Sherman: A Soldier's Life

Sherman: A Soldier's Life

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by Lee B. Kennett

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In Sherman, Lee Kennett offers a brilliant new interpretation of the general's life and career, one that probes his erratic, contradictory nature. Here we see the making of a true soldier, beginning with the frontier society and the extraordinary family from which he came, his formative years at West Point, and the critical period leading up to the Civil


In Sherman, Lee Kennett offers a brilliant new interpretation of the general's life and career, one that probes his erratic, contradictory nature. Here we see the making of a true soldier, beginning with the frontier society and the extraordinary family from which he came, his formative years at West Point, and the critical period leading up to the Civil War. Throughout the spirited battles at Bull Run and Shiloh, the siege of Vicksburg, and ultimately, the Great March, Sherman displayed a blend of drive, determination, and mastery of detail unique in the annals of war.

By drawing upon previously unexploited materials and maintaining a sharp, lively narrative, Lee Kennett presents a rich, authoritative portrait of Sherman -- the man and the soldier -- who emerges from this work more human and more fascinating than ever before.

Editorial Reviews

During the Civil War, Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman waged a psychological battle aimed at breaking the resolve of American civilians. Sherman's mental stability has often been doubted, but Kennett, after closely examining the question of Sherman's sanity, is largely sympathetic to his subject. Although the author of Marching Through Georgia: The Story of Soldiers and Civilians During Sherman's Campaign concentrates chiefly on Sherman the general, he pays ample attention to the man behind the title, discussing Sherman's distinguished family, his years at West Point, as well as his less-than-successful tenure as a banker in San Francisco. This balanced study of a controversial figure will prove an interesting read, both for historians and Civil War buffs.
—Glenn Speer

(Excerpted Review)
Library Journal
Over the past decade, readers have been treated to several biographies of William T. Sherman, enough to raise the question whether another can make a substantial contribution. Kennett (emeritus, Univ. of Georgia), whose previous works include a fine study of the war in Georgia in 1864 (Marching Through Georgia), now tackles the man most people associate with the declaration that "war is hell." Kennett's study lacks the comprehensiveness of John F. Marzalek's Sherman: A Soldier's Passion for Order (LJ 11/1/92) or the provocative edge of Michael Fellman's Citizen Sherman (LJ 6/1/95); some of its assessments are based on what appears to be incomplete or superficial consideration of available material, and at times Kennett breezes past issues that deserve more attention, given the controversies surrounding them. However, what remains is a lively consideration of Sherman's personality and character that is sure to enlighten some readers and provoke others, as well as a thoughtful reconsideration of Sherman's views on a number of issues (including his relationship with Ulysses S. Grant) and his wartime performance. For larger public and academic libraries. Brooks D. Simpson, Arizona State Univ., Tempe Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kennett (military history, emeritus, U. of Georgia) attempts to grasp the many contradictory threads of Sherman's life to produce a coherent interpretation of the Civil War commander he argues has been misunderstood. Emphasis is placed on Sherman's identity as a soldier and warrior, not only during the Civil War years but in the eventful decades as an Army officer and later as commanding general. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
Kirkus Reviews
A skillful biography of one of the Civil War's most noteworthy-and notorious-military leaders. Kennett (Marching Through Georgia, 1995) treats the military career of William Tecumseh Sherman (1820-91) with both sympathy and candor. Although, as a West Point graduate and a veteran of the Mexican-American War, Sherman was not an unlikely candidate for command, he arrived on the scene well after the Civil War had begun-when Fort Sumter fell, he was living in San Francisco and enjoying modest success as a banker and politician-and was posted far from the main theater of fighting, on the Kentucky frontier. Unlike many of his senior officers, however, Sherman brought the fight close to himself, engaging the enemy wherever he could while taking care not to subject his troops to unnecessary danger; his exemplary conduct at places like Shiloh and Vicksburg helped turn the tide of war in the West and eventually led Sherman to army-level command in the conquest of the Deep South. Kennett focuses on Sherman's contributions, for good or ill, to the conduct of war, which included innovations such as "eating out" the countryside in a "belt of devastation" (so that enemy forces could not find sufficient provisions to pass through the same territory in pursuit), summarily executing suspected partisans and spies, and orchestrating campaigns of terror against civilian populations. (Sherman justified the last, Kennett observes, by saying, "all in the South are enemies of all in the North. . . . The people of the whole South are now on duty as soldiers.") The author also notes that Sherman suffered modern consequences: apparently the victim of "narcissistic injury," he experienced what would today becharacterized as post-traumatic stress disorder and had to be pulled from the field at several points to prevent nervous breakdown. Sympathetic to Sherman but far from uncritical: a solid contribution to Civil War studies and tactics.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Harper Perennial
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5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.04(d)

