I believe that for students of American History, both causal and serious, to say “Grant” without saying “Sherman,” is simply not possible and Robert L. O’Connell’s forthcoming biography on Sherman, will show us why this is true.
Written in a lively and readable manner, Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman (Random House) is a three pronged approach to the story of an American General and late 19th Century celebrity. Divided into three segments, the first (and longest) deals with Sherman as a military strategist; the second deals with Sherman and “his” Army and how he handled his “boys” the results of their work; the third deals with Sherman as a child and a man with significant attention paid to his marriage to the well-connected Ellen Ewing who was his foster sister.
What impressed me about this book was that in addition to a very readable and helpful narrative on Sherman himself, is O’Connell’s observations about the second generation of American leadership into which Sherman is chronologically born and the how the strategic and tactical development the US Army of the West has influenced US military doctrine since then. And in the introduction, O’Connell also reminds us of the challenges of writing about persons long dead whose visible nature eludes us which offers both a challenge and an opportunity.
While O’Connell’s overall portrait of Sherman is sympathetic, he does not soften Sherman’s sharp edges such as his refusal to bow to Ellen’s desire for him to become a Catholic; nor does O’Connell ignore Sherman’s weaknesses such as his deep depression, called ‘madness’ in the day during the early campaigns. He brings all of that to the page and more. Those for whom the name “Sherman” still evokes disgust and outright hostility will probably take O’Connell to task for glossing over the dark points of his “march to the sea” campaign and muting his strategy in driving back the Native Americans (and exterminating the buffalo) for the purpose of connecting America via the transcontinental railroad.
But the subtitle of this book is, I believe, the point of it – The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman. And it is here where O’Connell, I think, does a good job of untangling it into three distinct strands all of which is William Tecumseh Sherman. This biography is not an extremely detailed and scholarly treatment of Sherman within the context of his times but it is a wonderful and noteworthy introduction to this unique American.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it helped me gain a fresh understanding of who Sherman was. As a result I give this book a ‘magnificent’ rating.
Note: I received an uncorrected advance proof of this book via Amazon Vine in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.