Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman
by Robert L. O’Connell
Random House (July 1, 2014), Hardcover, 432 pages
There have been many books published about the Civil War this year, the 150th anniversary of the end of the War. Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman by Robert L. O’Connell may be one of the best of the lot. Within these pages, William Tecumseh (Cump to his family) Sherman’s childhood, tenure at West Point, brief civilian life as a banker, war-time heroics as well as his life as a living monument are equally chronicled, giving the reader an excellent biography of the man. From the early tragedy of losing his father, to his bouts of depression, O’Connell offers a full and enlightening explanation of how Sherman became the man that he became. Many are familiar with his Scorched Earth policy during the March to the Sea, setting aflame the South’s infrastructure, military targets and economic strongholds as the final recourse in ending the Civil War.
The book goes into vivid detail on not just the deed of burning Atlanta to the ground itself, but also why Sherman chose this path. Sherman’s Grand Plan was to not only beat the Confederacy’s forces militarily, but to destroy them economically and psychologically. By parading his army deep into Southern territory, he assumed that civilians would give up hope, and realize that the war had already been won. This tactic delivered what was promised, leaving Sherman and his commander U.S.Grant as heroes of the Union. This brings up one of many facets of Sherman’s life that I was not aware of, particularly that he preferred to be the second banana, or the wing man, never desiring to be left in charge. While that may have been true, as O’Connell shows, his larger than life stature was forged by the respect of both his troops (they called him Uncle Billy), and the leadership in Washington, as he constructed a professional, volunteer army that is seen as the archetype for the future standing Army of the U.S.
While there is much to be read concerning Sherman’s military service, there is also a great deal about his private life, his brief and unfortunate foray into the business world, and his family life. Of special interest to me was the fact that his adoptive family, headed by Thomas Ewing , would be where he’d meet his future wife Ellen, who was actually his foster-sister. O’Connell’s writing is anything but dry- his story-telling prowess keeps the book moving smoothly, and never seems to get bogged down by the minute details.
Above all, Robert L. O’Connell is able to show how Sherman’s strategic genius, in tandem with Grant’s leadership skills, are responsible for not only the success of the Army of the West, but also for building a true professional American Standing Army-an important achievement which would propel the United States into a leadership position in world affairs in the near future.
I highly recommend this engaging book to those interested in American History, the Civil War, Military Strategy, and American Political History.
out of 5 Stars