Read an Excerpt

ShermanChapter OneLancaster

Among the countless paths and trails that crisscrossed pre-Columbian America there was a track called the Mingo Trail that wound through the woodlands of southern Ohio. This area was then the home of the Wyandots. One of their principal settlements lay some thirty miles south of modern-day Columbus, where the trail met a river the Indians called the Hockhocking; a ford or "ripple" there made for an easy crossing and spawned a village they called Cranetown. Well into the eighteenth century the area remained isolated from the British colonies to the east; the momentous struggle that began at Lexington and Concord produced no reverberations along the Hockhocking. Frontiersmen visiting Cranetown in the era of the American Revolution found a settlement with a hundred wigwams and perhaps five times that number of Wyandots.

The land of the Wyandots would shortly lose both its isolation and its identity. In the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 Congress laid down the rules for the settlement of the area; nine years later the Federal government struck a bargain with one Ebenezer Zane, who undertook to lay out an access route running from Wheeling, in what was then Virginia, to Maysville, Kentucky. Zane and his men were soon at work, cutting underbrush and marking or "blazing" trees along their way.

Zane followed preexisting trails when he could, so it is not surprising that his route took the Mingo Trail to the river crossing at Cranetown. Zane's Trace, as it came to be known, could not at first accommodate wheeled traffic, but later it was transformed to Zane's Road and survives today as Highway 22.

The first log cabin in thevicinity of Cranetown went up in April 1798; before the summer was over it was joined by a dozen others. These first homesteaders were farmers whose overriding concern was to get a crop of grain in the ground so they would be able to feed their livestock through the winter. Theirs was hard living, isolated and closely bound to the soil, without benefit of clergy or physicians; they doctored themselves with what was at hand, herbs, doses of gunpowder, and alcohol, taking the last "in the "inter to sustain animal heat and in the summer to counteract the same"

What this burgeoning community most needed were the goods and services of a town, so Ebenezer Zane founded one. With a real estate agent's eye for development he took up a quarter-section, 160 acres, at the Cranetown site and in 1800 he had it surveyed out into lots. Several lots he set aside for a courthouse and other public buildings, and others were offered to settlers; they found ready buyers at prices ranging from $5 to $50. Named New Lancaster, shortened in 1805 to Lancaster, the town became the seat of Fairfield County.

The new town, like the countryside around it, continued to attract inhabitants, and as it grew it changed. In 1800 it was a cluster of log cabins, by 1805 it had ninety buildings, and by 1810 there were three structures in brick. It had a post office from its founding, and soon after it became a regular stop on the stage line; in 1836 it became linked to distant markets by a canal-whose construction gave the future Union general his first employment at fifty cents a day.

A class structure emerged. With government came officialdom; with law courts had come judges and lawyers to serve the town and surrounding county. Several physicians set up practice; clerics of various denominations had come to minister to their flocks and a succession of schoolmasters set up shop. In the town's early days it was the commercial and financial sector that seemed to lag behind; most of the business ventures launched in Lancaster's first decade foundered. Money was always in short supply and barter was common; credit was tight. Not until 1816 did the town have a bank.

In new communities such as Lancaster, where everybody was from somewhere else, a number of inhabitants gave themselves a fresh start by hiding their past or by taking on a new and more glamorous identity; in this period frontier communities played host to more than one "long-lost Dauphin of France" Lancaster had a celebrity in Mrs. Bilderbeck, who said that for many months she had been held prisoner by the Miami Indians; the stories she related were probably true. There was Augustus Witter, who claimed to have fought in the Battle of Waterloo, which was quite possible; and there was an old black woman named Aunt Disa who said she had served as wet nurse to the infant George Washington, which was problematical.

