Home > History of Wine > “Sercial Sherman”: A look at the 1852 Sercial selected by General Sherman in 1871

“Sercial Sherman”: A look at the 1852 Sercial selected by General Sherman in 1871


In December 1864, General William Tecumseh Sherman completed his “March to the Sea” which involved widespread devastation not just of military targets but also industrial and civilian property.  Having reached Savannah, Georgia, his troops turned towards the Carolinas with the intention of reaching Virginia.  Thus at the start of 1865, residents of Charleston, South Carolina took action as General Sherman’s army advanced.

Residents of Charleston were careful to hide and disperse their treasured Madeira collections to avoid consumption by General Sherman’s troops.  Bottles were hidden between rafters, demijohns were buried in the ground and for the South Carolina Jockey Club, the Madeira was hidden in the South Carolina State Hospital for the mentally ill.  The Jockey Club’s Madeira remained untouched but for some families their entire collection was lost.  One family sent eight wagon loads of Madeira nearly 200 miles from Charleston to Cheraw, near the North Carolina border.[1]  The Madeira was captured by General Frank P. Blair before it could be hidden.

General Blair served a few bottles of the captured Madeira to General Sherman who found them “very good”.  General Blair shared the story of its capture and eventually sent a dozen bottles “of the finest Madeira” General Sherman had ever tasted.  The rest of the Madeira was divided equally amongst the army.

Surviving stocks of 19th century American bottled Madeira are exceedingly rare.  It is ironic then, given the widespread disruption and consumption of Madeira by General Sherman’s army that one of his own bottles was served at The Sensational Sercial Tasting held last year.

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Labeled “1852 Sercial Selected By General Sherman On his visit at Madeira, 1871” this bottle was part of a parcel of three bottles acquired by Roy Hersh, For the Love of Port.  The paper-wrapped bottles were purchased from a family on Long Island who had owned them for three decades.  Two of the bottles were labeled as Sercial and one Navy Reserve.  There is no known documentation for these bottles and outside General Sherman’s comments on General Blair’s captured Madeira, he himself wrote nothing else about specific bottles of Madeira.

It was at a dinner in August 1871, with Admiral James Alden and General William W. Belknap, that General Sherman made plans to visit Madeira.[2]  Admiral Alden had been promoted to rear admiral in command of the Mediterranean Squadron.  As General Sherman had never been to Europe he agreed to accompany Admiral Alden on his journey to Spain.  They were to first stop at Madeira.

Admiral Alden was to take the screw frigate Wabash as his flagship.  She was being overhauled at the time.  With repairs complete she left the Boston Navy Yard on November 17, 1871. Just a few weeks later she approached Funchal under steam on December 5, 1871.[3]

USS Wabash. c 1871-1873. Image from Naval History and Heritage Command.

USS Wabash. c 1871-1873. Image from Naval History and Heritage Command.

General Sherman wrote very little of wine during his life and little of the “Celebrated Madeira Wine” during his visit as he described it.  His only descriptions of wine relate to the “[b]light destroy the grapes” some 20 years earlier.  He described how “New Vineyards are beginning to reproduce the Same wine”.

He accompanied Admiral Alden on their very first visit ashore which was to a “Mr Walsh’s house”, the Admiral having known him in “former years”.  It is Mannie Berk, The Rare Wine Co., who first suggested that General Sherman perhaps visited Mr. Welsh of the Madeira shippers Welsh Brothers and that perhaps our bottle came from the Welsh’s.[4]

Prior to the Oidium, or blight that General Sherman wrote of, the Welsh Brothers were focused on “cheap light Madeira”.[5]  This succeeded in this business becoming the largest Madeira shipper by 1849.  By 1881, their focused changed to sending the “more costly growths” mostly in bottle to the United States.

That our bottle came from the Welsh’s is corroborated by an article published in Harper’s Magazine during 1919 by Major Charles Wellington Furlong.[6]  Major Furlong was an American explorer and writer who traveled around the world.  This particular article of his describes a hunting trip he took with Charles B. Cossart, Harry Hinton, and Mr. Welsh Jr on a deserted island off of Madeira.

shermansercia32

On the last night of the hunt, the party celebrated with a meal of curried rabbit and goat-meat stew accompanied by a bottle of Madeira brought by Mr. Welsh Jr.  It was none other than “a bottle of Sercial wine of a vintage of seventy years.”  This dates the wine to 1849 which essentially matches the 1852 vintage of our bottle.  Mr. Welsh Jr. explained that wine was called “Sercial Sherman” because at Christmas time “General Sherman sent for four bottles, and since then his daughter has followed her father’s custom.”

It seems unequivocal that our 1852 General Sherman Sercial came from the Welsh Brothers.  It is also possible that the Madeira Wine Association (MWA), in part formed by Hinton and Welsh, marketed wine under the name “Sercial Sherman”.  Since this bottle is not labeled “Sercial Sherman” it is possible it was shipped during General Sherman’s lifetime which means it arrived in the United States between 1871 and 1891.


[1] Sherman, William Tecumseh.  “Memoirs of General William T. Sherman”, 1876.

[2] Ibid.

[3] General William Tecumseh Sherman to Thomas E. Sherman.  December 5, 1871. CSHR 9/59. Sherman Letters. University of Notre Dame. URL: http://archives.nd.edu/findaids/ead/index/fulltext/cshr9_59.htm

[4] See Mannie Berk’s background information on the wine in the Sensational Sercial tasting booklet. April 30, 2016.

[5] Vizetelly, Henry. Facts About Port and Madeira. 1880.

[6] Furlong, Major Charles Wellington. “Hunting With the Lords of the Dezertas” Harper’s Magazine, Volume 138. 1919.

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