Research effects of father absence



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This child, born in 1820 along the banks of an Ohio river, was the 6th of 11 children. He was named after a famous Shawnee Indian chief. His father, a lawyer, died unexpectedly when the boy was nine, leaving his mother with exorbitant debts, and financially unable to care for all of the children.

The boys' older siblings were adopted out to local families in town, although he was able to see them nearly daily. The boy himself went to live as a foster child in the home of a well-off family friend. Although they were all separated, the siblings remained close, and the family managed. The children all were able to visit their mother often, frequently eating dinner at her home with their three remaining youngest siblings.

The child was a good student, very bright, but quiet and reserved. Many years later, one of his younger brothers recalled:

"I was regarded as a wild, reckless lad, eager in controversy and ready to fight. No one could anticipate that he was to be the great warrior and I the plodding lawyer and politican."

His foster father's own fortuitous financial and political success enabled the youth at age 16 to receive an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he well in his studies, ultimately graduating 6th in the class. Academically, he would have been ranked 4th, but the boy had had a difficult time adjusting to the rules. He later recalled

"Then, as now, neatness in dress and form, with a strict conformity to the rules, were the qualifications required for office, and I suppose I was found not to excel in any of these [...] my average demerits, per annum, were about one hundred and fifty".

After graduating West Point, he went into active duty, and rose in the military ranks. He met and married a woman with whom he ultimately had eight children. Then he resigned from the military to go into banking in California. Subsequently, he was asked to become superintendent of a new military academy in a Louisiana, and settled in the South with his family. When political tensions increased between the North and South over the question of slavery, he no longer felt comfortable there, and left his position and friends, moving his family north to go into business in New York.

When the Civil War began, he offered his services to the Union, although at first he had mixed feelings about the Union effort. In a letter to a Southern friend at the onset of the conflict, he predicted

"This country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end. It is all folly, madness, a crime against civilization! You people speak so lightly of war; you don't know what you're talking about. War is a terrible thing! You mistake, too, the people of the North. They are a peaceable people but an earnest people, and they will fight, too. They are not going to let this country be destroyed without a mighty effort to save it."

At the First Battle of Bull Run, the undisciplined young volunteers he commanded degenerated into a mob after the Union loss. Many up and ran home, breaking their enlistment agreements, while others went on strike. Despairing of the anarchy in his troops and fearful of the future, he succumbed to depression.

He was reassigned to the West to assist Ulysses Grant, and brought his family with him. It was a difficult time. The Union was losing the war. His young son Willy contracted yellow fever and died. He and Grant were referred to as "the drunkard and the lunatic". But he persevered under Grant's command. He attained important victories at Shiloh -- the turning point of the war, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga. His capture of Atlanta mitigated the growing unpopularity of the war on the homefront, and helped Lincoln win reelection. Determined to do whatever was necessary to end the miserable and prolonged war once and for all, his famous "March to the Sea" in late 1864 ruthlessly razed the South, and did just that.

After the war, when Grant was elected president, "Cump" took over as commanding general of the army. Regarding a potential run himself for the U.S. presidency, he said:

"If nominated, I will not run; if elected, I will not serve."

After retiring from the military, he wrote his memoirs and lectured widely. He delivered the most famous lines in military history in a speech at West Point in 1879:

"I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell."

This child -- soldier, peace-lover, scholar, educator, businessman, and leader, "the most despised man in the history of Georgia", but yet one of the most valuable military commanders in American history -- was

U.S. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, a boy from a "fatherless home."

A family of exceptional "fatherless children": Gen. Sherman's older brother Charles Taylor Sherman grew up to become a lawyer and federal judge. One of his younger brothers, John Sherman, served as a U.S. senator and Cabinet secretary (the "Sherman Antitrust Act" is named after him). Another younger brother, Hoyt Sherman, became a successful banker.

This fatherless child story was written by Winsome Solo.

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* The term "fatherless" is used in this series as it is in current research and policy rhetoric by the U.S. federal government, DHHS and the National Fatherhood Initiative, most U.S. states in connection with child custody law and policy, and various family values and fatherhood interest policy and lobbying groups.

"...Just add Dad, the magic ingredient. It's hard to know where wishful thinking becomes deliberate deception. But this argument, advanced by the fathers' rights movement, is like saying that, since Mercedes Benz owners make more money than people who drive Hyundais, you will become wealthy if you buy a Mercedes..." Mike Peterson



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