Sherman: His Love Affaire and Augusta
In 1845, William Tecumseh Sherman, a 25 year old U.S. Army lieutenant arrived in Augusta. Was it a pure chance or did he obtain this position because of his political connections in Washington? Thomas Ewing, his adoptive father was a lawyer and influential Ohio politician. Cump -Sherman's nickname, a take on his middle name, Tecumseh- might have had an ulterior motive. His friend and former West Point roommate, Marcellus A. Stovall (future Confederate Brigadier General) and his beautiful sister Cecelia, children of a wealthy Sparta cotton merchant, were living in Augusta. Cump had fallen madly in love with Cecelia when she was attending dances at the Military Academy in 1836. Sherman tried to romance her and may even have proposed marriage but he did not have a large enough salary to suit Cecelia's father who had better plans. She ended up marrying the wealthy "high cotton" Charles T. Shellman from Cartersville in 1848. They lived in a beautiful white mansion with six Doric columns that they named "Shellman Heights." It was located atop a bluff overlooking the Etowah River. Cump then turned to the other "true love of his life," his foster sister, Ellen Boyle Ewing, who seemed to return his favors. What was Lieutenant Shermans official mission at the Augusta Arsenal? Mapping and engineering in the northeastern part of Georgia. Unknowingly, it revealed a task and an experience that would serve him immensely when preparing for his future "March to the Sea."
When Cump was working and romancing in Georgia, he was far from imagining that 20 years later this welcoming state was going to make him famous or infamous depending on which side of the Mason Dixon line youre from. This "bright-eyed, red-headed young man, was always prepared for a lark of any kindHe was one of the brightest and most popular fellows" according to classmate cadet William Rosecrans (future Union General.) As the foster son of a prominent Whig politician, Sherman moved in a very comfortable way within the upper circles of the Old South society. He was at ease among the cotton nabobs and their sons sharing a lot of their conservative opinions. He thought that democracy was deceptive and once said: "Vox populi, vox Humbug." Although his brother John was well known as an antislavery congressman, he did not oppose slavery and was sympathetic to Southerner's defense of the institution. He was not in favor of emancipation and proved it later on. He was not religious but tolerant. "So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours."
Sherman knew the South very well. Before Augusta, he was seeing action in Florida in the Second Seminole War, then was stationed in Mobile Alabama and finally at Fort Moultrie near Charleston. When living in Augusta, he probably assisted and listened to some of the long speeches of the city's newly elected U.S. Whig Congressman, Alexander Hamilton Stephens. He will remember later that squeaky voice of reason that was coming from this short, skinny and remarkably cultured man. In 1859, Sherman was appointed first superintendent of the new Louisiana State Seminary and Military Academy (future LSU) in Pineville, near Alexandria. One of his students was Ren Toutant Beauregard, the older son of P.G.T. Beauregard. Sherman was a frequent guest at the Beauregard's home and the sugar cane plantation of Beauregards in-laws. Because of the Civil War, he resigned from the Seminary on January 18, 1861 to join the Union forces.
Before reaching Atlanta in August 1864, General Sherman decided to pay a visit to Cecelia at Shellman Heights, but when he arrived there, he found that the family had fled. He ordered guards to be placed at the house until his entire army had passed to avoid looting. He also left a message, which remained in the family records of the Stovalls. The message read: "You once said that I would crush an enemy and you pitied my foe. Do you recall my reply? Although many years have passed, my answer is the same. 'I would ever shield and protect you.' That I have done. Forgive all else. I am only a soldier."
Sherman was informed that the Confederate Vice-President Alexander Stephens was vehemently critical of Jefferson Davis. Before embarking on his March to the Sea, he sent him a letter encouraging him to meet and discuss the possibility of Georgia forming an independent peace agreement with the Union. Stephens refused the invitation.
Although "Uncle Billy", as his soldiers knew him, might have had a mistress in Augusta when he was "Crump", he avoided that well protected and fortified city on his "March to the Sea." Not because of a potential mistress but because he was a fine military strategist. He recognized the danger of a prolonged siege for his exhausted Army of 62,000 plus a crowd of liberated slaves dependant on the "bummers" foraging for survival.
Edouard J. Servy