William Tecumseh Sherman, In the Service of My Country
By James Lee McDonough. (W.W. Norton, 816 pages, $39.95.)
Lest anyone forget, Sherman is the father of modern warfare. In two massively destructive excursions through the heart of the South, his army settled the Civil War during the winter of 1864-65.
Sherman believed that the civilians of the Confederacy shared responsibility for visiting rebellion upon the nation, and should be made to pay. His “March to the Sea” (actually one of two he undertook) demonstrated to the world that the Southern armies could no longer defend their own homes from a stronger Union force. What’s more, Sherman wrote, when the rich Southern farmers “see their fences and corn and hogs and sheep vanish before their eyes,” they would realize what war means. Ever since, noncombatants have been on the front lines of armed conflict, as we see today on too many terrible occasions.
This exhaustive, but not exhausting, volume is eminently readable and paints a fascinating picture of this complex individual. Sherman was deeply devoted to his wife, yet they battled constantly and bitterly over her attempts to draw him into her devout practice of Catholicism. He also battled with family members who didn’t think an Army career worthy of his talents. (They changed their tune when he became one of the most beloved and respected Union generals of the war, possibly exceeding even U.S. Grant in public regard.)
And after Sherman helped to free the nation’s enslaved African-Americans, he spent the postwar years contributing to the destruction of the American Indian population, even though he himself was named after a great Indian chief admired by his father.
Sherman was a public man of the type that sometimes seems to be in short supply today: intelligent, honorable, philosophical, yet also active and energetic, unafraid to take a bold stand and charge ahead. Even with those qualities, he was sometimes prone to crippling self-doubt and depression. He wasn’t free of the commonly accepted prejudices of his day, yet he often overcame them when he believed it was his duty. This book is an excellent blend of personal and national history, intertwined in the life of a man who was a master of his profession at a time when our nation’s survival depended on his being so.
JOHN REINAN, metro news reporter
By Addie Zierman. (Convergent Books, 226 pages, $14.99.)
Feeling dark and exhausted in February 2014, Addie Zierman loads up her two boys, ages 2 and 4, and drives from Andover in Minnesota to Ormond Beach, Fla., to escape the snow and ice. Any illusions of a grand getaway adventure are shattered by tantrums, broken iPhones and the sheer loneliness of two weeks on the road with a toddler and a preschooler.
As she connects with old friends along the way (and consumes far too much freeway coffee), she revisits the evangelical faith of her youth — a faith that was fiery and certain because you just “felt” it. The strength of the book is her quiet exploration of the sometimes dull dissatisfaction of grown-up faith — the realization that faith needn’t be fiery or even all that certain to be real. Grown-up faith, she writes, is messy and imperfect and sometimes confusing, but no less real than the sand in Florida or the snow in Minnesota.
Grown-up faith has high tides and low tides and endures when you feel only piercing windchills, or even nothing at all. Anyone who has explored faith and doubt, anyone who has attempted a road trip with cranky children, and especially anyone who endured the polar vortex winter in Minnesota can appreciate Zierman’s thoughtful writing and honest journey — all 3,501.2 miles.
HOLLY COLLIER WILLMARTH, copy editor