The Destructive War

The great North American War of 1861-1865 remains one of the most examined episodes in American history. Still, Although this work is subtitled “William Tecumseh Sherman, Stonewall Jackson, and the Americans,” it is anything but a strict biography of either individual or a military history of the conflict.

Nor is THE DESTRUCTIVE WAR yet another examination of why the war occurred or why one side won and the other side lost. Instead, Professor Royster examines why the war was so violent, and why that violence exceeded the initial expectations of its architects on both sides. The focus is thus on Sherman and Jackson insofar as those two men served as exemplars of how to wage a successful war.

Royster insists that patriots per se were driven by their need for a national identity to destroy those who adhered to a different approach. Moreover, inasmuch as the capacity existed to make war horrendous, the willingness to make it so was all too persuasive. Finally, the conduct of the war led to the assumption that the nations involved would be exalted and purified by passing through an ordeal by fire.

This is not a book for the casual reader, yet it may well become one of the more important monographs on the decade. It offers a compelling examination of who we are as a people and how we got that way. But, more important, it concerns the nature of war itself.