Picture this. It’s 1958. I’m sitting in the front row of my American History class. My teacher is standing upon his desk, re-living the battles of the Civil War and in the process of his expounding, his words are laced with spit. My American history class was like that for the entire semester. I soon learned to carry a towel to class with me. At the time, the battles seemed to be a distant image that had absolutely no bearing on my young life. As I look back and also look ahead to the fact that much of our history is being either ignored, white washed or simply eliminated from the curriculum, it makes me sad. I really believe that the only way we can move forward in life, is by reviewing our past and learning from our mistakes.
Today is the birthday of General William Tecumseh Sherman – known in his letters to his wife as W.T. – and to his friends as Cump. He was born on February 8, 1820 in Lancaster, Ohio. His father was a successful lawyer who died unexpectedly in 1829, leaving his wife and eleven children with no inheritance. Nine year old Sherman was then raised by a neighbor and family friend, Thomas Ewing, Sr. Ewing served as senator from Ohio and was the first Secretary of the Interior.
Ewing secured an appointment for 16 year old Sherman at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Sherman never felt he was a good soldier. He was a stellar student, but disliked the demerit system which knocked his grades down, for not conforming to the rules of conduct and appearance. In his early pictures, he seems to be a soldier any young woman would fall for. As time wore on him, his pictures showed a weary man, beaten down by war.
Sherman did not oppose slavery, but he thought it foolish for the southern states to dissolve the union and secede from it. In words to a friend who was an enthusiastic secessionist he said the following:
“You people of the South don’t know what you are doing. This country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end. It is all folly, madness, a crime against civilization!”
His words rang true as war ravaged so many lives, pitting brother against brother, dividing families and waging terror across the country for four more years.
When the Confederate states surrendered in 1865, Sherman wrote to a friend:
“I confess, without shame, I am sick and tired of fighting—its glory is all moonshine; even success the most brilliant is over dead and mangled bodies, with the anguish and lamentations of distant families, appealing to me for sons, husbands and fathers … tis only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded and lacerated … that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation.”
I can still see my American History teacher waging war against the south on top of his desk. None of it made a bit of sense to me then, nor does it today. However, without that knowledge, who knows whether history could one day repeat itself and we might again be a divided nation. In some cases, we’re already there.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, W.T.