CRF Blog

Civil Warrior

by Bill Hayes

In Civil Warrior for the New York Times Book Review, Thomas E. Ricks reviews William Tecumseh Sherman: In the Service of My Country: A Life by James Lee McDonough.

The surprise now, in 2016, is that this soldier, portrayed to generations of children as the father of the American style of scorched-earth warfare, was actually a politically shrewd general, probably more so than 99 percent of our top officers today. He grew up in a political atmosphere. His foster father and one of his brothers were United States senators from Ohio and also became secretaries of the Treasury. Though Sherman disliked the political world, he understood it well. He knew how Washington worked and how events there were affected by military operations. He understood, for example, that Union soldiers randomly stealing from the farmers of Kentucky would “turn the people against us.” This concerned him especially because he believed that holding Kentucky and Tennessee, and their rivers, was the key to winning the war. Another example: He knew that taking Atlanta at a time when Grant was stalemated in Virginia would help Lincoln win re-election in 1864. [more]