Saturday, November 19, 2011

Civil War Chronicles, Month 9, Ellen Ewing Sherman

Ellen Ewing was born Oct 4, 1824. She loved to play the piano and harp as a young girl. Her father Thomas was a close friend of Ohio Supreme Court Judge Charles Sherman. When Charles died suddenly leaving a widow with 9 children, Thomas offered to adopt the nine-year-old son, Tecumseh. Ellen's mother was a devout Catholic and insisted that the child be baptized and given a more suitable name. She selected the name of WWilliam.
As the children grew up together they forged a deep friendship and ultimately fell in love. Ellen's father was not happy about the relationship as he did not want an Army lifestyle for his daughter. The couple married May 1, 1850 and as predicted by Ellen's father began a life of intense travel. William's work took him from New Orleans to St. Louis. Then, he resigned from the Army to take a banking job in San Francisco. Business soon took him back to Ohio, to Kansas and back to Louisiana. During their first ten years of marriage the couple spent only a total of four years together.
In early 1860 as talk of a civil war grew, William relocated to Washington. Although he did not have strong feelings on the slavery question, he was fiercely loyal to the Constitution and the Union so he immediately volunteered for Army service when asked. Separated once again, Ellen returned home to Lancaster, OH with her children as her husband renewed his military service.
Sherman's initial service during the war was marred by his pessimism and erratic behavior. He had misgivings about the war and predicted dire outcomes for his troops and for the United Stated overall should the war continue. Colleagues questioned whether Sherman fit for duty. By late 1861, Sherman was relieved of his command. Ellen brought her husband home then immediately began a campaign to get him reinstated. She even traveled to Washington, DC to meet with President Lincoln on his behalf.
Upon returning home, Ellen began taking a more active role in the war effort, leading many charitable activities for the soldiers. Sherman was reinstated in 1862 and bolstered by faith in General Gran's efforts, he again emerged as an effective leader.
Determined to spend some time with her husband, Ellen traveled with her children to his encampment south of Vicksburg in August, 1863. The family was able to spend 6 weeks together at the camp. Boarding a boat to head back towards Ohio in late September, Ellen and William noticed that their son, Willy, seemed ill. The boat ride from Vicksburg to Memphis was miserable for the young boy who was diagnosed with yellow fever.
Upon reaching Memphis, physicians were summoned by it was too late. Young Willy succumbed to the disease on Oct 3, 1863 at the age of 9. Ellen continued on home to Ohio with her other four children and William returned to the battlefield. However, the death of Willy changed him forever. Writing about the loss, Sherman said: "I have got up early this morning to steal a short period in which to write you, but I can hardly trust myself. Sleeping, waking, everywhere I see poor little Willy. His face and form are so deeply imprinted on my memory as were deep seated hopes I had in his future. Why, oh why, should this child be taken from us, leaving us full of trembling and reproaches?
"Though I know we did all human beings could do to arrest the ebbing tide of life, still I will always deplore my want of judgment in taking my family to so fatal a climate at so critical a period of the year...To it must be traced the loss of that child on whole future I had based all the ambition I ever had."
Known for his ruthless march of destruction throughout the South, many historians attribute Sherman's actions to his mental state following the loss of his son.
Bake at home in Ohio, Ellen had the couple's sixth child, Charley, in Jan, 1864. By September Ellen had decided to move to South Bend, IN to be close to her other children as they attended school. Charley developed a cold and grew progressively sicker as winter approached. On Dec 4, 1864, Charley died in Ellen's arms. William never made it home to see the baby and Ellen had to deal with his death and burial on her own.
From Homestead Hearth, Mexico, MO.

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