded out of Atlanta, with Kilpatrick riding at the very front. Sherman, deeply stirred by the experience, wrote of glancing back at Atlanta and seeing it "smouldering and in ruins, the black smoke rising high in the air, and hanging like a pall over the ruined city." A band struck up The Battle Hymn of the Republic, and the soldiers, witness to so much bloodshed, survivors of so many hardships, began to sing. Nothing he had ever heard, Sherman recalled, was "done with more spirit, or in better harmony" as all those voices mingling together singing the chorus - "Glory, Glory Hallelujah; Glory, Glory Hallelujah."
By Christmas, Sherman reached the Georgia port city of Savannah.