William Tecumseh Sherman was more than just one of our greatest generals. Fierce Patriot is a bold, revisionist portrait of how this iconic and enigmatic figure exerted an outsize impact on the American landscape—and the American character.
America’s first “celebrity” general, William Tecumseh Sherman was a man of many faces. Some of them were exalted in the public eye. Others were known only to intimates—his family, friends and lovers, and the soldiers under his command. In this rich and layered portrait, Robert L. O’Connell captures the man in full for the first time. From his early exploits in Florida, to his role in California at the start of the Gold Rush, through his brilliant but tempestuous generalship during the Civil War, and to his postwar career as a key player in the building of the transcontinental railroad, Sherman was, as O’Connell puts it, the “human embodiment of Manifest Destiny.”
Here is Sherman the military strategist of genius, a master of logistics whose uncanny grasp of terrain and brilliant sense of timing always seemed to land him in the right place at the most opportune moments. O’Connell shows how Sherman’s creation of an agile, improvisational fighting force—the Army of the West—helped turn the tide of the Civil War and laid the foundation for modern U.S. ground forces. Then there is “Uncle Billy,” Sherman’s public persona, a charismatic hero to his troops and quotable catnip to the newspaper writers of his day.
Here, too, is the private Sherman. He was born into one powerhouse family—his grandfather signed the Declaration of Independence—and was adopted into another. His foster father, Thomas Ewing, was an influential politician and cabinet member who helped provide key opportunities for Sherman throughout his career. But Sherman’s fraught relationship with Ewing, coupled with his appetite for women, parties, and the high life of the New York theater, certainly complicated his already turbulent marriage to his foster sister Ellen, a relationship O’Connell likens to a mix of “gunpowder and gasoline”—altogether a family triangle that might have sprung from the pages of a Victorian novel.
As he peels away the layers of the Sherman persona, O’Connell dispels a number of common misperceptions about his subject. He sheds new light on Sherman’s relationship with Ulysses S. Grant, and also on his struggle against Nathan Bedford Forrest and the insurgency that was the other half of the Civil War along the Mississippi. Later he reveals Sherman’s fabled march from Atlanta to the sea not as a campaign of unmitigated destruction, as it is often portrayed, but the careful execution of a necessary piece of strategy calculated to scare the South back into the Union. O’Connell’s Sherman is no Attila, but a complicated soldier/statesman—perhaps the quintessenti...