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Commemorating Uncle Billy’s 200th Birthday in Portraits

On Sept. 12, 1864, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman responded to a request from the mayor of Atlanta to reconsider orders to evacuate non-combatants from the beleaguered city. Sherman’s answer includes a passage that sums up his views on war.

“My orders are not designed to meet the humanities of the case, but to prepare for the future struggles in which millions of good people outside of Atlanta have a deep interest. We must have peace, not only at Atlanta but in all America.”

This communication and others exchanged between Sherman, Atlanta’s civilian leaders and Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood on the subject of evacuation resonate 150 years after they were written. For Jerry Everts, a collector of Sherman portraits, the story that these letters tell is his favorite account of the famed Union commander. “I always looked at this situation as the beginning of the personality of “Burning Billy Sherman,” Everts observes.

Everts first became aware of Sherman thanks to a high school American History class. His interest further peaked after a relative told him about an ancestor who marched with Sherman. The ancestor, George Struble, a corporal in the 38th Ohio Infantry, died in the Battle of Jonesboro, Ga., on Sept. 1, 1864, just days before the memorable communications about the evacuation of Atlanta.

“I love to look at an image and study the character of the person pictured. It tells a great story about these soldiers.” 

A native of Adrian, Mich., Everts attended his first Civil War collector’s show in the 1980s “It was run by Dave Parks in Southfield, and it was where I was first introduced to cartes de visite. I ended up buying a large number of images from a dealer and have been hooked ever since. I bought my first image of Sherman in 1984. It was a seated image of Sherman that I still have today.”

“I think that I have developed a passion for images because this was the first conflict where we could see the faces of the men who fought it,” Everts notes. “I love to look at an image and study the character of the person pictured. It tells a great story about these soldiers.”

One of those characters is Sherman. Born in 1820, his narrative follows a memorable arc. West Pointer—Unremarkable post-graduation military career—Questions about his mental stability early in the Civil War—Enduring friendship with Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant—Father of modern warfare—A gift for piercing quotes—General of the Army.

Sherman’s complex nature emerges through these portraits. They span Sherman’s life from the beginning of the Civil War to his retirement years.

“I think it is important to remember Sherman for the remarkable place he holds in history,” Everts observes. “He was a beloved hero to a great many Americans, especially ‘his boys.’”

1882-1863: “Vox populi, vox humbug. We are in good fighting trim, and I expect still more hard knocks. The South will not give up Vicksburg without the most desperate struggle.” —To his wife, Eleanor Boyle Ewing Sherman, June 2, 1863. 

Carte de visite by George Washington Armstead & Taylor of Corinth, Miss.

Carte de visite by George Washington Armstead & Taylor of Corinth, Miss.

Two Stars after Shiloh

May 1862: This is possibly the first image of Sherman as a major general. His left arm appears limp, which may indicate the effects of wounds he sustained to the hand and shoulder during the Battle of Shiloh.

Cartes de visite by Hiram Allen Balch of Memphis, Tenn.

Cartes de visite by Hiram Allen Balch of Memphis, Tenn.

Portraits for Ellen?

September 1862: This pair of portraits is believed the same referred to by Sherman in a letter home to his wife, Ellen, on Sept. 25, 1862. “I send you two more daguerreotypes or cards—Sister Ann asked me for one. I have just sent her two—John two, and you two—so I think my picture will have more circulation than is prudent.”

Carte de visite by Michael Columbus Witt of Columbus, Ohio.

Carte de visite by Michael Columbus Witt of Columbus, Ohio.

Raised Brow

1863: Sherman’s raised brow suggests an inquisitive frame of mind. This portrait is believed previously unpublished.

Stereoview card published by Taylor & Huntington of Hartford, Conn.
Stereoview card published by Taylor & Huntington of Hartford, Conn.

Unique Badge

1863: Sherman wears the Department of Mississippi badge in this post-war stereoview card of an earlier portrait. Everts notes: “This badge is totally unique to William Tecumseh Sherman. The only other people that I have seen wear it were a couple of his staff officers.” He adds, “I believe Sherman may have had these done in a very limited amount, maybe six or eight. The acorn represents the 14th Army Corps, The cartridge box on the shield represents the 15th Army Corps, the arrow represents the 17th Army Corps, and the shield represents the 23rd Army Corps. These corps were only together until October 1864.”

1864: “War is cruelty and you cannot refine it, and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out.” —To Atlanta Mayor James M. Calhoun and City Council representatives E.E. Rawson and S.C. Wells, Sept. 12, 1864.

Carte de visite by Algenon Morse of Nashville, Tenn.
Carte de visite by Algenon Morse of Nashville, Tenn.

1,000-Yard Stare

1864: An unusual and perhaps unpublished view of the general. “He is looking straight into the camera and saying beat me if you can,” Everts notes.

Carte de visite by an anonymous photographer.
Carte de visite by an anonymous photographer.

A Carte in a Carte

June 1864: As Sherman’s reputation as a military leader grew, so did requests for his likeness. The photographer who pirated this May 1862 portrait did not bother to crop the mount out of the copy print, making it a carte de visite in a carte de visite.

