A well-crafted study of “two failed men with great potential” without whom the Civil War might have ended differently.
Flood (Hitler, 1989) opens with a dispiriting account of Ulysses S. Grant, the Mexican War hero and former Army captain who, in 1860 at the age of 38, found himself a clerk in a leather-goods store in northwestern Illinois; it would take a cataclysmic war for him to have a chance to redeem himself. As for Sherman, the beginning of the conflict found him heading a military school in Louisiana; after fighting at Bull Run, he was assigned to head a force on the Kentucky-Tennessee frontier, where he seems to have struggled with a few personal demons that for a time debilitated him. Sherman was relieved of command, the local papers reporting that he was insane; later, thanks to the efforts of Gen. Henry Halleck, Sherman was rehabilitated and eventually allowed to raise a division of his own. Assigned to the western campaign under Grant, Sherman got his first taste of his commander’s ways at Shiloh, where Sherman was prepared to counsel retreat but held himself from doing so when Grant replied to his remark, “We’ve had the devil’s own day of it, haven’t we,” with, “Yes. . . . Lick ’em tomorrow, though.” What was to have been Beauregard’s victory turned out to be a great Southern defeat, and the beginning of the end for the South. Flood’s overarching theme of Grant and Sherman’s friendship, born in fire, is sometimes swept under by a surfeit of Big Picture historical detail, but in those instances, the book becomes a careful survey of the Civil War in the West. Of interest to students of early modern warfare, in particular, is Flood’s account of how Sherman, always in close contact with Grant, conducted his scorched-earth campaigns in Georgia and South Carolina—and how both generals detested the press, a theme that resounds in our own time.
A worthy contribution to the Civil War literature.