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Sherman: A Biography

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General William Tecumseh Sherman famously said “War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it.” This statement has contributed to his mythic status as a grim-visaged Civil War character who embodied implacable war. Utilizing unique and highly successful maneuvering techniques, Sherman was an original, decisive, and efficient leader. Rising stead General William Tecumseh Sherman famously said “War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it.” This statement has contributed to his mythic status as a grim-visaged Civil War character who embodied implacable war. Utilizing unique and highly successful maneuvering techniques, Sherman was an original, decisive, and efficient leader. Rising steadily through the ranks during the Civil War, Sherman quickly became Ulysses S. Grant’s right hand man. He went on to lead the Union capture of Atlanta, a major victory that contributed to Lincoln’s reelection during a tough phase of the war.  Legend has him burning a sixty-mile-wide swath of desolation across the South, but while he held the harsh view that the Southern people must feel the pain of the war if it were ever to end, he also showed courtesy and restraint to those Southerners he encountered and strictly limited the destruction to strategic targets.  An integral component to the North’s success, Sherman was directed and single-minded in his pursuit of Union victory and a re-united country.  Acclaimed Civil War historian Steven E. Woodworth delivers a nuanced, insightful portrait of General Sherman, as a man who shied away from the spotlight and only wanted the war to end as quickly as possible.  


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General William Tecumseh Sherman famously said “War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it.” This statement has contributed to his mythic status as a grim-visaged Civil War character who embodied implacable war. Utilizing unique and highly successful maneuvering techniques, Sherman was an original, decisive, and efficient leader. Rising stead General William Tecumseh Sherman famously said “War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it.” This statement has contributed to his mythic status as a grim-visaged Civil War character who embodied implacable war. Utilizing unique and highly successful maneuvering techniques, Sherman was an original, decisive, and efficient leader. Rising steadily through the ranks during the Civil War, Sherman quickly became Ulysses S. Grant’s right hand man. He went on to lead the Union capture of Atlanta, a major victory that contributed to Lincoln’s reelection during a tough phase of the war.  Legend has him burning a sixty-mile-wide swath of desolation across the South, but while he held the harsh view that the Southern people must feel the pain of the war if it were ever to end, he also showed courtesy and restraint to those Southerners he encountered and strictly limited the destruction to strategic targets.  An integral component to the North’s success, Sherman was directed and single-minded in his pursuit of Union victory and a re-united country.  Acclaimed Civil War historian Steven E. Woodworth delivers a nuanced, insightful portrait of General Sherman, as a man who shied away from the spotlight and only wanted the war to end as quickly as possible.  

30 review for Sherman: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    robin friedman

    A Perceptive Study Of Sherman's Generalship This short book is part of the "Great Generals" series which consists of studies of American military commanders, including Grant, Lee, Eisenhower, and Patton, among others. The series is related to the "American Presidents" series of the same publisher which offers short accessible biographies of each of the presidents summarizing their accomplishments and their leadership styles. Writing a short biography of the Union Civil War General William Tecumseh A Perceptive Study Of Sherman's Generalship This short book is part of the "Great Generals" series which consists of studies of American military commanders, including Grant, Lee, Eisenhower, and Patton, among others. The series is related to the "American Presidents" series of the same publisher which offers short accessible biographies of each of the presidents summarizing their accomplishments and their leadership styles. Writing a short biography of the Union Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman (1820 -- 1891) presents a challenge. Sherman remains a controversial leader who is probably best-known for his "March to the Sea" after his capture of Atlanta. He is frequently portrayed as the first modern practitioner of "total" war, including massive and wanton destruction and war against civilians. Sherman is also difficult to write about briefly because most of the readers of a book such as this are likely to have a background in the Civil War and will have some knowledge of Sherman. The difficulty is to write briefly and informatively without becoming superficial. In this new (2009) biography of Sherman, Steven E. Woodworth succeeds remarkably well. Woodworth is a Professor of history at Texas Christian University and an authority on the Civil War in the West. Most recently, he has edited an excellent volume of essays on the Battle of Shiloh, "The Shiloh Campaign". Sherman played a pivotal role at Shiloh which, of course, is developed in this bigraphy as well as in the essays on Shiloh. Woodworth's writing is clear and engaging. He offers a good summary of Sherman's early life and the frustrations he experienced in and out of the Army. Woodworth also examines briefly Sherman's life after the Civil War while focusing on Sherman's leadership during that conflict. Woodworth does several things. First, Woodworth offers excellent, understandable summaries of the battles in which Sherman took part, including First Bull Run, Shiloh, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, Atlanta, and the marches through Georgia and the Carolinas. Admirable as these summaries are, Woodworth does more. He shows the development of Sherman's leadership skills as the War progressed and the manner in which Sherman's understanding of the conflict evolved. The book has a great deal of continuity. Woodworth offers a sophisticated portrayal of Sherman that departs from stereotypical accounts. Finally, Woodworth offers a summation of Sherman's leadership style and of his contribution to the War and to subsequent military strategy. Woodworth offers a portrayal of a Sherman who utilized maneuver and finesse. At his best, Sherman avoided frontal attacks and extensive casualties. Instead, he tried to attack the enemy at his weakest point and to destroy the resources, such as railroads, munitions, food, and human will, necessary to make war. Grant proved himself a master of maneuver at Vicksburg and Sherman learned much from this campaign. But beginning with the campaign for Atlanta in 1864, in which Sherman outmaneuvered the Confederate General, Joe Johnston, and continuing through the marches, Sherman proved himself a master of maneuver in contrast to Grant who tried to attack the enemy directly and with superior force. Woodworth rejects the portrayal of Sherman as an early practitioner of total war, and sees him as attempting to shorten the war and to hold down casualties. He was a commander who excelled in subtlety and in strategy rather than simply in destruction. Besides his skill in maneuver, Woodworth has insightful things to say about Sherman's leadership. Frequently portrayed as brusque, eccentric, and aloof, Sherman excelled as what we today call a "team player." He was able to work, in a subordinate role, closely with Grant for almost the entire duration of the war without jealousy or pride. Sherman recognized his own very real limitations as a tactician. He surrounded himself with able colleagues, including Thomas, McPherson, and Howard, whose advice he sought repeatedly. Sherman won the affection of his troops as "Uncle Billy". Without the regard of the soldiers under him, no general can succeed. Finally, Sherman, for all his racism, distinguished himself for his loyalty and his patriotism and his commitment to the Union cause. In its short space, this book accomplishes a great deal. Sherman's accomplishments, his shortcomings, and his character are convincingly developed. Readers coming to this book with little Civil War background will learn why Sherman was important. Students of the Civil War will have their perceptions of Sherman, and of the conflict, both sharpened and challenged. Woodworth has written an excellent short biography of a fascinating leader. Robin Friedman