Carte de visite by an anonymous photographer.

Carte de visite by an anonymous photographer.

Bad Hair Day

1864: Much has been made of Sherman’s unruly hair in this portrait—one of at least three views made in a single sitting. No primary source documents shed light on the cause of the mussed style. It is fair to state that he was not alone in being captured on a bad hair day.

Carte de visite by Mathew B. Brady of New York City and Washington, D.C.
Carte de visite by Mathew B. Brady of New York City and Washington, D.C.

American Napoleon

1864: Sherman thrusts his hand into his coat a la Napoleon—an often-repeated pose by many officers. In this case, the reference to the French military icon recalls a speech by Confederate President Jefferson Davis after the fall of Atlanta, and before the March to the Sea. “Our cause is not lost. Sherman cannot keep up his long line of communication, and retreat sooner or later he must. And when that day comes, the fate that befell the army of the French Empire in its retreat from Moscow will be re-enacted. Our cavalry and our people will harass and destroy his army as did the Cossacks that of Napoleon, and the yankee General like him will escape only with a body guard.”

Carte de visite by Mathew B. Brady of New York City and Washington, D.C.

Carte de visite by Mathew B. Brady of New York City and Washington, D.C.

Classic Sherman

1864: “This is classic Sherman with his very gruff look and mussed hair. I love the scowl on his face and the bravado,” Everts observes. The tax stamp on the back of the mount, proceeds from which paid for the expensive war, is dated Sept. 12, 1864—two weeks after Atlanta fell to Sherman’s army.

1865: “Now there is peace all the way from here to the Gulf, and you, gentlemen, know what you must do now. Instead of destroying, you must build up; instead of insulting, you must conciliate; instead of discouraging, you must encourage those who are willing to aid us in building up this widely diversified land. You cannot expect the people of Louisiana and the people of North Carolina to feel as we do; all parties have their prejudices, and we must respect theirs as they must respect ours. With this simple precaution, there is no danger of this thing ever recurring in our annals.” —From a speech in Chicago reported in the June 15, 1865, edition of the Buffalo Courier

Carte de visite by Samuel M. Fassett of Chicago, Ill.
Carte de visite by Samuel M. Fassett of Chicago, Ill.

Studious General

July 1, 1865: The general strikes a studious pose, seated with pencil and paper at a table stacked with books, and his hat at his feet. The date and Chicago back mark suggest Sherman sat for this portrait during his two-week visit to the city in mid-June 1865. Everts recently added this to his collection. He observes, “In all the years I have been collecting Sherman, I have never run across this photo.”

Carte de visite by an anonymous photographer.
Carte de visite by an anonymous photographer.

Surrender

1865: The Sherman-Johnston surrender scene pictured here was copied without credit from a lithograph published by Currier & Ives in 1865.

Carte de visite by Mathew B. Brady of New York City and Washington, D.C.
Carte de visite by Mathew B. Brady of New York City and Washington, D.C.

In Victory

April 1865: Sherman exudes confidence, wearing his Department of the Mississippi badge. Though it was obsolete by this time—the 23rd Corps had been pulled out and ordered to Nashville in November 1864—Sherman continued to wear it through the rest of the war, and beyond.

Carte de visite copied from the Brady original by Helleberg & Co. of Cincinnati, Ohio; Carte de visite by Mathew B. Brady of New York City and Washington, D.C.
Carte de visite copied from the Brady original by Helleberg & Co. of Cincinnati, Ohio; Carte de visite by Mathew B. Brady of New York City and Washington, D.C.

Team Sherman

April-May 1865: One of the best-known portraits of Sherman pictures the victorious commander with his generals: John A. Logan, Henry W. Slocum, Oliver O. Howard, William B. Hazen, Jefferson C. Davis, Joseph A. Mower, and Francis P. Blair, Jr. The image is also notable for the addition of Blair, right, who was not present during the original sitting. His likeness was added in the darkroom—1860s Photoshop.

Carte de visite by Mathew B. Brady of New York City and Washington, D.C.
Carte de visite by Mathew B. Brady of New York City and Washington, D.C.
Library of Congress.
Library of Congress.

In Mourning

April-May 1865: Sherman posed with arms crossed in the studio of Mathew Brady after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. The most common crop of this image, inset, pictures the general wearing black mourning ribbon around his arm in memory of the slain commander-in-chief. In a variant crop, above, the ribbon is barely visible. One theory as to why the ribbon has been hidden holds that Brady wanted to sell the view following the end of the traditional period of mourning.

Carte de visite by John Carbutt of Chicago, Ill.

Carte de visite by John Carbutt of Chicago, Ill.

A Visit to Chicago

June 1865: The lens of noted Chicago pioneer photographer John Carbutt captured this image of Sherman. The general’s arrival in the city on June 7 came on the heels of a whirlwind of events in recent weeks. Negotiating surrender terms of Confederate Gen. Joe Johnston’s army that were deemed controversial in official Washington. The Grand Review in the nation’s capital. Issuing a stirring farewell address to his men. Cleared of any wrongdoing in the good faith negotiations with Johnston. Public adulation and calls for him to enter politics.

