The White Tecumseh: A Biography of General William T. Shermanby Stanley P. Hirshson
The White Tecumseh Hailed by his admirers as "a fighting prophet," cursed by his enemies as "the concentrated quintessence of Yankeedom," General William Tecumseh Sherman is one of the most complex and fascinating figures in the history of the U.S. military. His fierce campaigns of the Civil War, climaxed by the burning of Atlanta and his famous march to the sea,… See more details below
The White Tecumseh Hailed by his admirers as "a fighting prophet," cursed by his enemies as "the concentrated quintessence of Yankeedom," General William Tecumseh Sherman is one of the most complex and fascinating figures in the history of the U.S. military. His fierce campaigns of the Civil War, climaxed by the burning of Atlanta and his famous march to the sea, are the stuff of legend. Yet, until now, much of Sherman’s life and troubled times have remained mired in controversy. In this superbly detailed, scrupulously documented account, author Stanley P. Hirshson presents the most vivid, revealing, and complete biography ever of the controversial general. Drawing on a wealth of new information, including actual regimental histories, The White Tecumseh offers a refreshing new perspective on a brilliant, tormented soul and often misunderstood leader. Peeling away layers of myth and misconception, Hirshson draws a remarkable portrait of an enigmatic, temperamental, and unique individual-a man of enormous contradictions, strengths, and weaknesses; a loyal but largely absent husband and father; a determined and courageous, yet deeply flawed, military man. Born in 1820, "Cump" Sherman attended West Point, where his undisputed brilliance in tactics, artillery, ethics, and engineering far outshone his erratic conduct. Despite a slew of disciplinary demerits, he graduated sixth in a class of over two hundred. As a young soldier, he served in Florida during the Seminole Wars, before embarking on a checkered career as a banker in San Francisco, a lawyer in Kansas, and finally, a military school master in Louisiana. When secession came, practicality more than principle led Sherman to Washington, where an appointment from Abraham Lincoln spurred his rise through the ranks. The White Tecumseh offers a fresh and frank assessment of Sherman as a military tactician. For the first time, we learn how he was regarded by his own men. The battle of Shiloh made Sherman a national figure, while defeat at Bull Run east doubt on his judgment and abilities. Publicly portrayed as an unbalanced hysteric-a perception fueled by his own proclamations of collusion and conspiracy-privately he suffered from depression, forever haunted by the mental instability that had plagued his mother’s family. However, it was on the long campaigns and marches, such as his march across Mississippi in the summer of 1863, that Sherman’s logistical and leadership abilities excelled. With the capture and razing of Atlanta in 1864, Sherman’s notoriety-and historical legacy-was assured. As one newspaper put it, "Grant walked into Vicksburg, McClellan walked around Richmond, but Sherman is walking upon Atlanta." In fact, his understanding of logistics would be admired and studied half a century later by another West Pointer: George S. Patton. With previously unpublished photos taken from the West Point Archives, this thoroughly researched, wonderfully balanced account of one of history’s most famous and provocative figures is a compelling, beautifully crafted biography.
As Hirshson (History/Queens Coll.; The Lion of the Lord, 1969, etc.) himself notes in his preface, this is hardly the first recent study of Sherman. In fact, the general has been poked and prodded quite a lot of late, and Hirshson compares his experience watching various works emerge to "the academic equivalent of having the contents of a six-shooter slowly emptied into one's body." Still, he has tried to turn this to his advantage, showing where his predecessors failed to use all available sources while at the same time culling from their works what he found useful. The result is a competent biography that, to justify its existence, stresses the importance of regimental histories of the Civil War, on which Hirshson relied most heavily. The problem is that while he spotlights them, it's clear that the more personal interactions of the Sherman family, especially the relationship between Sherman and his wife, Ellen, seem to be closest to his heart. The Sherman who emerges is a tormented man who, like his friend Ulysses S. Grant, tried his hand at a number of (mostly unsuccessful) ventures in the private sector but returned to the army during the Civil War to claim his share of glory. Sherman's record during that conflict is more difficult to categorize than Grant's, and it would be hard to point to a battle that he actually won. More impressive, claims Hirshson, were Sherman's marches, especially his famous (or infamous) March to the Sea through Georgia in 1864, which the author claims could have been accomplished only by a superbly skilled officer.
Not the most comprehensive biography, but a good supplement for those eager to understand the "firebug" in all his somewhat dubious glory.
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