William T. Sherman (American Crises Biographies), by Edward Robins
It is hard to get a sense of Sherman as a man. But the more one reads about him , the more one gets a sense of his complexities as a person. Sherman, unlike many Northern officers, had a great deal of personal knowledge with the South and had even lived there and worked there for a fledgling military academy. Yet despite informing the would-be rebels that his brother was not an abolitionist and being gracious in his departure for the north and in being hostile to extremists for both sides, he ended up being far more hated by the South than Grant, who killed far more men than he did. The author does not explore the depths of the Southern hatred for Sherman (which still remains) but seeks to write a basically ordinary and chronological account of Sherman’s life that discusses his irritability when dealing with the press and with political generals and which expresses his unwillingness to play the courtier when it came to politics themselves. By and large Sherman is a man who I can well understand and in some ways may even be said to resemble.
This book is twelve chapters and more than 300 pages long. After a chronology the book begins with a discussion of Sherman’s Puritan background (1) and the experiences of his childhood and youth, and then there is a chapter of his adulthood in and outside of the army, including among the people of Louisiana (2). The author turns to Sherman’s efforts at being a part of the Union military that led him to lead a force at Bull Run and then have a tough time in Kentucky (3). At this point the author discusses his friendship with Grant and his second chance at military leadership (4) and his activities during the Vicksburg campaign (5). This leads to a look at Sherman’s activities against Meridian and then at Chattanooga that foreshadowed later developments (6) as well as the Atlanta Campaign (7) and its successful conclusion (8). The author then looks at the March to the Sea (9), his march through the Carolinas (10) and the contentious way that he sought the surrender of Johnston’s army (11). Finally, the last chapter of the book covers Sherman’s postwar experience as a high-ranking general and then his death (12), before the book ends with a bibliography and index.
Admittedly, it is unsurprising that this book would focus so much on the Civil War, given Sherman’s critical role in it as a Union general. Likewise, the author says some things about Sherman that would likely not be very kosher for someone in our contemporary generation, concerning his dislike for having so many blacks flock to the army when it was trying to conduct operations unless they could be of use to the army’s operations. Really, though, only three of the twelve chapters of this book focus attention on the life of Sherman outside of the Civil War, and a more balanced biography would have done well to allow readers to get a sense of that man as a man rather than as a nervous and intellectual and cranky general. Admittedly, the crankiness of Sherman towards the press and his willingness to attack the dignity and property of his opponents in a civil war is among the most relatable aspects of his life and character to me personally, but given that this book is more than 300 pages, it is perhaps to be expected that the writer and publisher did not want to make it longer by focusing on the less martial aspects of Sherman’s existence.
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