Sherman spent about two weeks in Chicago, during which he attended a Sanitary Commission Fair to raise funds in support of soldiers and other events.

Post-war: “I hereby state, and mean all that I say, that I never have been and never will be a candidate for President; that if nominated by either party I should peremptorily decline; and even if unanimously elected I should decline to serve. If you can find language stronger to convey this meaning you are at liberty to use it.” —Reported in the June 24, 1871, issue of Harper’s Weekly.

Carte de visite by John Adams Whipple of Boston, Mass.
Carte de visite by John Adams Whipple of Boston, Mass.

General of the Army

1866: A serene Maj. Gen. Sherman appears at ease and self-assured. On July 25, 1866, he received a promotion to lieutenant general after Ulysses S. Grant advanced to the newly created rank of General of the Army. This photograph likely stems from a copy-print produced from an 1865 sitting in Chicago.

Cabinet card by Mathew B. Brady of Washington, D.C.

Cabinet card by Mathew B. Brady of Washington, D.C.

General of the Army

1869: One of the first views of Sherman as General of the Army. He succeeded to this rank upon the election of Ulysses S. Grant as the 18th U.S. President. Philip Sheridan replaced Sherman as lieutenant general.

Sherman took issue with having only one lieutenant general. He argued in his Memoirs that two other Union soldiers, George G. Meade and George H. Thomas, should have had equal treatment along with Sheridan.

“The truth is, Congress should have provided by law for three lieutenant-generals for these three pre-eminent soldiers, and should have dated their commissions with ‘Gettysburg,’ ‘Winchester,’ and ‘Nashville.’ It would have been a graceful act, and might have prolonged the lives of two most popular officers, who died soon after, feeling that they had experienced ingratitude and neglect.”

Thomas died in 1870 and Meade in 1872.

Cabinet card by Hoyt, “The Brady National Gallery,” Washington, D.C.

Cabinet card by Hoyt, “The Brady National Gallery,” Washington, D.C.
Carte de visite by Hoyt, “The Brady National Gallery,” Washington, D.C.
Carte de visite by Hoyt, “The Brady National Gallery,” Washington, D.C.

Four Stars

1871-1872: Sherman is the quintessential warrior as General of the Army. Note the four stars on his shoulder straps. This insignia was worn first by Grant, then Sherman, between 1866 and 1872. These portraits are credited to Hoyt of The Brady National Gallery, located at 627 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. Gabriel P.B. Hoyt is listed as a photographer at that address in an 1877 city business directory. Hoyt may have printed these images from original Brady negatives.

Carte de visite by Charles D. Fredricks of New York City.

Carte de visite by Charles D. Fredricks of New York City.

Lieutenant General

1872-1873: Though the war ended five years earlier, Sherman continued to wear his Department of the Mississippi badge. Note the clipped signature.

Carte de visite by Jose Maria Mora of New York City.

Carte de visite by Jose Maria Mora of New York City.

Shoulder Straps

1875-1876: Sherman wears shoulder straps that feature the U.S. coat of arms flanked by stars, a design he implemented in 1872. Sherman’s successor, Philip Sheridan, wore the same insignia.

Final Years: “My official career is now nearly ended, and you need not fear that I will be tempted by flattery, or a false sense of duty to embark in political life. The whole Western world recognizes the truth that since the close of the Civil War I have so used my power and office as to encourage the growth and development of the great West, giving me a hold on the respect and affections worth more than gold.” — To his wife, Sept. 16, 1883

Carte de visite attributed to Sarony of New York City.

Carte de visite attributed to Sarony of New York City.

In Retirement

Early 1880s: Now a graying civilian, Sherman’s creased brow, taut face, and determined expression were easily recognizable to the soldiers who stood with him at Vicksburg, Atlanta, and elsewhere during the late war.

Cabinet card by Napoleon Sarony of New York City.

Cabinet card by Napoleon Sarony of New York City.

Wearing the Uniform

1888: Though Sherman retired from the army in 1884, he dressed in full uniform once again for New York celebrity photographer Napoleon Sarony. Engravings of this view appeared in the second edition of Sherman’s Memoirs and on a postage stamp.

Cabinet card by Charles D. Mosher of Chicago, Ill.

Cabinet card by Charles D. Mosher of Chicago, Ill.

Time Capsule

Late 1880s: Prominent Chicago photographer Charles D. Mosher took this photograph as part of an exhibit planned for the nation’s 1976 bicentennial. Sherman’s likeness and those of other prominent men and women were part of a time capsule.

“They are to be classified and deeded, with memoirs and valuable statistics, to Chicago, and preserved with the city archives in a memorial safe in the great vaults of the Court House, where suitable space has been provided by the Council,” read an official statement. “There will be a request in the deed to have the Mayor of Chicago, in 1976, confer with the Centennial Commission to provide a place for these portraits and statistics in Memorial Hall, at the Second Centennial Anniversary of American Independence.”

The memorial vault holding the images was destroyed when the court house was razed in 1908. The photographs, however, were saved. On June 12, 1976, an exhibit featuring the images and other relics opened at the Chicago Historical Society. The mayor of Chicago at this time was Richard J. Daley.

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