Sherman : a soldier's life /

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Main Author: Kennett, Lee B.
Format: Book
Published:New York : HarperCollins, c2001.
Edition:1st ed.
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Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Resigning after the Mexican War from an army that offered too little scope for his ambitions, William Tecumseh Sherman (1820-1891) moved restlessly from jobs as banker to lawyer to educator. Returning to the Union uniform in 1861, he stood out from the beginning as a man of action, energy and something more. University of Georgia emeritus historian Kennett (Marching Through Georgia) makes a strong case in this well-balanced analytical biography that Sherman was a narcissistic personality, driven to avert criticism by constantly increasing his level of achievement. Fear that he could not deal with the pressures of independent command in Kentucky drove Sherman in 1861 into a spectacular attack of acute anxiety. Yet his limited performance in the final stages of the Vicksburg campaign and later at Chattanooga, Kennett suggests, reflected discomfort at playing an increasingly subordinate role to U.S. Grant. Given full command in the West in 1864, Sherman rose to the challenge. Kennett regards the Atlanta campaign as the work of an unusually gifted captain, and the "march to the sea" as an attempt to force Georgia to leave the war and "secede from secession." The aim proved illusory, but its pursuit secured Sherman's place as one of America's most controversial military figures. (He went on to renown as an after-dinner speaker and author of acclaimed memoirs.) Unprovable at this distance, Kennett's layman's psychoanalysis offers fresh perspectives on a man and a general who many contemporaries judged, but none really knew. (June) Forecast: Psychobiography has fallen out of favor, and nothing in particular is compelling a reexamination of Sherman at this point. Yet moderate review attention, garnered by Kennett's solid historical reputation and his use of new archival material, should lead to moderate sales. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

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 be characterized 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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