A chaplain's story-from Civil War battlefields to Tobyhanna
June 25, 2009
TOBYHANNA ARMY DEPOT, Pa. - I recently read an article printed in 1914 about one of the early Tobyhanna chaplains, Reverend Father Thomas Sherman, son of Gen. William T. Sherman of Civil War fame. The article was very brief, simply stating that the chaplain was leaving for New York City on that day, that he had been the chaplain for the Fourth Regiment of the Missouri National Guard, and a veteran of the Spanish-American War. The article also mentioned that Thomas accompanied his father on his Civil War campaigns.
This scanty bit of information piqued my curiosity-I wanted to know more about Reverend Father Thomas Sherman. I was unable to uncover any details of his time at Tobyhanna; however, I did discover some of the details of his life.
Father Tom, as most came to know him, was born Oct. 12, 1856, in San Francisco, Calif. He was the youngest child and second son of General Sherman and Ellen Ewing Sherman [daughter of a U.S. Senator and cabinet secretary and a devout Catholic].
In the summer of 1863, the general and his troops were encamped at Woodburne Plantation on the Big Black River near Bovina, Miss., following the Union victory at Vicksburg. Thinking that it would be a good time to reunite with his wife, Ellen, and their four children, Minnie, 12, Lizzie, 11, Willy, 9, and Tom, 7, he sent for them to join him in the camp. The children by all accounts had a wonderful time in their father's encampment. They all lived in tents and enjoyed the attention of the Soldiers.
The 13th U.S. Infantry Regiment made Willy an honorary sergeant. They taught him the manual of arms and included him in the guard details and formal parades. Willy loved to pretend that he was a real Soldier and often accompanied his father on inspection tours.
As the family returned home, Willy contracted yellow fever and died. General Sherman blamed himself for his son's death and grieved his loss until his own death in 1891. Tom was the only surviving son and often accompanied his father on his military duties and offered a level of comfort to the general.
As a young man, Tom attended Georgetown College, Yale University and Washington University, and was admitted to the bar as a lawyer in 1878. However, Tom soon changed his mind and entered the priesthood as a Jesuit priest. He taught philosophy at St. Louis University.
Father Tom was able to reconnect with his military roots and live out the convictions of his vocation as citizen, Soldier, and priest when he accepted the position of chaplain, Fourth Regiment, in 1898 during the Spanish-American War.
Historical accounts say Father Tom was very much like his father in appearance and temperament with snapping blue eyes, firm jaw, quick step, and unrelenting determination.
The following extract from his first sermon to the Missouri National Guard as their chaplain on May 16, 1898, was typical of Father Tom, the chaplain who also spent time at Tobyhanna:
"The President of the United States called upon the citizenship of the country to combat with a foreign foe and we, as patriotic, country-loving Americans, are responding to that call. Carping must cease. Order and obedience can only be countenanced. Duty will lead us on many long, hot marches; compel us to wade swamps, stifle hunger, scare parapets, heavy with hostile guns, grapple with death, and perhaps, take many of us to the grave. But we remember our glorious country, and what an exalted name it bears among the nations for the reason of the valor of its sons, and trusting in God we do not shrink but march steadily onward till victory is won."
By the time Father Tom arrived in Tobyhanna, he was suffering from poor health and clinical depression, similar to his father after the death of Willy. After leaving Tobyhanna, Father Tom travelled across Europe and later served a parish in Santa Barbara, Calif., until his health deteriorated too much for him to continue to serve the church.
Four years before his death, Father Tom fought for and received a $50 per month Army pension based on his service in the Spanish-American War. He lived the last two years of his life with a wealthy niece in New Orleans, La., where he died in 1933 at the age of 76.
This is perhaps trivia from the past, but it is a compelling illustration of the determination of one man to live out the convictions of his life's vocation-which likely touched the lives of people serving at Tobyhanna.
Tobyhanna Army Depot is the Defense Department's largest center for the repair, overhaul and fabrication of a wide variety of electronics systems and components, from tactical field radios to the ground terminals for the defense satellite communications network. Tobyhanna's missions support all branches of the Armed Forces.
About 5,600 personnel are employed at Tobyhanna, which is located in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania.
Tobyhanna Army Depot is part of the U.S. Army CECOM Life Cycle Management Command. Headquartered at Fort Monmouth, N.J., the command's mission is to research, develop, acquire, field and sustain communications, command, control computer, intelligence, electronic warfare and sensors capabilities for the Armed Forces.