The school was the Louisiana State Military Seminary of Learning and Military Academy, which today we know as Louisiana State University. The year was 1860, which was the eve of the Civil War. The first superintendent and professor of engineering was William Tecumseh Sherman.
Many important American campuses have buildings named for their founders, but there is no building here on the LSU campus named for William Tecumseh Sherman, who is remembered less as one of the founding fathers of LSU and more as the man who prosecuted the march through the South that beat the Confederacy into submission in the last days of 1864.
Sherman was vehemently anti-slavery. An example comes from his own memoir. The occasion was a dinner in Baton Rouge before the war, where he was asked directly by Gov. Thomas O. Moore to set out his view of slavery. His answer was stark: “Were I a citizen of Louisiana, and a member of the Legislature, I would deem it wise to bring the legal condition of the slaves more near the status of human beings under all Christian and civilized governments.” Lincoln’s position on slavery at the time was not as advanced as this.
By Jan. 18, 1861, Sherman was writing to Gov. Moore: “Recent events foreshadow a great change, and it becomes all men to choose. If Louisiana withdraws from the federal Union, I prefer to maintain my allegiance to the Constitution as long as a fragment of it survives, and my longer stay here would be wrong in every sense of the word.”
One could argue that Sherman was not only a great general, but perhaps the greatest general of the Civil War. He understood the strategies and tactics necessary to win a war, something that seems to have been lost on our modern generals since World War II. By hastening the Civil War’s end he saved countless lives.
Sherman was a man of conviction and honor, someone LSU should be proud to acknowledge. Naming a building for him does not seem enough. If the state can place a statue of Andrew Jackson as the centerpiece of the French Quarter, a man responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Native American men, women and children on the notorious “Trail of Tears” during his presidency and a staunch advocate of slavery, surely William Tecumseh Sherman also deserves a statue.