Whether you dabble in the history of the American Civil War, or are more serious about studying the endlessly fascinating battles and personalities, at some point you will encounter General William T. Sherman and form an opinion. In 1999, two scholars assembled 400 of his remarkable letters from the War. They make for riveting reading, and form a picture of a complex and driven man who felt the full range of emotions and reveals it in his correspondence. Our Kirkus reviewer in 1999 adored the collection and wrote, “A classic of Civil War literature worthy of a place beside the general’s own Memoirs.” — June 3, 2013
General William Tecumseh Sherman, perhaps the Union Army’s fiercest and most complicated soldier, wages war in these letters against the Confederacy, the press—and himself. Much of the general’s correspondence has been published previously, but this collection of 400 letters compiled by Simpson (History/Univ. of Arizona; The Reconstruction Presidents, 1998) and Berlin (who served on the editorial staff for The Papers of George Washington) restores some of the general’s more colorful comments and prints for the first time other letters in manuscript collections. His letters, by his own admission occasionally “imprudent,” are not only essential for all serious Civil War scholars, but also a delight for the general reader. Sherman constantly, reveals the manifold aspects of his personality: self-doubt, depression, conservatism, intelligence, cynicism, honesty, loyalty to country and comrades, love of family, and courage. The letters begin in late 1860, when Sherman, as head of the Louisiana State Seminary and Military Academy, warns that secession will be “a crime against civilization” that will unleash anarchy. Over the next four years, Sherman writes of the battles and campaigns that made him immortal. Along the way, he discusses race relations, Reconstruction, strategy, his growing partnership with Ulysses S. Grant, and his major bugaboo, the press (“the most contemptible race of men that exist”). He bewails how rumors of his insanity in late 1861 will disgrace the family name, then recovers his self-confidence by degrees in battle. He vents despair over the death of son Willie. Above all, we witness the evolution in his perception that the will of Southern civilians must be broken in order for the war to end (e.g., telling officials who protest resettlement of Atlanta’s civilians, “I myself have seen . . . women & children fleeing from your armies and desperadoes, hungry and with burning feet . . . . Now that war comes home to you, you feel very different”). A classic of Civil War literature worthy of a place beside the general’s own Memoirs.