William Tecumseh Sherman – Conservationist
If you mention the name William Tecumseh Sherman to anyone with even a nodding memory of American history they will remember his immensely destructive “March to the Sea.” However, few people know that after the Civil War, Sherman became a devout believer in the protection of the land.
The March To The Sea
Sherman brilliantly, ruthlessly split the Confederacy and destroyed immense swaths of beautiful land. This remorseless campaign of destruction was not done out of personal anger but out of military necessity. To bring a rebellion whose economic support was created by farming and the brutal enslavement of human beings was a necessity for the salvation of the USA. Nonetheless, the physical damage inflicted by Gen. Sherman’s army was almost indescribable. Some of it can be explained as necessary to providing food and sustenance to an army cut off from its line of supply. And some of it can be explained as destroying the economic means of support to a traitorous rebellion against the United States. This brief post does not attempt to explain or describe the March, but rather to offer insight into a little-known aspect of William Tecumseh Sherman: conservationist.
To offer just a brief description of the utter devastation inflicted by Sherman’s army of liberation, consider the so-called “Sherman’s Neckties” In which American soldiers would rip up Confederate railroad tracks, heat the iron and wrap them around trees. So adept were the soldiers under Sherman’s command that they began twisting the iron to form the letters “U” and “S” as a reminder to the insurrectionists.
William Tecumseh Sherman: Conservationist
Sherman stayed in the Army for most of the rest of his life. When he retired at 64, he moved to New York City where he became devoted to the theater and art. He was a popular speaker, indulging his fondness for reciting Shakespeare. But one of the great last causes of his life was the conservation of America’s natural wilderness. Theodore Roosevelt had formed the “Boone and Crockett Club” whose aim was to regulate hunting and preserve natural spaces. Sherman’s role on the board was a tremendous value to the movement. Quoting from the website of the organization:
Theodore Roosevelt was a firsthand witness to the near decimation of one of our nation’s most valuable resources — its wildlife. When he committed himself to restoring America’s wildlands he did so with characteristic zeal. Founding the Boone and Crockett Club was one of his first steps. Working with Club Members George Bird Grinnell, General William Tecumseh Sherman, Gifford Pinchot, and twenty other visionaries comprised of outdoor sport enthusiasts, scientists, military and political leaders, explorers, artists, writers and industrialists, the foundation for the world’s greatest conservation system was laid.”
The club today remains a leader in the conservation movement and in encouraging responsible hunting procedures. It is also a strong voice for addressing climate change!
A small measure of their early success can be attributed to William Tecumseh Sherman, Conservationist! Although Sherman was nowhere near as important to the management of the organization as Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, his personal commitment and public prestige aided the cause greatly. He died not long after the club had taken root. It is both ironic and understandable that a man whose name is associated with the destruction of so much land dedicated part of his retirement to restoring the natural beauty of the American landscape.