Sherman came to Augusta for peace

William Tecumseh Sherman is best known as the Union general who embraced "total war" and left Georgia and South Carolina as smoldering ruins.


But years before the Civil War, Sherman came to Augusta as a peacemaker.

When he reported to the Augusta Arsenal in 1843, the city was more like a collection of villages surrounding downtown.

The arsenal, for instance, sat in a village called Sand Hills, so named for its deep, sandy roads. The houses Sherman passed on his way to the arsenal were like farm houses, with wooden frames, wide front porches and dormer windows jutting out of the roof. In summer, they were occupied by the wealthy cotton merchants, lawyers and doctors who built their homes on the hill to catch a cool river breeze. Eventually, Sand Hills changed its name to Summerville.

Sherman's business at the arsenal was settling a feud that had developed between the heads of the artillery and ordnance departments stationed at the arsenal.

It started when a company from the Third Artillery was ordered to Augusta from the arsenal at St. Augustine, Fla. The chief of ordnance in Augusta protested that there would be no room in the barracks for the artillery men and, besides, the post was built with ordnance funds.

"It seems not right to convert it into an artillery post," he wrote.

Secretary of War John Spencer halted the transfer, but the artillery company was already on its way. On April 1, Capt. Vinton with the artillery company assumed command of the post, but was told he would have to quarter his men outside the arsenal's walls.

For the next two years, the two departments would snipe back and forth, shooting letters to Washington and relieving each other of their commands.

In his memoirs, Sherman mentioned he was sent from Fort Moultrie, S.C., to serve as a peacemaker at the arsenal. The experience is only a blip in the long memoir and provides little detail of his experience here.

"After staying there some months, certain transfers of officers were made, which reconciled the difficulty, and I returned to my post, Fort Moultrie," is all Sherman wrote.

A little more of what transpired during those months is found in a letter Sherman wrote in March 1888 to a man addressed only as Lighton, possibly a former staff officer of Sherman's.

In the letter, Sherman stated he knew most of the families on the "Sand Hills" and described them as "hospitable and refined people, very friendly with the Garrison."

Sherman acknowledged that his reputation took a hit in the area after the Civil War.

"I have never been in Augusta since during which time some mighty events have occurred, in which I bore a conspicuous part, especially in the Region round about Augusta," Sherman wrote. As a result, "I am aware my name is not held in much reverence."

The historical record is limited on how Sherman spent his time in Augusta, but some conjecture is possible from secondary sources.

Sherman was described four years after his visit to Augusta as a "small, stoop-shouldered man, with reddish hair, freckled face, soft blue eyes and nothing to indicate extraordinary courage and daring."

Another contemporary said he had "soft, brown curling hair, little or no beard, and a voice as soft and gentle as a woman's."

Three years had passed since his graduation from West Point in 1840. He had spent time fighting Seminole Indians in the swamps of Florida, followed by a station at Fort Moultrie, outside Charleston. He marveled at the harbor city, where the wharves were crowded with "mountains of cotton" and "tiers of rice."

Military duties kept him occupied from reveille until about 9 a.m., but after that, officers were left to their own devices. Among Sherman's colleagues at the fort were other officers destined for greatness in the Civil War. Most would get their first combat test within a few years during the Mexican-American War.

It's probable that Sherman attended social gatherings in Augusta, and his feelings for these events can be gleaned from his experience in Charleston.

The officers were expected in full uniform, and the novelty of the parties soon wore off.

"They dance only the same old set of French quadrilles, devoid of variety and grace," said Sherman, who was accustomed to the "graceful forms and motions" of the Spanish women in St. Augustine.

He also had little patience for the conversations at the parties.

"Smirks, smiles, pride and vanity, hypocrisy and flippance reign triumphant," he complained.

Eventually, the officers would set up a roster so only two or three of them had to attend at a time.

Augusta certainly couldn't compare with Charleston during Sherman's stay, so perhaps he enjoyed the respite in Georgia.