The population of Lancaster and Fairfield County was a rich mixture of ethnic strains and cultures; many of the inhabitants were a logical "spillover" from more settled areas to the east, notably from western Virginia and Pennsylvania; but New England was also represented, particularly Connecticut. Recent immigrants from the German states were so numerous that for a time Lancaster had a German language newspaper. There was a sprinkling of Frenchmen and Spaniards. While the bulk of the population was white and Protestant, other races and creeds were represented. Free blacks seem to have been there from the first, though relatively few in number. They were often craftsmen; the town's tinsmith, for example, was a black man; finally, there was a seasoning of Wyandots, some of whom stayed on until the 1840s.

As time passed these people coexisted, mingled, and somehow became one. According to an early Ohio historian the process was a simple one: "The families married and intermarried and a race of native Buckeyes was the result, combining all that was good in the different races" Certain it is that over time the new settlers' welter of dialects and accents was transformed into a common way of speaking, instantly recognizable to the Southerner or New Englander who hears it. And by the mid-nineteenth century...

Sherman. Copyright (c) by Lee B. Kennett . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Lee Kennett is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Georgia and the author of Marching Through Georgia: The Story of Soldiers and Civilians During Sherman's Campaign and G.I.: The American Soldier in World War II He lives in Pleasant Garden, North Carolina.

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Sherman: A Soldier's Life 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In his memoirs, General Norman Schwarzkopf revealed that when he was directing the Gulf War he kept before him on his desk a quotation from William Tecumseh Sherman: 'War is the remedy our enemies have chosen. And I say let us give them all they want.' In SHERMAN: A SOLDIER'S LIFE, Lee Kennett, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Georgia, paints a sympathetic but not uncritical portrait of William Tecumseh Sherman (1820-1891), the Civil War general who 'made Georgia howl' and whose army destroyed Columbia, SC. Sherman once said, 'I must be judged as a soldier.' Taking the man at his word, Kennett focuses on Sherman's military career. 'Necessarily,' he writes, 'other aspects of the general's life can receive only limited coverage. . . . His military career was central to his being; his marriage, his domestic and social life--all else, in fact--had to be fitted in where the army left room.' Kennett's narrative follows Sherman from his birth in Lancaster (Fairfield County) Ohio, through his years at West Point, and his travels to Florida, South Carolina, California, Louisiana, Missouri, Washington, D.C., and New York. We see Sherman at the debacle of the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas, Va.); at the near-disaster at Shiloh (in southern Tenn.), where Grant and Sherman allegedly were surprised by a Confederate attack. We see Sherman's mistakes at the seige and capture of Vicksburg, Miss., and his tardy advance at the Battle of Chattanooga. The zenith of Sherman's career (the Confederates called it his nadir) was the Georgia campaign, in which Sherman commanded the advance from Chattanooga to Atlanta, the capture of Atlanta, and the 'Great March' from Atlanta to the Atlantic, linking up with the Union navy at Savannah, Ga. Taking a page from the book of Ulysses S. Grant, who severed his logistical lifeline and lived off the land during the seige and capture of Vicksburg, Sherman did the same during his famous (or infamous, depending on which side of the Mason-Dixon Line one lived) march, cutting a fifty-mile-wide swath of destruction from Atlanta to the sea. Sherman impressed one of his contemporaries as 'a man of power more than any man I remember. Not general intellectual power, not Websterian, but the power which a flash of lightning suggests--as clear, as intense, and as rapid.' In spite of the author's statement, SHERMAN: A SOLDIER'S LIFE is much more than a military chronicle. Kennett traces Sherman's life both before and after the Civil War. And he includes a fascinating psychological profile, commenting on whether Sherman was a manic-depressive (Sherman certainly experienced extreme 'highs' and 'lows'). 'In Sherman's case,' writes Kennett, 'there is another--and more likely--diagnosis: narcissistic personality disorder.' As a narcissist, Sherman was driven by an inner need for acceptance, respect, and praise; conversely, he was terrified by the prospect of failure and ridicule, and waged a long-standing war of words with the Fourth Estate, angrily charging that the press failed to understand him and appreciate his achievements. Kennett argues convincingly that, although Sherman had the reputation of being rash and impetuous, at the core of his being was an entrenched conservativism, a conservativism reflected not only in his civilian business dealings but also in the strategies and tactics he used in warfare. Kennett is eminently fair to Sherman without being obsequious; he is critical of Sherman without being malicious or vindictive. Sensible and scholarly, well-balanced and convincing, SHERMAN: A SOLDIER'S LIFE is an outstanding biography.
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