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. Read more...
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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 were exalted in the public eye, others known only to his intimates. In this bold, revisionist portrait, Robert L. O Connell captures the man in full for the first time. From his early exploits in Florida, through his brilliant but tempestuous generalship during the Civil War, 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, a master of logistics with an uncanny grasp of terrain and brilliant sense of timing. 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, whose appetite for women, parties, and the high life of the New York theater complicated his already turbulent marriage. Warrior, family man, American icon, William Tecumseh Sherman has finally found a biographer worthy of his protean gifts. A masterful character study whose myriad insights are leavened with its author s trademark wit, Fierce Patriot will stand as the essential book on Sherman for decades to come.
Praise for Fierce Patriot
A superb examination of the many facets of the iconic Union general. General David Petraeus
Sherman s standing in American history is formidable. . . . It is hard to imagine any other biography capturing it all in such a concise and enlightening fashion. National Review
A sharply drawn and propulsive march through the tortured psyche of the man. The Wall Street Journal
O Connell s] narrative of the March to the Sea is perhaps the best I have ever read. Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post
A surprising, clever, wise, and powerful book. Evan Thomas, author of Ike s Bluff"
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-05-05
- Reviewer: Staff
Considered by various contemporaries to be insane, ruthless, and brilliant, William Tecumseh Sherman is a hard man to pin down. Here, O’Connell (The Ghosts of Cannae) expresses his concerns about unreadable academic histories and shallow popular histories by journalists “who often lack the background to see deep trends and long-term causation,” and instead focuses on Sherman as a strategist, soldier, and family man. However, the relationships O’Connell draws between activities in Sherman’s life feel forced, as with his likening military strategy to surfing: “Big waves and battle leave little room for piggishness.” Similarly, O’Connell employs rather idiosyncratic imagery, noting that Sherman was a “visual vacuum cleaner,” and that he and his wife were “mated like geese.” This manner of shaking the dust off Sherman’s story distracts from the portrait that O’Connell builds. Details like Sherman’s involvement with the discovery of gold in California in 1849, his genuine heartbreak when the South seceded, and even his apparent blindness to the horrors of slavery seem overshadowed by the writer’s techniques. O’Connell’s delivery of Sherman’s story is frustrating, especially because of the richness of the subject. (July)
The three sides of William Tecumseh Sherman
Robert L. O’Connell’s Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman includes a photograph of the celebrated Civil War general with his staff. While the other men strike classic poses and gaze into the middle distance, Sherman sits slightly slumped, legs crossed, jacket unbuttoned, glittering eyes focused directly on the camera. It fits with the popular notion of Sherman, the man who invented “modern war” and whose soldiers burned a path of destruction through the American South.
O’Connell’s biography envisions Sherman not as one man, but three, shaped by his own personality and his circumstances: “the strategic man, the general, the human being.” He tackles each persona sequentially, emerging at the end with a fully realized portrait of a complicated individual.
O’Connell displays warmth and occasional humor as he considers Sherman’s more memorable traits. An acclaimed talker, Sherman was “a veritable volcano of verbiage,” he writes. O’Connell doesn’t overlook Sherman’s darker characteristics, especially his treatment of Indians and his overwhelming belief in Manifest Destiny, no matter who or what was in the way. Sherman was not cruel, the author argues, but a man committed to duty and accomplishing his goals.
O’Connell devotes a final section to Sherman’s relationship with his family, particularly his tempestuous marriage to his foster sister, Ellen. Despite his adultery and her manipulations, they were each other’s best friends and allies—a remarkable relationship in a truly remarkable life.