- Associated Press - Thursday, April 13, 2017

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Before his famous “March to the Sea,” scorched earth warfare during the Civil War and outright refusal to run for president, William Tecumseh Sherman in 1860 became the first superintendent of the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning and Military Academy - now known as Louisiana State University.

It also was a name he despised for a school he dearly loved, only to leave the following year and join the Union army after the war began.

LSU bears no formal memorial to its first leader. In fact, to some in the Deep South, his name is an insult to their ancestors.

But national political commentator and LSU alumnus James Carville, along with Jonathan Earle, dean of LSU’s Honors College, hope to preserve his legacy at the university and have started a campaign to rename the Parade Ground in his honor.

“I’ve always thought that Sherman never got his due here,” Carville said. “He really liked it here, and he was really well liked. He’s considered by many people to be the first great general of modern warfare.”

The two men tested their idea in front of a crowd at the French House on LSU’s campus, where Civil War scholar James Lee McDonough, author of “William Tecumseh Sherman: In the Service of My Country,” spoke about the general’s time at LSU.

McDonough said Carville was right in his assessment of Sherman’s popularity at the school. Once, facing greener financial pastures elsewhere, Sherman contemplated leaving his post. Gen. Braxton Bragg and Gen. George Mason Graham, the first chairman of the LSU board of trustees, rallied to raise his annual salary from $3,500 to $5,000, a huge sum for 1860, to keep their “irreplaceable” superintendent.

Sherman, for his part, chose to stay at LSU with or without the pay raise, deciding he could not ethically renege on his commitment, even for twice his annual salary.

Several Civil War veterans are honored at LSU. Raphael Semmes Road is named for the confederate naval officer and later LSU professor of philosophy and literature. Edmund Kirby Smith, for whom the towering residence hall off Aster Street is named, also served in the Confederate Army. Thomas Boyd, namesake of the school’s administration building, was Sherman’s right hand man at the seminary who joined the Confederate Army at the outbreak of the war, was captured and then released after Union Gen. Sherman intervened in his furlough.

“It will be very controversial, and we know that,” Earle said. “But the idea is that if we’re going to honor our Civil War heroes, we’ve got a guy right here. He was our first superintendent. He’s got a direct connection to the university.”

In addition to his role as superintendent, Sherman was one of five professors when the school opened Jan. 2, 1860. He taught mathematics, engineering and drawing to its original 40 cadets, whose class grew to just over 60 during the first term.

Sherman worked tirelessly before the term began, researching and visiting the premier military schools of the time, including his alma mater of West Point, the Virginia Military Institute and the Kentucky Military Institute, McDonough said.

The original seminary building was “a gorgeous palace,” Sherman said of the three-story structure with 30 rooms and five towers in Pineville. “Altogether too good for its purpose.”

Sherman, though widely disparaged following the war in a place he had once called home, never harbored any ill will toward the South, McDonough said. Sherman blamed politicians for inciting disagreements for short-term political gain.

In the end, though, he could not stand for the disunion of the United States and offered his services to the Union army.

“He loved the South. He had friends in the South and he did not want to fight against them in a war, which he believed, correctly, would result in the killing and maiming of tremendous numbers of people,” McDonough said. “He even more clearly foresaw what this was going to be than most in the North or the South.”

And while Sherman probably never envisioned the institute of higher learning LSU has become, Earle said, LSU still echoes his vision of instilling the values of service and leadership in its students.


Information from: The Advocate, https://theadvocate.com

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