The best books on William Tecumseh Sherman

Candice Shy Hooper Author Of Lincoln's Generals' Wives: Four Women Who Influenced the Civil War--For Better and for Worse
By Candice Shy Hooper

The Books I Picked & Why

Sherman: A Soldier's Passion for Order

By John F. Marszalek

Sherman: A Soldier's Passion for Order

Why this book?

This book is the single best biography of Sherman – the good, the bad, the ugly – by one of the foremost scholars of the Civil War. Marszalek’s portrait of Sherman as a man who sought order in all aspects of his life provides valuable insight into Sherman’s military genius and his personal failings. This biography gives the most comprehensive portrait of the intellectually, emotionally, and psychologically complex man whose legacy continues to be debated today. This is the one-stop-shop for those who want to get to know the man I believe to be the most interesting personality of the Civil War.


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Belligerent Muse: Five Northern Writers and How They Shaped Our Understanding of the Civil War

By Stephen Cushman

Belligerent Muse: Five Northern Writers and How They Shaped Our Understanding of the Civil War

Why this book?

If Marszalek’s book is thin on any aspect of Sherman it is on his writing — the eloquent, powerful weapon he brandished during the war and the efficient, versatile tool with which he constructed his legacy in his Memoirs.

As a young man, the letters he wrote to his foster sister and future wife Ellen contained carefully constructed sentences with descriptive flourishes; as an adult, he borrowed liberally from his love of Shakespeare and the theater to craft his persona in his Memoirs.

Cushman, an award-winning poet and historian, places Sherman’s writing in the context of four other Northern writers (Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman, Ambrose Bierce, and Joshua Chamberlain) who were inspired by the “belligerent muse” — war. You will treasure this book, which is unlike any other book about history or literature you’ve ever read.


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Sherman's Civil War: Selected Correspondence of William T. Sherman, 1860-1865

By Brooks D. Simpson, Jean V. Berlin

Sherman's Civil War: Selected Correspondence of William T. Sherman, 1860-1865

Why this book?

Who doesn’t like to read other people’s mail? And if you’re going to do it, why not read the best? Sherman was as prolific as he was eloquent. Brooks Simpson and Jean Berlin, two of our best Civil War scholars, compiled and annotated hundreds of Sherman’s wartime letters to his family, friends, and enemies.

Though he was often circumspect in his letters, fearing they might be stolen and published by the newspapers he hated, you can feel the emotion in his letters that you don’t find in his Memoirs. Every page contains a thought, a sentence, a phrase that stays in the reader’s mind.

“You remember what Polonius spoke to his son Laertes, ‘Beware a quarrel, but being in, bear it, that thy oppressor may beware of thee.’ What is true of a single man is equally true of a Nation.”


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When Sherman Marched North from the Sea: Resistance on the Confederate Home Front

By Jacqueline Glass Campbell

When Sherman Marched North from the Sea: Resistance on the Confederate Home Front

Why this book?

Most books about Sherman’s famous March recount his army’s march from Atlanta to Savannah. Campbell turns her lens instead on the march from Savannah north through the Carolinas, when “Southern women frequently faced the enemy alone.” In doing so, she walks the reader through the culture of white Southern womanhood that clashed with Northern soldiers’ view of proper female behavior in its energetic defense of home, hearth, and enslaved workers. Campbell tells, too, of the resistance of blacks against Sherman’s aggressive foragers, who sometimes sought to take items even from those who had virtually nothing.

This book provides a window into the women’s war on the Confederate home front when it became the frontline in Sherman’s campaign to humiliate the Confederate Army and demonstrate its impotence.

Out of this collision between Southern women and Northern men grew the archetypes of “barbarian” Sherman and “gentleman” Lee, says Campbell, icons in the Lost Cause mythology.


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The Hard Hand of War: Union Military Policy Toward Southern Civilians, 1861 - 1865

By Mark Grimsley

The Hard Hand of War: Union Military Policy Toward Southern Civilians, 1861 - 1865

Why this book?

If Campbell’s book places Sherman and his strategy and tactics in the context of female Confederate resistance, Grimsley — one of the nation’s most innovative thinkers and writers of military history — places Sherman’s thinking and actions in the context of the evolution of the United States’ treatment of Confederate civilians.

The Lincoln administration policy in the beginning, notes Grimsley, was “to exempt white Southerners from the burdens of war.” But by 1864, a “hard war” policy, embracing attacks upon and/or confiscation of Southern civilians’ property, had become the guiding military policy of the United States.

Sherman’s inventive, carefully planned March embodied that policy. His goal of targeted destruction was designed to leave more than mere hardship in its wake. His army left its victims in terror, humiliation, and despair that contributed directly to the United States’ victory.


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