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"The Scourge of War: The Life of William Tecumseh Sherman" Topic


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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP12 Oct 2020 2:17 p.m. PST

"Did Sherman really say "War is hell"? His son said that his father's true statement, made to the mayor of a devastated Atlanta in 1864, was "War is cruelty and you cannot refine it." Either way, Sherman knew whereof he spoke. Graduating from West Point near the top of his class academically but knocked down by demerits—"He dressed carelessly," writes noted Civil War historian Reid, "saluted slovenly or not at all, and used his disregard of the rules as a means of winning laddish approbation from his peers"—Sherman entered the service as an artilleryman but was pushed into the commissary corps. There he learned to dig deep into every logistical consideration of how a war should be executed: what supplies were needed and where, how many wagons it would take to get them there, how many bullets would be fired, and so forth. That mastery served him well as an officer who suffered several depressing defeats during the Civil War, including a near disaster in the siege of Vicksburg. Nonetheless, he became one of Ulysses S. Grant's favored officers, succeeding him after the war as chief general of the U.S. Army. Reid looks closely at Sherman's analytical skills while taking issue with certain popular depictions of him. For example, Sherman has been accounted a heartlessly cruel avenger in Southern depictions of his March to the Sea, where in truth "the absence of violence…needs to be underlined," at least as far as civilians were concerned. Reid also acquits his subject of the razing of South Carolina's capital, which he holds was the result of an accidental fire that "overwhelmed Columbia's small firefighting capacity." Despite occasionally dry prose, the author's capable blending of biographical facts with larger issues makes his study particularly valuable."

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