The Softer Side of General Sherman: A Story of Enduring Fondness for Bartow County’s Cecelia Stovall Shelman
West Point Cadet William T. Sherman’s friend from Augusta, Georgia had a beautiful sister that visited the Military Academy in 1836. Sherman was smitten, fell in love and proposed marriage to the dark-eyed Southern belle.
That belle, Miss Cecelia Stovall, wasn’t smitten in return. She replied to young Sherman: “Your eyes are so cold and cruel. I pity the man who ever becomes your foe. Ah, how you would crush an enemy”. Sherman prophetically replied, “Even though you were my enemy, my dear, I would ever love and protect you”.
Cecelia later married Charles Shelman of Cass, now Bartow County, Georgia, and they built a beautiful Greek revival home on their plantation along the Etowah River.
In 1864, General Sherman crossed the Etowah River and saw a beautiful Greek revival white house on a hill, about to fall victim to his troops. At the gate stood an old Black man who had stayed behind when the Shelman family refugeed. As Sherman rode by, he overhead the distraught old man mumbling about how glad he was Miss Cecelia wasn’t there to see what was happening.
Sherman stopped and asked, “Miss Cecelia? Not Miss Cecelia Stovall of Augusta?” Assured by the trembling old man that it was the same “Miss Cecelia,” Sherman then learned the route her life had taken since their youth. He ordered that everything taken from the house be replaced and ordered Union guards to protect the house.
The General told the old man: “Say to your mistress for me that she might have remained in her home in safety; that she and her property would have been protected. Hand her this when you see her”.
He handed the old man a note for “Miss Cecelia” which said:
You once said that I would crush an enemy and you pitied my foe. Do you recall my reply? Although many years have passed, my answer is the same. ‘I would ever shield and protect you’. That I have done. Forgive all else. I am only a soldier.”
William T. Sherman
Miss Cecelia’s home on the Etowah burned to the ground on New Year’s Day 1911. The note survived.