New Sherman Book Drops on July 1!

10 06 2014

Title:Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman

Author:  Robert L. O’Connell
Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman
My Rating – 4 of 5 stars
Publisher: Random House
Genre:  Biography, History, Civil War

Thanks to NetGalley and Edelweiss and the publisher for allowing me the opportunity to read and review this Advanced Readers Copy of “Fierce Patriot”.

William T. Sherman, one of the great Union commanders of the Civil War, may also be one of the most complex in his thinking and his relationships. The author seeks to explore Sherman’s psyche and character through three of his life roles – as Military Strategist, Leader of his Men or his role as Uncle Billy, and his family relationships. While there is overlap during his lifetime, O’Connell looks at it as Sherman’s own “three ring circus” and addresses each accordingly.

Militarily he looks at Sherman’s admission to West Point, the skills he used and his life experiences in the army. Sherman had unique talents which were ideally suited for the military environment. Though his early career seemed to lack any true block buster successes, each of his opportunities gave him growth and vision that would help him later to achieve great things. We follow Sherman through these seemingly lack luster events – his missing the Mexican revolution because of his stationing in California, his adventures in banking that later dried up, the attempt of his father in law to push him into managing an Ohio salt works and his running of a Louisiana Military School. (Sherman never questioned why the state of Louisiana would want a military school.) Then we hear the standard Civil War stories of Sherman, but with a more in depth look at how the early experiences may have influenced him both positively and negatively. By the time Sherman has marched to the sea, and through the Carolinas, he has restored his reputation to the status of legendary. His subsequent post war army activity – including his part in the transcontinental railroad and the demise of the buffalo on the Great Plains are things often missed in the average history book. Certainly, Sherman continued to affect this country and in essence became a larger than life celebrity during this time.

His relationship with his men is perhaps the most poignant part of the Sherman story. Sherman may have been full of himself, but to his men he was everything. The Army of the Tennessee was a complex animal, a combination of one part Uncle Billy – the persona he became to his men. He rode with them, fought with them and inspired them, while then in turn did the same for him – reaching down inside themselves and pushing to their max. Sherman never lost their love, appearing at many veteran reunions and always bringing joy and laughter to the men. The author goes to the first person level with several soldier stories that represent these relationships, which gave a more realistic telling to that relationship.

Finally, the author tries to relate the complex web of relationships in Sherman’s family – which consisted of not only blood family, but a foster family. His wife Ellen, was in fact his foster sister, which only added more tangles to the web. While Sherman fought his father in law and the family through most of his early life and was later to somewhat overcome it. He struggled his whole marriage with Ellen’s Catholic faith and the influences it brought to their household. There were trials, and suffering. The Shermans did not have a storybook marriage.

The author used a contemporary writing style, using modern language and descriptions to give us a Sherman we can relate to. He also included many footnotes, annotations and a full compliment of sources to keep us in tune with the views of the time. The author notes that “there is plenty of Sherman” to go around. And indeed there is. O’Connell only touched the very tip of the iceberg in this biography.

Fans of Sherman should enjoy the book. While it doesn’t seem that there is any new revelations, it might just present a different way to look at the deeds of an incredible historical figure who has been all but reduced to “the guy who did that march to the sea thing” in the eyes of the average American. It’s peeling off the layers of history.

Recommend also to students of the Civil War and military history.

I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher. All opinions expressed are my own.