Best Defense

A book I contemplated writing, but it’s already been done: ‘Grant and Sherman’

Assessing two books on Grant and Sherman

General Grant and General Sherman (Library of Congress)
General Grant and General Sherman (Library of Congress)

Recently I was considering what book to write next, now that Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom is out and launched. I thought perhaps a dual look at Grant and Sherman? They intrigue me. Great generals, good writers, and failures for much of their lives. Could be a good book to write, plus a great opportunity to wallow in the Civil War for a few years.

So I poked around to see what is out there. I bought Grant and Sherman: The Friendship That Won the Civil War, by Charles Bracelen Flood. Before opening it, I said to myself that if he missed his shot, I might try.

Alas! he nailed it. I knew within a few pages that he had done the book I was contemplating writing. He even begins as I would have, with Grant and Sherman talking in the rain after the first day of fighting at Shiloh. And he highlights two of my favorite quotations, Sherman’s comment about Grant that, “He stood by me when I was crazy and I stood by him when he was drunk,” as well as Sherman’s note to Grant that, “I knew wherever I was that . . . if I got in a tight place you would come if alive.”

This caused in me an odd mixture of admiration (for Flood) and frustration (for me).

I also read McClellan, Sherman and Grant by T. Harry Williams. I was less impressed with this. Mainly, I think Williams over-values battles. Perhaps snake-bit by McClellan, he seems to think that a great general must pursue battles. I think that is just wrong. Sun Tzu, Quintus Fabius Maximus, and indeed Sherman himself in Georgia all attest to this. Sherman generally didn’t attack Confederate forces, he attacked their lines of communication — with notable success.

Photo credit: Library of Congress

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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