In 1845, Augusta had a population of just 7,500, compared with the nearly 30,000 in Charleston. The 300 block of Telfair Street, next to the modern Gordon Highway overpass, was the far eastern boundary of town and considered semirural.

Sand Hills to the west wasn't connected to downtown by Walton Way until 1850.

A visitor in 1834 wrote a letter home describing the wilderness surrounding Augusta: "There are deer, turkeys, squirrels and rabbits in abundance... I have heard wild turkeys gobble within a quarter mile of the house and we have treed a wild cat within a hundred yards of the same place."

BACKWOODS NOTWITHSTANDING , Augusta was still the second-largest city in the state in 1837, according to the Gazetteer of Georgia . The city Sherman visited was "well laid out" with wide streets meeting at right angles, "ornamented with trees" and "spacious and elegant" houses.

Several buildings still around today were erected years before Sherman's arrival.

The old Academy of Richmond County building at 540 Telfair St. is one, along with the wooden Methodist meetinghouse behind Springfield Baptist Church on the corner of 12th and Reynolds streets and the current Appleby Library at 2260 Walton Way.

Not long after Sherman left Augusta, another major Civil War figure visited.

The occasion was the end of the Mexican-American War, and Augusta was celebrating the fall of Vera Cruz with style.

"Flags and illuminations adorned the street from the lower to the upper market; every residence and business house displayed a placard or emblem," records show.

AT THE OUTBREAK of hostilities, the Augusta City Council raised the funds for the Richmond Blues to march into battle. They joined the South Carolina Volunteers, who were in "intensive training" across the river in Hamburg.

A recruitment advertisement in The Augusta Chronicle from Dec. 17, 1846, requested 100 "active, brave, young men" to serve in rocket and howitzer batteries.

The ad promised immediate departure and noted for recruits reluctant to sit on the sidelines that the battery "will constantly be in the advance, where the hardest fighting may be expected."

Residents were promised $2 for every recruit they brought.

J.W. Berry was the first Richmond County casualty. He died at the siege of Camargo, Mexico.

A writer chronicling his death remarked: "It breaks one's heart to see the sufferings of these poor fellows ... A blanket and the earth are the couch on which a volunteer has to lie, if sick; if he dies the same blanket forms his winding sheet and coffin. Plank is not to be had."

A banquet was given in honor of returning hometown hero Gen. David Twiggs, who was given an engraved sword by Richmond County residents for his valor. That same ball honored two wounded heroes, Col. George H. Talcott, who would assume command of the Augusta Arsenal, and Capt. Robert Anderson, who later surrendered Fort Sumter to Confederate forces.

Anderson was one of many officers wounded in battle, but he earned his place in history at Fort Sumter. Surprisingly, there are no memoirs or biographies dedicated to his life, said Richard Hatcher, a historian at Fort Sumter National Park.

"He was our first national hero," Hatcher said.

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Georgia congressman was outspoken on states' rights
Confederate soldier still stands tall
About the series

As 150th anniversary observations of the Civil War begin next week, The Augusta Chronicle looks back on our city's role in and connections to war.

MONDAY: Berry Benson is the model for the anonymous soldier atop Augusta's Confederate Monument.

TUESDAY: Alexander Stephens, of Crawfordville, Ga., served as vice president of the Confederacy.

WEDNESDAY: Robert Toombs led troops into the battle at Antietam.

THURSDAY: The Battle of Aiken kept the city out of Union Gen. William T. Sherman's hands.

FRIDAY: Archaeologists have unearthed artifacts of one of the largest Confederate prisons in Millen, Ga.

SATURDAY: Augusta's Confederate Powderworks produced millions of pounds of gunpowder.

TODAY: Two seminal figures on their path to Civil War legend made stops in Augusta.

About this story:

This story is the result of hours of research into the history of Augusta and the lives of generals Sherman and Anderson. More than a dozen books were used, but Edward Cashin's History of Augusta was especially helpful, as was research by Nancy Glaser at the Augusta Museum of History and Dottie Demarest at the Augusta-Richmond County Library.