Sherman was born in Ohio. His father died when he was nine and his mother, unable to care for her eight children alone, sent his brother Thomas to be raised by an aunt and William to be fostered or adopted by his father's prosperous friend, Thomas Ewing, who named him after Chief Tecumseh.
Sherman was never really happy in the house, although he married his foster sister, and he always suffered from feelings of rejection, depression and alienation, which led to him being accused by some of insanity.
He was educated at West Point, the US Military Academy, and graduated in 1840. After service in the Army he became a banker and unsuccessful businessman in San Francisco, then superintendent of the seminary and military academy which eventually became Louisiana State University.
In 1861 he became a colonel in the Union Army of the Civil War; in 1864 supreme commander of the forces in the West. At the end of that year his army marched from Atlanta to Savannah, destroying everything in its path on their "March to the Sea." After the Civil War he stayed in the Army until he retired in 1883.
He was also the birth brother of US senator John Sherman.
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