William Tecumseh Sherman was born in Lancaster, Ohio, as the son of Charles Sherman, a state judge, and Mary Hoyt. His father died when Sherman was nine years old, leaving the family with no other source of income to live on. Sherman grew up in the family of Thomas Ewing, a noted politician, and Maria Boyle. When he was sixteen he received an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point through his foster father, where he graduated sixth out of his class of forty-one. Though he felt uncomfortable under the restraining environment of the military academy, he eventually looked at the army as his family. He respected Ewing enormously and tried to gain his approval but always saw himself as being inferior to Ewing because he was an orphan.
After graduation, Sherman served a variety of military assignments, mostly in the South. He participated in the difficult Seminole War in Florida from 1840 to 1842. At Fort Morgan in Mobile, Alabama in 1842, and Fort Moultrie in Charleston, South Carolina from 1842-1846, Sherman became incredibly familiar with the people and geography of the south, two areas of knowledge that were to influence his military career in the next few years.
At the beginning of the Mexican War in 1846, Sherman was on recruiting duty in Pittsburgh, but he soon received orders to go to California. He arrived in Monterey by a sailboat, where he served until 1850. He never saw combat, and his main excitement was the gold rush. His lack of combat experience still worried him, and his marriage that year to Ellen Ewing added to his burdens. His wife was a devote Catholic tied very closely to her family, and she insisted that he accept her religion and that he leave the army and find civilian job, but only in Lancaster, Ohio, where her parents still lived. However, Sherman remained in the army until 1853; he served in St. Louis and New Orleans in the commissary service.