William Tecumseh Sherman was born February 8, 1820, in Lancaster, Ohio, the son of Charles Sherman and Mary Hoyt. After Charles Sherman's sudden death in 1829, Mary and her 11 children were left impoverished, and William went to live with the family of a prominent Ohio politician, Thomas Ewing. In May 1836, through Ewing's influence, Sherman received an appointment as a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he graduated sixth in his class. He served as a second lieutenant in the Second Seminole War and took an administrative post in California during the Mexican-American War. In 1850, he married Eleanor ("Ellen") Ewing, the daughter of Thomas and Maria Ewing; they had eight children. From 1853 to 1857, he managed a bank in San Francisco, and following this, he served as superintendant of the Louisiana Military Seminary, the forerunner of Louisiana State University.
During the Civil War, Sherman rejoined the Army as colonel of the 13th Infantry, and was soon promoted to brigadier general of volunteers. After a promotion to major general of volunteers, he assumed command of the Memphis defense and served in the Vicksburg and Chattanooga campaigns. In 1864, he gained command of the Union armies in the West, and was promoted to major general of the Union Army. He earned fame and notoriety for his "total war" tactics and his destructive march across Georgia to the sea. Postwar, Sherman held the position of commanding general of the United States Army from 1869 to 1884. He died on February 14, 1891.