THE DESTRUCTIVE WAR by Charles Royster


William Tecumseh Sherman, Stonewall Jackson, and the Americans
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 Here, LSU history professor Royster (Light-Horse Harry Lee and the Legacy of the American Revolution, 1981; A Revolutionary People at War, 1980) shows how both the North and South clamored for massive and lethal action against one another in the Civil War, only to find that the violence surpassed their fantasies of mayhem in unexpectedly nasty ways. Largely foregoing discussions of weaponry and strategy in favor of individual and mass motivation, Royster ably illustrates how war was used to resolve deep uncertainties over liberty and federal authority dating back to the American Revolution. Not by accident were the two fiercest warriors of the conflict Jackson and Sherman, who ``epitomized the waging of successful war by drastic measures justified with claims to righteousness.'' For Jackson, with a Calvinist zeal for self-improvement, the war was an attempt to prove, on a national scale, that ``you can be whatever you resolve to be''; for Sherman, the war had to be brought to a swift halt before it undermined the foundations of order he had seen threatened in post-Gold Rush San Francisco and antebellum Louisiana. Royster's blend of brilliantly written descriptive tableaus (e.g., Jackson's mortal wounding at Chancellorsville by friendly fire, Sherman's destruction of Columbia, S.C.) and analysis of both sides' heated rhetoric is not particularly smooth. But he skillfully explains why Jackson and Sherman became such powerful symbols of unrelenting determination--and he demonstrates how Yankees and Rebels yielded successively to illusion, shock, ever-mounting slaughter, and endless postwar efforts to justify the violence. A subtle and elegant attempt to examine the hearts and minds of Unionists and Confederates--and the drastic means both used to give shape to radically different visions of nationality and freedom. (Twenty-two photographs and six maps--not seen.)

Pub Date: Oct. 16th, 1991
ISBN: 0-394-52485-3
Page count: 560pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1991