How Sherman Fit in Chain of Command

Writing to his brother in the penultimate year of the American Civil War, the Union soldier Eb Allison observed that ‘Warfare, to be successful, is a thing that does not admit of any dilly-dallying about it.’ This comment might well serve as a summation of William T. Sherman’s approach to a conflict that, as far as public opinion is concerned, defined his career and his life, but not always in a positive way. Sherman’s reputation, indeed, is in many ways ‘unenviable’, Brian Holden Reid notes in his introduction to this formidable biography, consisting as it does largely of exaggerated negatives: ruthlessness, heartlessness and brutality. Informed by the opinions of those Confederates whom he defeated at the time (and their progeny ever since) Sherman’s popular image has become emblematic of all we fear in modern war, of all we fear in ourselves as human beings with a propensity toward destruction.

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