William T. Sherman
After reading The March by E. L. Doctorow, I was curious to know what Gen. Sherman himself thought about the destruction he worked upon the south, so I started reading his memoirs. He didn’t actually say much about the march in his memoirs, just stated his opinion that the south started the war, and he was going to make them feel it.
Even though I never learned what I wanted to know, the memoirs were fascinating. Sherman retired from the army, spent time in California during the gold rush and settle down in Louisiana as head of a military academy when war became apparent. He resigned his job, took up his commission in the army and became a soldier again.
The bulk of the book takes place during the war years, and his memories of the war are fascinating. I am sure Civil War buffs (of which I am not), salivate at his detailed descriptions of various battles and letters back and forth between him and other officers. I confess they bored me stiff and I skipped a lot. They are stiffly written in military-speak, and I didn’t find them very interesting. There were other descriptions that were interesting, including an account of the death of his son the deeply touch the reader.
After the war my interest picked up as Sherman became embroiled in politics and found himself going back and forth between President Johnson and General Grant. He was very uncomfortable in this position and extricated himself as quickly as possible. He liked Washington D.C. as a city, but loathed the politics.
He ends the book with his retirement from active duty, and one must consult other sources to find out about his activities after retirement. One remarkable statement of his was in response to an attempt in 1884 to place him on the Republican ballot as president, “I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected.” It doesn’t get more emphatic than that.
He died of pneumonia seven years after retirement at age 71. He served his country proudly and felt he had nothing to apologize for.