Literature Review

October 17, 2010 |  Tagged | Comments Off on Literature Review

The American Civil War is remembered as one of the most terrible events to have ever occurred on the soil of the United States of America.  It was a bloody and terrible conflict that was a crucial component to the history of this nation. Few other conflicts have had anywhere near as much of a lasting impact on the psychology of the nation. Even today evidence of the effect the Civil War had on the American people can be seen.  One of the reasons for the Civil War having such an impact is the amount of controversy involved in the conflict.  The motives for the entire war are still the subject of heated debates.  Also, at the forefront of the conflict were highly controversial individuals, Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln being just two of the most notable.  However, without a doubt, on of the most controversial figures in the Civil War was Union General William Tecumseh Sherman.

            The main cause of the controversy surrounding Sherman stems from the tactics of total war he employed during his Southern campaigns, mostly during the latter months of 1864.[1]  Sherman’s total war tactics included destroying infrastructure, such as railroads, crops, and warehouses.  His tactics brought the war into an entirely different sphere.  He was not just fighting the opposing army; he waged an all out war on the entire enemy nation with the ultimate goal of breaking Southern morale and putting an end to the war.  While many Southerners even in the present day regard Sherman as a devil who hated the South and randomly destroyed everything in his path without reason, it is quite evident from examining the sources and literature that there was indeed a logic behind the madness of his tactics.  This can be found even in his letters to his young daughter Minnie.[2]   Upon researching the subject thoroughly, psychoanalysis can be drawn of Sherman presenting the idea that personal motives may have played a much more significant role in his military decisions, mainly his decision to employ the tactics of total war.  With this being said, it is not until more recent times that any of the literature on the subject even remotely suggests the theory that Sherman’s private life played a significant role in his decision to practice total war.

            The earliest works on the subject consist mostly of memoirs.  There were many written by enlisted men who served under Sherman during the infamous “March to the Sea.”[3]   Perhaps the most important work in the form of memoirs are those of General Sherman himself, which were composed and published in 1875.  The memoirs of General Sherman provide valuable insight into the motives for his actions.  Although he does not always clearly state his motives, they can be deduced by the reader on most occasions.

            Around the turn of the nineteenth century, literature on General Sherman began to be produced.  These works were mostly concerned with his military career, mostly focusing on his role in the Civil War.  Among these early works on the subject are General M.F. Force’s 1899 publication General Sherman as well as the 1905 work by Edward Robins, William T. Sherman.  Neither of these works can be considered biographies on Sherman, the man.  The best way to classify them would be to say they are military narratives, which pay very little or no attention to the private life of General Sherman.

            It is not until much later that the literature begins to discuss the possible motives behind Sherman’s controversial decisions.  Even then there is still not much mention of how his private life could have had much influence on his tactics.  Many of the works still focused exclusively on the military actions associated with Sherman.  John Bennett Walters’ Merchant of Terror: General Sherman and Total War, published in 1973, sparingly presents possible motives behind Sherman’s actions but fails to discuss his private life at any great detail. 

            It is only in the 1990s that one begins to see literature produced discussing Sherman’s life in much broader detail.  However, even then there are works which follow the trend of largely ignoring his private life and the effect his personal life may have had on his military decisions.[4]  It is not until John F. Marszalek published Sherman: A Soldier’s Passion for Order in 1993 that there was any work sufficiently dealing with the private life of Sherman.  Marszalek goes into great detail discussing the affairs of Sherman’s private life throughout the entirety of his biography.  However, even he does not suggest that his private life played a significant role in shaping Sherman’s decision to employ the use of total war.

            In conclusion, a review of the literature on the topic, shows that over time the focus has slowly evolved from being solely focused on his the military actions of General Sherman to being more interested in aspects of his private life.  However, it seems that there has yet to be much written on the subject as to the influence his private life may have had in shaping his military tactics.  Why there has not already been any work done in this area is unclear, because it seems that there is sufficient evidence available to justify works dedicated to the matter.

Bibliography

Coburn, Mark. Terrible Innocence: General Sherman at War. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1993.

Connolly, James. “An Illinois Soldier Marches with Sherman to the Sea and Beyond.” in The Civil War and Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection, edited by William E. Gienapp, 256-258. New York: W.W. Norton, 2001.

Force, Manning F. General Sherman. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1899.

Marszalek, John F. Sherman: A Soldier’s Passion for Order. New York: Free Press, 1993.

Robins, Edward. William T. Sherman. Philadelphia: George W. Jacobs & Company, 1905.

Sherman, William T. “To Maria Boyle Ewing Sherman, January 6, 1864,” in Sherman’s Civil War: Selected Correspondence of William T. Sherman, 1860-1865, edited by Brooks D. Simpson and Jean V. Berlin. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.

Sherman, William T. Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman. New York: Penguin Books, 2000.

Walters, John Bennett. Merchant of Terror: General Sherman and Total War. New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1975.


[1]               William T. Sherman, Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman (New York: Penguin Books, 1985).

[2]               William T. Sherman, “To Maria Boyle Ewing Sherman, January 6, 1864,” in Sherman’s Civil War: Selected Correspondence of William T. Sherman, 1860-1865, ed. Brooks D. Simpson and Jean V. Berlin (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1999), 583-584.

[3]                James Connolly. “An Illinois Soldier Marches with Sherman to the Sea and Beyond.” in The Civil War and Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection, ed. William E. Gienapp (New York: W.W. Norton, 2001), 256-258. This is just one of the many examples of memoirs written by enlisted men who served under Sherman

[4]               Mark Coburn, Terrible Innocence: General Sherman at War (New York: Hippocrene Books, 1993) is a good example of this.


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