Fierce Patriot

The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman

By Robert L. O'Connell
(Random House, Hardcover, 9781400069729, 432pp.)

Publication Date: July 1, 2014

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NATIONAL BESTSELLER

William Tecumseh Sherman was more than just one of our greatest generals. Fierce Patriot is a bold, revisionist portrait of how this iconic and enigmatic figure exerted an outsize impact on the American landscape—and the American character.

 
America’s first “celebrity” general, William Tecumseh Sherman was a man of many faces. Some of them were exalted in the public eye. Others were known only to intimates—his family, friends and lovers, and the soldiers under his command. In this rich and layered portrait, Robert L. O’Connell captures the man in full for the first time. From his early exploits in Florida, to his role in California at the start of the Gold Rush, through his brilliant but tempestuous generalship during the Civil War, and to his postwar career as a key player in the building of the transcontinental railroad, Sherman was, as O’Connell puts it, the “human embodiment of Manifest Destiny.”
 
Here is Sherman the military strategist of genius, a master of logistics whose uncanny grasp of terrain and brilliant sense of timing always seemed to land him in the right place at the most opportune moments. O’Connell shows how Sherman’s creation of an agile, improvisational fighting force—the Army of the West—helped turn the tide of the Civil War and laid the foundation for modern U.S. ground forces. Then there is “Uncle Billy,” Sherman’s public persona, a charismatic hero to his troops and quotable catnip to the newspaper writers of his day.
 
Here, too, is the private Sherman. He was born into one powerhouse family—his grandfather signed the Declaration of Independence—and was adopted into another. His foster father, Thomas Ewing, was an influential politician and cabinet member who helped provide key opportunities for Sherman throughout his career. But Sherman’s fraught relationship with Ewing, coupled with his appetite for women, parties, and the high life of the New York theater, certainly complicated his already turbulent marriage to his foster sister Ellen, a relationship O’Connell likens to a mix of “gunpowder and gasoline”—altogether a family triangle that might have sprung from the pages of a Victorian novel.
 
As he peels away the layers of the Sherman persona, O’Connell dispels a number of common misperceptions about his subject. He sheds new light on Sherman’s relationship with Ulysses S. Grant, and also on his struggle against Nathan Bedford Forrest and the insurgency that was the other half of the Civil War along the Mississippi. Later he reveals Sherman’s fabled march from Atlanta to the sea not as a campaign of unmitigated destruction, as it is often portrayed, but the careful execution of a necessary piece of strategy calculated to scare the South back into the Union. O’Connell’s Sherman is no Attila, but a complicated soldier/statesman—perhaps the quintessential nineteenth-century American.
 
Warrior, family man, American icon, William Tecumseh Sherman has finally found a biographer worthy of his protean gifts. A masterful character study whose myriad insights are leavened with its author’s trademark wit, Fierce Patriot will stand as the essential book on Sherman for decades to come.

Praise for Fierce Patriot
 
“Robert O’Connell’s Fierce Patriot is a sharply drawn and propulsive march through the tortured psyche of the man known to his army as ‘Uncle Billy’—a man on a lifelong march of his own, not to Atlanta or the sea but to his own independence.”The Wall Street Journal




About the Author

Robert L. O’Connell received a Ph.D. in history at the University of Virginia, and spent thirty years as a senior analyst at the National Ground Intelligence Center. He is presently a visiting professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, and was a contributing editor to MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History. He is the author of numerous books, including The Ghosts of Cannae: Hannibal and the Darkest Hour of the Roman Republic; Of Arms and Men: A History of War, Weapons, and Aggression; and Soul of the Sword: An Illustrated History of Weaponry and Warfare from Prehistory to the Present.




Praise For Fierce Patriot

“Robert O’Connell’s Fierce Patriot is a sharply drawn and propulsive march through the tortured psyche of the man known to his army as ‘Uncle Billy’—a man on a lifelong march of his own, not to Atlanta or the sea but to his own independence.”The Wall Street Journal

“A superb examination of the many facets of the iconic Union general who emerged as Ulysses S. Grant’s most trusted battlefield commander . . . O’Connell’s biography of Sherman brings to life an enigmatic, fascinating figure who emerged a brilliant strategist and a master of maneuver, and whose victories in 1864 helped to ensure Abraham Lincoln’s re-election and ultimately turned the tide of the Civil War.”—General David Petraeus, Politico
 
“The full scope of [Sherman’s] personality and the reach of his life are less understood and contemplated than those of many other primary players of the Civil War. That’s why Robert L. O’Connell’s new biography is so welcome and valuable. . . . The sesquicentennial of the Civil War has brought and will continue to bring a flurry of books about that well-trod subject and its many actors. Robert L. O’Connell’s Fierce Patriot will be required reading long after the anniversary passes.”National Review

“O’Connell displays warmth and occasional humor as he considers Sherman’s more memorable traits.”BookPage

“William Tecumseh Sherman is one of the great characters in American history—protean, highly effective, cunning, outrageous, and in every way memorable. He has found just the right biographer in Robert L. O’Connell. Fierce Patriot is a surprising, clever, wise, and powerful book.”—Evan Thomas, author of Ike’s Bluff: President Eisenhower’s Secret Battle to Save the World
 
“For those who think they know a lot about William Tecumseh Sherman, this book will be a revelation. Those who are meeting him for the first time will be equally mesmerized.”—Thomas Fleming, author of A Disease in the Public Mind: A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War
 
“To his family and friends he was Cump; to his soldiers he was Uncle Billy; to generations of Southern whites he was the devil incarnate. But to biographer Robert L. O’Connell, William T. Sherman was the quintessential nineteenth-century American: full of energy, constantly on the move, pragmatic, adaptable, determined to overcome all obstacles, a nationalist and patriot who teamed with Grant and Lincoln to win the Civil War and launch America as a world power. This readable biography offers new insights on Sherman as a husband and father as well as a master strategist and leader.”—James M. McPherson, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era
 
“A fascinating dissection of the multifaceted lives of William Tecumseh Sherman—military genius, brilliant organizer, inspired observer, and occasionally wayward husband. Sherman, O’Connell reminds us, was as brilliantly unpredictable on the battlefield as he was off it.”—Victor Davis Hanson, The Hoover Institution, author of The Soul of Battle and Ripples of Battle
 
“William Tecumseh Sherman has to be our premier grand strategist, who set unexpectedly bold boundaries, not just for war but for peace, and kept to them. In Fierce Patriot, Robert L. O’Connell has fashioned a remarkable, and remarkably original, portrait of one of the people who truly defined America.”—Robert Cowley, founding editor of MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History
 
“William Tecumseh Sherman was the most fiery, complicated, and inconsistent of America’s great generals. In Robert L. O’Connell’s aptly titled Fierce Patriot, he brings this conflicted American hero vividly to life. For both the Civil War buff and the general reader, Fierce Patriot offers new and arresting insights into this remarkable figure and his impact on the world in which he lived.”—Charles Bracelen Flood, author of Grant and Sherman: The Friendship That Won the Civil War

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