SHERMAN: A Soldier's Life

Lee Kennett, Author
Lee Kennett, Author . HarperCollins $35 (448p) ISBN 978-0-06-017495-8
Reviewed on: 05/14/2001
Release date: 06/01/2001
Paperback - 464 pages - 978-0-06-093074-5
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Resigning after the Mexican War from an army that offered too little scope for his ambitions, William Tecumseh Sherman (1820–1891) moved restlessly from jobs as banker to lawyer to educator. Returning to the Union uniform in 1861, he stood out from the beginning as a man of action, energy—and something more. University of Georgia emeritus historian Kennett (Marching Through Georgia) makes a strong case in this well-balanced analytical biography that Sherman was a narcissistic personality, driven to avert criticism by constantly increasing his level of achievement. Fear that he could not deal with the pressures of independent command in Kentucky drove Sherman in 1861 into a spectacular attack of acute anxiety. Yet his limited performance in the final stages of the Vicksburg campaign and later at Chattanooga, Kennett suggests, reflected discomfort at playing an increasingly subordinate role to U.S. Grant. Given full command in the West in 1864, Sherman rose to the challenge. Kennett regards the Atlanta campaign as the work of an unusually gifted captain, and the "march to the sea" as an attempt to force Georgia to leave the war and "secede from secession." The aim proved illusory, but its pursuit secured Sherman's place as one of America's most controversial military figures. (He went on to renown as an after-dinner speaker and author of acclaimed memoirs.) Unprovable at this distance, Kennett's layman's psychoanalysis offers fresh perspectives on a man and a general who many contemporaries judged, but none really knew. (June)

Forecast: Psychobiography has fallen out of favor, and nothing in particular is compelling a reexamination of Sherman at this point. Yet moderate review attention, garnered by Kennett's solid historical reputation and his use of new archival material, should lead to moderate sales.

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