The White Tecumseh: A Biography of General William T. Sherman

The White Tecumseh: A Biography of General William T. Sherman

by Stanley P. Hirshson
     
 

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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,

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The Civil War general infamous for the burning of Atlanta cuts a more sympathetic figure than usual in this biography, which is as psychologically penetrating as it is painstakingly researched. Hirshson (Farewell to the Bloody Shirt), a professor of history at Queens College at CUNY, shows how Sherman (1820-1891) evolved from a rebellious yet intellectually gifted student into an inspired leader of men, driven as much by a fear of giving into the mental illness that ravaged his mother's side of his family as by his military ambition. According to Hirshson, prior biographies of Sherman have largely exaggerated the general's fierceness, and in so doing have failed to comprehend the complexities of his character. Hirshson is the only recent Sherman biographer to tap even a portion of the hundreds of unit histories to find out what Sherman's men thought about their commander. Although sympathetic to his subject, he admits that Sherman made mistakes during the Civil War, and he details the genesis and nature of these errors. He also uncovers new material about the general's personal difficulties before the war, and about his post-1865 squabbles with brother officers regarding army policy. The one drawback to this fine study is its lack of a detailed bibliography, which forces readers to delve through the endnotes to appreciate the depth of Hirshson's research in what is sure to become a controversial book on one of America's great generals. Photos; maps. (May)
Publishers Weekly - Cahners\\Publishers_Weekly
The Civil War general infamous for the burning of Atlanta cuts a more sympathetic figure than usual in this biography, which is as psychologically penetrating as it is painstakingly researched. Hirshson (Farewell to the Bloody Shirt), a professor of history at Queens College at CUNY, shows how Sherman (1820-1891) evolved from a rebellious yet intellectually gifted student into an inspired leader of men, driven as much by a fear of giving into the mental illness that ravaged his mother's side of his family as by his military ambition. According to Hirshson, prior biographies of Sherman have largely exaggerated the general's fierceness, and in so doing have failed to comprehend the complexities of his character. Hirshson is the only recent Sherman biographer to tap even a portion of the hundreds of unit histories to find out what Sherman's men thought about their commander. Although sympathetic to his subject, he admits that Sherman made mistakes during the Civil War, and he details the genesis and nature of these errors. He also uncovers new material about the general's personal difficulties before the war, and about his post-1865 squabbles with brother officers regarding army policy. The one drawback to this fine study is its lack of a detailed bibliography, which forces readers to delve through the endnotes to appreciate the depth of Hirshson's research in what is sure to become a controversial book on one of America's great generals. Photos; maps.
Library Journal
Utilizing regimental histories, historian Hirshon offers a sympathetic yet excellent biography of one of the more noted Civil War generals, best remembered for burning Atlanta, cutting a swath of destruction across Georgia, then creating total destruction in South Carolina, including the burning of Columbia. Hirshon gives us an insight into how Sherman's own troops felt about him and his relationships with fellow generals, especially Grant. The author not only describes Sherman's role in the war but also details his early life and family problems. The latter part of the book deals with his life after the war, especially with the Indians in the West as well as his relationships with Presidents Johnson and Grant. This work focuses more closely on Sherman's battles and marches than most other biographies do and discusses his failures and accomplishments in detail. Highly recommended.W. Walter Wicker, Louisiana Tech Univ., (ret.) Ruston
Kirkus Reviews
A sympathetic biography that seems undecided whether to focus on Sherman the warrior or Sherman the family man.

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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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780471175780
Publisher:
Wiley
Publication date:
05/01/1997
Pages:
496
Product dimensions:
6.46(w) x 9.54(h) x 1.53(d)

Meet the Author

STANLEY P. HIRSHSON is Professor of History at Queens College, City University of New York, and the author of Farewell to the Bloody Shirt: Northern Republicans and the Southern Negro, 1877-1893. He lives in Closter, New Jersey.

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