CITIZEN SHERMAN: A Life of William Tecumseh Sherman by Michael Fellman

CITIZEN SHERMAN: A Life of William Tecumseh Sherman

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The battles of the Civil War become background scenery in this long, sober examination of the mind and personality of ""Cutup"" Sherman, 19th-century American military icon. William Tecumseh Sherman's father named him after a famous Indian chief. At age nine, after his father died, he was taken into the politically powerful Ewing family of Lancaster, Ohio. He sailed through West Point, married a Ewing daughter, drifted through a mediocre military career and a disastrous business one. He returned to the Army but suffered a near nervous breakdown in the early months of the Civil War. Then, after he and Grant won the Battle of Vicksburg, Sherman transformed himself into the most successful and ruthless American general of his age. He was also an outspoken racist, a compulsive womanizer, an oppressive father, and a man with strongly held antidemocratic political views. He court-martialed a civilian newspaper reporter who had written a viciously unfair article about him. In relating the life of the man best known for his ultradestructive 1864 march through Georgia, Fellman (History/Simon Fraser Univ., Canada; Inside War, not reviewed) concentrates on sketching a psychological portrait rather than on blow-by-blow descriptions of Sherman's military exploits. He uses his voluble subject's many letters, speeches, and writings to burrow deeply into his mind. This leads to several intriguing hypotheses involving the relationship between the fear of failure resulting from Sherman's early early debacles and his later success on the battlefield. Fellman's fixation on Sherman's psyche, however, also results in some facile, largely unconvincing psychological analyses. These include discussions about Sherman's ""self-love"" and the contention that Sherman feared ""exposing himself entirely to himself"" because ""there were energies and conflicts inside of him that were frightening even to himself."" A fresh, needed reinterpretation of Sherman the man, but a bit overwritten and sometimes off-base in its psychologizing.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0700608400
Page count: 512pp
Publisher: Random