General Sherman and Father Sherman

Another father/son story, though this one doesn’t have a terribly happy ending. W.T. Sherman – that freethinker who delighted in his army’s killing of Bishop Polk – begat a son who became a Catholic priest. ¬†Interesting that the younger Sherman inherited his father’s manic depression, and also his feistiness; note how many of his descriptions are military or combative in theme. ¬†You can see how the Jesuits (“God’s stormtroopers”, as one of my history profs called them) would have appealed.

In the spring of 1878, General William T. Sherman opened a letter from his oldest son Thomas, a young man for whom he held great hopes. At 22, Tom had studied at Georgetown and Yale, and had graduated from law school. Sherman envisioned a bright future for Tom, one which would ensure the family’s security. The letter, however, left him shocked, distressed, even furious.

Tom wrote that he wasn’t going to continue as a lawyer, but was joining the Jesuits that summer. The General told Tom in no uncertain terms that he had betrayed him, his sisters and mother, who looked to him for support in their old age. (He always felt his army salary didn’t go far enough.) It’s not clear that Sherman ever fully forgave his son.


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