Citizen Sherman

If it were possible to characterize the complexities of an individual personality, even the whole of their life, in a single sentence then William Tecumseh Sherman would be presented as repeatedly crushed by a force majeure. Placed in a foster home after his father’s death in 1829, Sherman was summarily inducted into the Roman Catholic Church by his new guardian and renamed William in the course of the baptismal service. The ensuing decades found Sherman resisting, ofttimes strenuously, both his new name and the religion which institutionally claimed his soul. Sherman was eventually dispatched to the United States Military Academy by his foster father, Thomas Ewing. By the age of sixteen, Sherman was effectively deprived of his lineage, his name, his religion, and his individual freedom. The result was an individual so emotionally scarred that he spent the next half century in pursuit of retributive compensation.

In consequence, Sherman became an implacable warrior who carried the scourge of war deep into the heart of the Confederacy. As the leader of the Union Army’s infamous March through Georgia, Sherman continued to exemplify the utter horror of war for generations of Americans who were otherwise ignorant of the most defining moment in the history of their country.

Biographical appraisals of William Tecumseh Sherman are far from uncommon, along with many new assessments of other military leaders. Furthermore, Sherman’s life is frequently presented in symbolic fashion to illustrate some aspect either of war or of the settlement of the American West. Few of his biographers, however, have sought to discern what lurked in the dark corners of Sherman’s mind. Biographer Michael Fellman has sought to remedy this situation and succeeds admirably.