One of the Civil War’s best-known generals, William Tecumseh Sherman (1820–1891) was born in Lancaster, Ohio. He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1840 and served in California as well as in the Mexican War. Appointed brigadier general of volunteers for the Union in 1861, Sherman fought at Bull Run and Shiloh. Promoted to major general the following year, he then distinguished himself in the Vicksburg and Chattanooga campaigns of 1863.
Sherman blazed a trail of destruction as his troops seized Atlanta, marched to the sea, and headed north through the Carolinas. He received the surrender of Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston on April 26, 1865, 17 days after the surrender of General Robert E. Lee in Appomattox, Virginia. The saying “War is hell” is attributed to Sherman. His younger brother, Senator John Sherman (1823–1900) of Ohio, was the author of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890.
The City of New York acquired Sherman Square, wedged between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue between 70th and 71st Streets, by condemnation on March 31, 1849, as part of the widening of Bloomingdale Road (now Broadway). In 1869 the parcel was reduced in size when 70th Street was opened from Eighth Avenue to Tenth Avenue, cutting through the block and carving out this diminutive traffic triangle. In 1891, after Sherman’s death, the site was named by the Board of Aldermen (predecessor of the City Council) for Sherman, who had retired in New York and resided near the square.
Parks records indicate that the site once held a water trough for horses at its northern tip. At one time the streets of Manhattan were frequented by thousands of horses on a daily basis. Equine transport was the principal means of conveying goods throughout the city, and numerous watering fountains and troughs could be found along thoroughfares and traffic intersections. Many were erected by humane societies such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Besides serving a necessary function in preserving the health of beasts of burden, these roadside fountains often exhibited a degree of artistry in their design and ornamentation. The decline of horse-drawn commercial vehicles brought the virtual elimination of these fountains by World War II.
A bronze tablet honoring those who perished in war was donated by the Grand Street Boys American Legion Post and dedicated on Veterans’ Day in 1954. Today the site is beautified by a small rose garden. In addition to this diminutive oasis on a busy stretch of Broadway, General Sherman is also commemorated with a monument in Grand Army Plaza in Manhattan (1903), with a bust at Grant’s Tomb in Riverside Park (1938), and at nearby Tecumseh Playground.