The railroad brought increased prosperity to Pleasant Valley when it first came through in 1853. Local businesses could ship livestock, poultry, eggs, lumber and grain to markets in the east and receive all manner of manufactured goods in return. Travel was made easier and more available for all as well. The railroad also connected our town to national events. In April of 1865, the train bearing the body of slain president Abraham Lincoln passed through the town. And in 1891 another icon of the Civil War was borne on the rails to his final resting place in St. Louis.
William Tecumseh Sherman was born in Lancaster, Ohio on Feb. 8, 1820, the third child of Charles and Mary Hoyt Sherman. According to most sources, his name then was simply Tecumseh, for the Indian chief his father greatly admired. The family called him Cump. When Cump was nine, his father died, leaving his wife with 11 children to care for. The youngest stayed with their mother, the rest were sent to live with friends and relatives.
Charles Sherman’s best friend was Thomas Ewing, a successful attorney in Lancaster, who took in young Cump. His wife, a fervent Catholic, insisted that the boy be baptized, and since Tecumseh was not a saint’s name, the William was added. But everyone still called him Cump.
Cump grew up in the wealthy and socially prominent Ewing family. (Our early pioneers, James and Joshua Ewing, were cousins of Thomas and his family.) Thomas Ewing’s political connections enabled him to obtain an appointment to West Point for Cump when he was 16. He graduated in 1840 and served in Florida during the Second Seminole War and at other posts in the south before being stationed in California in the mid-1840s. In 1850 he married Ellen Ewing, his foster sister, and they eventually became parents of eight children.
Because he had not fought in the Mexican War, Sherman felt that his chances for advancement in the Army were slim, and in 1853 he resigned his commission. He returned to California to become manager of the San Francisco branch of a St. Louis bank, which failed in the Panic of 1857. In 1859 he became superintendent of the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning & Military Academy in Pineville, Louisiana. Today it is Louisiana State University. He resigned in January of 1861.
In June of that year, as the Civil War was beginning, Sherman was commissioned a Colonel of the 13th U.S. Infantry Regiment. In July he was promoted to Brigadier General of volunteers and given the military responsibility for Kentucky. In November he suffered a breakdown and came home to Lancaster to recover.
In March of 1862 Sherman became commander of the 5th Division of the Army of Western Tennessee. He led the Union counterattack on the second day of the Battle of Shiloh, when he was wounded twice and had three horses shot out from under him. During the Vicksburg campaign the following year, Sherman suffered the loss of his young son Willy, who died on the way home from visiting his father’s camp.
In August of 1864, during the height of the drive to Atlanta, Sherman was promoted to Major General in the regular Army. Atlanta fell on Sept. 2, 1864, and in November Sherman led his Army on the “March to the Sea,” taking Savannah on Dec. 21. The Army then turned north into the Carolinas, and in April 1865, Sherman accepted the surrender of Confederate General Joseph Johnston’s Army.
In June of 1865 Sherman was given command of the Military Division of the Missouri, which encompassed all the land between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains. His main assignment was to protect the construction and operation of railroads in the area. In 1869, when Ulysses S. Grant became President, Sherman was promoted to Grant’s old position as Commanding General of the U.S. Army, with the rank of General of the Army. From 1874-1876 he made his headquarters in St. Louis. In 1875 he published his two-volume memoir. Sherman retired on Feb. 8, 1884.
He lived his last years in New York, enjoying the social life of the city and attending veterans meetings, where Uncle Billy was always wildly cheered. On Feb. 4, 1891, after a night at the theater, he developed a severe cold, which aggravated his chronic asthma (he had suffered with that since childhood) and soon developed into pneumonia. William Tecumseh Sherman died in the afternoon of Feb. 14, 1891 at the age of 71.
There was a funeral in New York, where his old foe Joseph Johnston served as a pallbearer. A special eight car train carried him to St. Louis, where he was buried at Calvary Cemetery beside his wife and son Willy. Unlike Lincoln’s funeral train, Sherman’s did not stop for services in cities along the way, but only for fuel, water, and to change engines. Still, it was reported that there were huge crowds gathered to pay their respects in cities like Pittsburgh and Columbus, and no doubt those of Uncle Billy’s men in the Plain City area gathered at the depot to give their old leader a final salute as the train passed through.
Rosemary Anderson is the vice president of the Plain City Historical Society.
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