  2. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    A decent introduction. Could use more analysis of his strange family life, complicated politics and Cioran-ish prose style.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Joseph

    A brief, clear crisp look at one of the Civil War's greatest strategists. The author gives a brief overview of Sherman's formative years, but the book focuses more on wartime than anything else. The author makes his case that Sherman's contributions to strategy have been incorporated into military planning up to the present day. This book was a quick read; a good introduction to those unfamiliar with Sherman and his exploits. Also an interesting read for the general reader. Very good.

  4. 5 out of 5

    The Angry Lawn Gnome

    This book is supposed to be from a series on "leadership" via generals, but I couldn't find much in the way of it in this biography. Sherman did what he had to do the way he felt he had to do it. He had to adopt an unconventional strategy: turning his back on Hood and "making Georgia howl" as his crew of "bummers" ransacked the state for supplies. He thought it would work, and it did. Actually, I suppose the biggest lesson was more in the line of how to act like a subordinate in such a way as to This book is supposed to be from a series on "leadership" via generals, but I couldn't find much in the way of it in this biography. Sherman did what he had to do the way he felt he had to do it. He had to adopt an unconventional strategy: turning his back on Hood and "making Georgia howl" as his crew of "bummers" ransacked the state for supplies. He thought it would work, and it did. Actually, I suppose the biggest lesson was more in the line of how to act like a subordinate in such a way as to get what you want done approved. And if you've read more than a book or two on the Civil War or any other biography of Sherman or probably even Grant, I'd say this is one to skip. Woodworth doesn't exactly ignore any part of Sherman's life, but it seemed too short a work to reccommend as a biography, and as I previously noted, it doesn't seem to work as a study of one particular quality, either. And I must admit I have absolutely no idea what Wesley Clark was babbling about in the introduction. "Incoherent" is about the kindest phrase I can use to describe it. And he's, ummm, theoretically the series' editor? Very weird.

  5. 4 out of 5

    George

    This book is supposed to be part of a series on "leadership" via generals, but what was there must be inferred...except for Sherman's use of maneuver warfare. That, was aptly demonstrated. In this audible book, Wesley Clark babbles through an introduction to little effect. I'll admit that this book was a good intro to his life and is fine work for those who want a quick and accessible entree, but it fell short of a leadership lessons. Instead of the usual writing about generals, i.e. details abo This book is supposed to be part of a series on "leadership" via generals, but what was there must be inferred...except for Sherman's use of maneuver warfare. That, was aptly demonstrated. In this audible book, Wesley Clark babbles through an introduction to little effect. I'll admit that this book was a good intro to his life and is fine work for those who want a quick and accessible entree, but it fell short of a leadership lessons. Instead of the usual writing about generals, i.e. details about their battles, I'd much rather read about the man, his motivations, background & integrity, which this book didn't really do. After reading about Sherman in other books, I conclude that his legacy was more than the pitiful conclusion stated in this one. For example, he also contributed to and influenced the US Army Air Corps and Naval strategy, to include 8th Air Force as well as MacArthur's and Nimitz' conduct of WWII. This was not even mentioned. Where are the lessons?

