General William Tecumseh Sherman has come down to us as the implacable destroyer of the Civil War, notorious for his burning of Atlanta and his brutal march to the sea. A probing biography that explains Sherman's style of warfare and the threads of self-possession and insecurity that made up his character.
"John Marszalek's no-nonsense biography covers all the bases." (Washington Post Book World)
"A thoughtful and generally sympathetic biography of one of the Civil War's most controversial commanders." (USA Today)
“In Sherman, John F. Marszalek has written the premier biography of the brilliant Civil War general. Based on exhaustive research, written smoothly, and argued intelligently, it easily surpasses any existing volume on William Tecumseh Sherman's lengthy and controversial life.” (Journal of American History)
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An Honest Study of a Flawed Hero
I might. It's a good model in thorough research and dispassionate treatment of the record. The author does make a compelling case for Sherman's lifelong effort to attain the order and respect that he felt he lost in his own boyhood. If I were to criticize Marzalek's approach, it would be for focusing so narrowly on that one motivation. I think there were opportunities in the record to examine companion motivations more thoroughly.
I've read a fair amount about Winston Churchill, another deeply flawed hero. I don't think, apart from the fact that they both carried the wounds of childhood far into adulthood, Churchill and Sherman had much in common. But studying their lives has given me the opportunity to think about what I can admire and learn from in leaders who were so great in in some ways and so wanting in others.
The narrator is largely invisible. He just tells the story. He's clear without being showy or a distraction in any way. That can be hard to do, and he's to be congratulated for his professional delivery.
I don't think anybody can listen to 20 hours straight in one sitting. It took me a little more than a week. As military history, it's not that dense.
I've always despised that Southern Sir Walter Scott garbage, that lie about Southern chivalry that so blithely romanticizes white supremacy, that justification of slavery. I've always thought the South, especially South Carolina, deserved the March to the Sea for provoking and prolonging the war, and I still do. So I've always admired Sherman.
I admire him less now. He was a great soldier, but he was also narrow and sometimes mean, not in the sense of being cruel -- although he could be that, too -- but in the sense of being petty and selfish. There's an account in the book where Sherman, entering a conquered city, is approached by a former subordinate turned Confederate soldier. Sherman describes their former comradeship and then explains to the man how he's betrayed that trust by betraying the Union.The confrontation clearly rattled Sherman; it seems that he felt his duty compelled him to point out the betrayal and to chastise the unregenerate traitor. But then, a few pages later, here's Sherman nonchalantly fraternizing with another rebel POW, this time a beaten confederate officer who was not only a comrade in arms but a family friend before the war. He gives the man dinner, welcoming him as a long-lost brother. If the foot soldier is a traitor, isn't the officer friend even more of a traitor? Doesn't the duty to uphold the Union require even more when it comes to personal friendship? The question doesn't seem to dawn on Sherman.
This isn't just personal pettiness. Sherman said he believed in "hard war, soft peace," meaning that he'd fight as hard as he could until he'd beaten his opponent, then offer the most generous terms he could. What that meant in practice is that when Joseph Johnson capitulated to him, Sherman let the southerners write most of their own surrender terms. Those terms were much more lenient than what Grant had accorded to Lee shortly before. By the peace terms subject to his judgement rather than his commander's and the president's, Sherman jeopardized the terms of the broader Union victory. He had to be reprimanded before he backed down and conceded the decision over surrender terms to the civil authorities. He later did and said things that even make it appear he thought the Confederates could keep their slaves. It's deplorable enough that he doesn't appear to have understood the underlying cause for the war. He also doesn't seem to have kept abreast of United States law, or to have understood fully that his caprices and prejudices would have to bow to that law. As for "hard war, soft peace," clearly the record shows Lincoln wasn't vindictive. I think his course would have been "hard war, lawful and just peace." I wish Sherman had followed that model.
I'll be thinking about this book for a while. It gives a picture of a very complicated man. I still like and admire Sherman. That's strange, because he was vain and a bigot. But, flawed as he was, he loved his soldiers and he helped to save the country. He once said that the southern states ought to thank him, because there was no way they could have survived as an independent nation. The South ought to thank him for prevented it from committing suicide, Sherman said. I like that.
Well, it is Sherman....
I can't say I would listen to this book again. The content is well arranged and the story told is good, although the initial moves to best characterize the debate between Northern and Southern opinions is rather simplistic. I live in South Carolina and when approached about an opinion on Sherman it is easy to see him as a war criminal by today's standards and unethical by his own standards.
Going into the reading with a biased perspective you get the opportunity to understand Sherman as a man. The book covers his religious views, family life, loss, gains, and carries you all the way up to the ending (he dies... hope I am not giving anything away).
Much of my frustration with this material is that you get a perspective that he is one of our own when many of us consider him as an invader. His burning of Columbia is met with the same comments we hear everyday, but truthfully we see a person that had no issues with disrupting the organizations that develop fundamental changes to a society. That is, churches and schools.
In presentation the story is good. I disliked some of the more questionable details getting left to the end. Some periods are glossed over, but it would be difficult to find someone that in South Carolina welcome Sherman to dinner as the text seems to imply.
The narrator seems to have variations in volume and tone, which I believe is due to rerecording sections. I could swear I heard a telephone ring in the background of the audio, but you would only notice it with the volume at an extremely high level.
The only issue I have otherwise is that all of the characters seem to have a similar voice. Sherman's voice is okay, but often it sounds like he is talking to himself.
I can't say anyone can listen to something so long in one sitting...
I know the first review and make or break a book. I honestly enjoyed this book and would recommend it. It is not the best, but it is more than enough to keep you entertained and presented well enough to enjoy at points. You will get frustrated and will experience joy at certain passages.
You should get this book and listen to it, but keep in mind that you may find yourself repeating sections as you get confused. When the narrator bumps into the microphone you will hear a loud noise. He careful about the volume of listening. Most of all, enjoy the book.