Thursday, December 31, 2015

Mount TBR #58

I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2015. The challenge is to read books that you already own.

The Destructive War: William Tecumseh Sherman, Stonewall Jackson, and the Americans – Charles Royster

This is the most serious, most profound book I’ve ever read about the American Civil War, a conflict I’ve been reading about for the last 30 years. Now-retired LSU professor of history Charles Royster documents the wild talk in both sections that called for one side to exterminate the other. Royster argues and shows how it took time for the generals to catch up with clamor in support of “drastic war.” His poster-generals for destructive war were Thomas Jackson and William Sheridan. Both ``epitomized the waging of successful war by drastic measures justified with claims to righteousness.'' The war was fought so hard because the two sides had fundamental differences about individual liberty, nationality and the meaning of citizenship, labor’s role in creating wealth, and federal authority dating back to the American Revolution.

He also documents how both sides, however, were still surprised at the American aptitude to wage violence on such a massive scale. Buffs looking for discussion of weapons and troop movements and battle narratives will have to look elsewhere. Instead of stirring, his narrative are sobering. In cool tones, Royster narrates of the burning of Colombia, SC in the first chapter and the battle of Kennesaw Mountain. Interesting but not as smoothly handled is the complicated story of the shooting of Jackson by his own men at Chancellorsville.

Royster has obviously read everything and he passes along extremely curious facts. Besides being a deeply religious man, Jackson was also very much into self-improvement and read the self-help authors of his day. As for Sherman, his experiences with lying, chiseling, stealing, and such outlawry in California both pre- and post-Gold Rush, made him fear disorder and see secessionists as those who took themselves out of the protection of legitimate government and the laws of property. Sherman said, “They brought it on themselves. . . . They need to learn the folly of making war against the government.'' Royster follows Sherman’s post-war career as main occupied with justifying the violence Civil War as necessary to the progress and prosperity of the USA in the 1880s.

Any serious and focused reader interested in the mentality of people in the North and South during the Civil War era should read this book. The book ends with Royster’s description of the federal army’s victory review through Washington, D.C. Sherman irritably pushed his way past visitors, cursing at the spectators. No reason – wars, once started, are not governed by reason.

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