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

By Crist, Lynda Laswell | The Journal of Southern History, February 2001 | Go to article overview

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


Crist, Lynda Laswell, The Journal of Southern History


Sherman's Civil War: Selected Correspondence of William T. Sherman, 1860-1865. Edited by Brooks D. Simpson and Jean V. Berlin. Civil War America. (Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, c.1999. Pp. xxii, 948. $45.00, ISBN 0-8078-2440-2.)

The most interesting feature of this volume--beyond the invaluable content--is its bulk. Not the length of the book, but the length of the letters. All are by Sherman and most of them cover more than a printed page (incoming mail is cited and quoted in the notes). How did he find time to write so much? Although the total number of Sherman-authored items dated from November 3, 1860, through May 30, 1865, is not stated, over 550 are printed here, excluding the vast majority in the Official Records and in John Simon's definitive edition of Grant's papers. Editors Simpson and Berlin provide concise and helpful annotation, include several vital maps, and have written summary introductions for the fifteen chapters, each covering a few months. The compilers--aiming for accuracy and clarity (p. xvii) and also targeting an audience beyond academics--have standardized some of their subject's inconsistent spelling and punctuation. This reduces the intimate feel of nineteenth-century expression and color but makes the documents quite readable.

Sherman's letters are, as Simpson and Berlin say, "lively, frank, opinionated, discerning, and occasionally extremely wrongheaded, [and] mirror the colorful personality and multifaceted mentality of the man who wrote them" (p. xi). This is not news to those who have used previous editions of Sherman's correspondence and his own excellent reminiscences. But the editors--a husband-and-wife team expert in documentary editing and also authors of scholarly monographs in the period--have provided in Sherman's Civil War careful and complete transcriptions and have added a number of items previously unpublished.

The very title Sherman's Civil War, intended or not, is a double, maybe triple, play on words. It refers not only to the national conflict but also to Sherman's troubled marriage to Ellen Ewing, and perhaps even to his personal demons, among them melancholy and foreboding (pp. 145-46, 147, 160, 161), which he later called "a perfect `slough of despond'" (p. 698). One of the most revealing letters is an autobiographical account written in June 1864 that he intended to be a factual chronicle for publication (pp. 651-54). In it Sherman did not mention his childhood adoption and renaming by Thomas Ewing, lamented his own prominence in "this unnatural war," charged shortsighted and manipulative "busy politicians & mischief makers" with bringing on what appeared to be "Endless" warfare, and declared that First Manassas had provided "the best lesson a vain & conceited Crowd ever got. …

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