Monday, December 01, 2014

[Book Review] Fierce Patriot by Robert L. O'Connell


Philip reviews Fierce Patriot: the Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman by Robert L. O'Connell (Random House, 2014)

Robert L. O'Connell offers a very readable biography of an important figure in American history, William Tecumseh Sherman. Without Sherman's contributions as a military leader and strategist during the Civil War, the United States could have lost the War. As General of the Army, after the War, he oversaw the suppression of the remaining Native American tribes, west of the Mississippi, to ensure the completion of the Trans-Continental and other railroads. With the railroads, Sherman knew the rest of the future United States would be settled by Americans thirsty for new lands.

O'Connell does a superb job of chronicling the life of a complicated and controversial man. Most of the book is devoted to Sherman's role in the Civil War, but O'Connell offers a detailed account of Sherman's complex relationship with his foster father, the politically powerful Thomas Ewing, and with his foster Ewing siblings, including Ellen, who he took as his wife, and with his brother by blood, John Sherman.

It is a well-written, fascinating book, one hard to put down. It is a good introduction to the life of Sherman for anyone not familiar with him.  But also one the student of Civil War history would find valuable.

One criticism of the book those readers already familiar with Sherman could have is that O'Connell is too sympathetic to Sherman. Sherman was ruthless and cruel in many ways, and some readers may find O'Connell too forgiving of the man whose policies had tragic consequences for Native Americans and for the millions of bison he ordered slaughtered to eliminate them as a food source for Native Americans.

Philip Williams, Cordova

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