  6. 4 out of 5

    Michael Wenberg

    I knew next to nothing about Sherman, so this was a good intro to his life. His childhood played a huge part in the choices he made as an adult and like many officers in the Union Army at the time, he had many connections with the south. I thought one paragraph in particular very timely. He was offering advice to Grant on how to handle the southern population after the war and remarked that poor and middle income whites put their trust in their government institutions even though these were in f I knew next to nothing about Sherman, so this was a good intro to his life. His childhood played a huge part in the choices he made as an adult and like many officers in the Union Army at the time, he had many connections with the south. I thought one paragraph in particular very timely. He was offering advice to Grant on how to handle the southern population after the war and remarked that poor and middle income whites put their trust in their government institutions even though these were in fact the means by which the wealthy controlled and manipulated them. Made me wonder if we average Americans do the same thing, but instead of plantation owners pulling the strings of government, our puppeteers are the superrich and big corporations.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jerry Landry

    As is the case with the American Presidents series being edited by Schlesinger, this book gives a general overview of Sherman's life and provides some good details about his major military campaigns. If you're looking for an in-depth account of his life, I would advise you to look elsewhere, but if, like me, you realized one day that you really didn't know much about one of the major players in the Civil War and wanted to quickly get caught up, then this is the book for you. Woodworth does a goo As is the case with the American Presidents series being edited by Schlesinger, this book gives a general overview of Sherman's life and provides some good details about his major military campaigns. If you're looking for an in-depth account of his life, I would advise you to look elsewhere, but if, like me, you realized one day that you really didn't know much about one of the major players in the Civil War and wanted to quickly get caught up, then this is the book for you. Woodworth does a good job of hitting the major points, though after reading this book, I think I'd like to do some more reading to learn some more details about Sherman's life.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Peggy

    A very good and concise life of one of the most important military leaders of the Civil War. He was Grant's right hand man. A tremendous leader who was not afraid to get his hands dirty and wasn't above doing the work of the common soldier. He had tremendous drivec and determination. He was well respected by his men and fellow officers. He tended to make a success of most of what he attempted and was ofter very discouraged when he did not. This discouragement didn't last very long, because he h A very good and concise life of one of the most important military leaders of the Civil War. He was Grant's right hand man. A tremendous leader who was not afraid to get his hands dirty and wasn't above doing the work of the common soldier. He had tremendous drivec and determination. He was well respected by his men and fellow officers. He tended to make a success of most of what he attempted and was ofter very discouraged when he did not. This discouragement didn't last very long, because he had more objectives to tackle.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Steven Peterson

    This is a nice brief introduction to William Tecumseh Sherman, one of the most important Union generals in the Civil War. This is a part of a series on military leaders that seems to have a similar mission as the American Presidents series. In short, a brief introduction to a major figure. As such, this is a fine work for those who want a quick and accessible entree to the subject's life. I tend to prefer larger volumes that go into much more detail, but works such as this have a useful place for This is a nice brief introduction to William Tecumseh Sherman, one of the most important Union generals in the Civil War. This is a part of a series on military leaders that seems to have a similar mission as the American Presidents series. In short, a brief introduction to a major figure. As such, this is a fine work for those who want a quick and accessible entree to the subject's life. I tend to prefer larger volumes that go into much more detail, but works such as this have a useful place for those who wish a briefer introduction. Overall, a useful volume. . . .

  10. 5 out of 5

    Carrie

    I learned a lot about Sherman and I enjoyed that. However, I didn't love the way it was written. I haven't read a military biography before so perhaps that plays a role? I actually listened to this on CD and really did not care for the "reader." He read the book very fast - you could understand it clearly but it was obnoxious and it made me think the whole time that perhaps he had to be somewhere else to be or maybe he was limited to the number of CDs he could record.

  11. 5 out of 5

    William Hill

    This book is part of a series - 'Great Generals Series' . These concise biographies are true to the word concise. Basically they are very good introductions to the subject person. I recommend all of them. They are well written, informative, and again - concise. What you don't get is a 750 page door stop that is a slog to read.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sandy

    I found this book to be enlightening. It described a man and his rise through the ranks of the military. Being the first book I have read on this time period, I can't really say that it is good or bad but it was certainly interesting and different than what we learned in school. I have to find more books like this.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Lynn Diane

    I love Sherman, but this book didn't really do him justice. He was a fascinating man, absolutely brilliant, but that doesn't come across as well as in other books I've read about him. I loved seeing him in Gods and Generals and in Killer Angels. The Shaaras' series shows Sherman's true genius.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Harry

    A satisfying short account of the Civil War Union general who revolutionized warfare with his focus on destroying the enemy's infrastructure rather than his armies. I learned that Sherman is buried in St Louis.

  15. 5 out of 5

    R.E. Thomas

  16. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Woodworth

  17. 5 out of 5

    Gareth

  18. 4 out of 5

    Brennansagepalm

  19. 5 out of 5

    Charlotte Beckmann

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kurt

  21. 4 out of 5

    James Walters

  22. 5 out of 5

    Anna

  23. 5 out of 5

    George Esher

  24. 4 out of 5

    AP Schreiber

  25. 4 out of 5

    Dallas F

  26. 4 out of 5

    Matt

  27. 5 out of 5

    Zach Hickernell

  28. 4 out of 5

    Brad L

  29. 5 out of 5

    Nick Lloyd

  30. 4 out of 5

    Christina

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