A wide-ranging biography of the Civil War legend, a monster to some, a savior to others.
McDonough (Emeritus, History/Auburn Univ.; War in Kentucky: From Shiloh to Perryville, 1994, etc.) looks at William Tecumseh Sherman (1820-1891) against the broad sweep of history, with special resonance in the matter of the punitive campaigns he led in Georgia and especially South Carolina. Sherman, argues the author, had good reason to be harsh, for he believed, correctly, that South Carolina was more than any other state responsible for secession and “should be made to feel the war.” Still, the vengeful mood translated into unfortunate behavior on the part of his soldiers, some of whom burned and looted their way across the Deep South. Sherman was feared and despised in the South, though, curiously, when he was in a position to offer terms of peace, he unwisely promised to honor Southern property rights—which some Southerners naturally interpreted to mean their erstwhile human property as well. “When the document reached Washington,” McDonough writes tersely, “the brouhaha was on.” It wouldn’t be the first time Sherman was in trouble, usually for political rather than military reasons, and McDonough does a good job of charting Sherman’s thinking and actions in the political context of the day. More than that, though, this is a vigorous military biography of a man of action, who, though plagued by mental troubles, did more than his part for the Union effort. Indeed, argues the author, no one under federal arms apart from Ulysses S. Grant “would have as much to do with winning the war for the Union as Sherman.” McDonough also notes that although Sherman was indeed a grim visitor to the South on his March to the Sea and beyond, he was less inclined than many commanders to spill the blood of his own men, especially after the bloodbaths of Gettysburg and Chickamauga.
A fine biography, welcome reading for any student of Civil War history.