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SHERMAN by John F. Marszalek


A Soldier's Passion for Order

by John F. Marszalek

Pub Date: Nov. 30th, 1992
ISBN: 0-02-920135-7
Publisher: Free Press

 An exhaustive but engaging biography that plumbs the personality of William Tecumseh Sherman--and attempts to explain the Civil War general's personal and military decisions as arising from a psychological need for order and control. Marszalek (History/Mississippi State Univ.) contends that Sherman's rootless childhood--he lost his father at age nine and endured a separation thereafter from his mother and his siblings, while a charitable neighbor, Thomas Ewing, raised him--instilled in him an abhorrence of uncertainty and a craving for control. Sherman's letters make clear his ambivalent feelings about Ewing, mixing gratitude with a determination to make his way in life while taking charity from no one else. The Army, which offered an education without cost and advancement based solely on personal merit, made West Point an obvious goal for the young Sherman. While there's documentary evidence to support Marszalek's thesis about the psychological roots of Sherman's need for independence, the author is less convincing when he speculates that almost every personal and military act by Sherman--from his frequently absenting himself from his marriage to Ellen Ewing, his foster father's daughter, to his decision to fight for the Union despite his having lived in, and loved, the South--arose from his passion for stability. Much of Sherman's life can be explained simply by the fact that the general loved, and excelled in, the Army from the beginning, and revered the Union. Sherman was a born soldier, and during his brief periods as a civilian he seemed restless and dissatisfied. Finally, Marszalek argues persuasively that Sherman's scorched-earth tactics arose from his experience fighting the Seminoles in Florida, where he witnessed for the first time a war not between armies but between societies. Despite his sometimes heavy-handed psychobiographical theme, Marszalek succeeds in making this gruff, complex warrior come alive.