Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman | National Humanities Center

Work of the Fellows: Edited Volumes; Memoirs

Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman

Edited by Charles Royster (NHC Fellow, 1984–85)

American History; American Civil War; Military History; Correspondence

New York: Library of America, 1990

From the publisher’s description:

Hailed as a prophet of modern war and condemned as a harbinger of modern barbarism, William Tecumseh Sherman is the most controversial general of the American Civil War. Written with the propulsive energy and intelligence that marked his campaigns, Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman describes striking incidents and anecdotes and collects dozens of his incisive and often outspoken wartime orders and reports. This complex self-portrait of an innovative and relentless American warrior provides vivid, firsthand accounts of the war’s crucial events—Shiloh, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, the Atlanta campaign, the marches through Georgia and the Carolinas.

Born in Ohio in 1820, Sherman spent many of his prewar years moving between the old South and the new West. His recollections of shipwrecks, gold rushes, vigilance committees, and banking panics colorfully evoke the restless and often reckless spirit of a nation in transformation. A conservative terrified by the anarchy he saw in secession, Sherman resigned his position as superintendent of a Louisiana military academy in 1861 and went North to endure defeat at Bull Run and humiliation in the press for his pessimistic views of Union prospects in Kentucky. His fortunes changed at Shiloh, where he regained his confidence and won the admiration and friendship of Ulysses S. Grant. Sherman became Grant’s most trusted subordinate, and over the next 18 months learned much from his commander about the irrelevancy of orthodox strategy to the realities of civil war in America.

By the fall of 1864 Sherman’s thinking focused on the Southern society that supported the armies opposing him. Shunning supply lines and frontal assaults, he struck directly at the economic and psychological underpinnings of Confederate resistance. That this strategy inflicted pain and suffering upon the South he loved was a hard truth Sherman never tried to evade. “You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will,” he told the citizens of Atlanta before expelling them from their homes. “War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it….” Nor does he deny the exhilaration he felt while directing his terrifyingly powerful army. Yet Sherman’s near-apocalyptic campaign through the Carolinas ended in fierce controversy when he unsuccessfully tried to grant the South more lenient peace terms than favored by most in the North.

Called hero and demon, liberator and destroyer, Sherman is an indelible figure of the American past. Nowhere is he more alive than in the pages of his illuminating and uncompromising Memoirs. This volume reprints the text of the revised edition of 1886, and includes a series of detailed maps prepared at Sherman’s request and appendices containing dozens of letters written in response to the 1875 first edition.

History / American History / American Civil War / Military History / Correspondence /

Royster, Charles (NHC Fellow, 1984–85), ed. Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman. Library of America. New York: Library of America, 1990.