Within the Civil War

Lloyd Lewis’s Sherman (Harcourt, Brace, $3.50) belongs to the kind of biography that is also history, and to the kind of history that makes a complex analysis of the social scene as a whole rather than of one limited phase of it. As a study of personality, it is rigorously objective, and so joins the reaction against psychological guesswork that seems to be setting the pattern for this decade’s biography. Mr. Lewis never speculates about the soul of Under Billy; he gives us no psychoanalysis, no probing of hypothetical complexes or fixations or regressions, no interior soliloquies. Sherman is presented by means of what, he did, said, and wrote, and Mr. Lewis says nothing whatever about him without scrupulously informing us of the evidence on which his assertions rest. As a result, the reader feels no insecurity in trusting the author’s explanation of, for example, Sherman’s strange depression during the first year of the war — a phase which would have been a treasury of conjecture for the amateur Freuds. Nor, since he has the evidence before his eyes, does he feel any disposition to quarrel with Mr. Lewis’s conclusions that Sherman was a practising realist, and that, so far as abstract ideas had a part in his character, he was dominated by a distrust of democracy and a passionate belief in civil order and national supremacy. That latter belief furnishes the ' Prophet’ of Mr. Lewis’s subtitle.
The problems which Sherman furnishes to military history are those of the Army of the Tennessee and of the march to Atlanta and the sea. Mr. Lewis emphasizes the brilliance of Sherman’s grand strategy — his perception that war is a political mechanism and that not military victories but the subjection of the enemy is its objeet. I think that he insufficiently concedes the priority of Grant in the grand strategy of the last two years, and he occasionally yields to the contemporary tendency which he describes of writing down the importance of the Army of the Potomac and the Virginia campaign. Coming to military strategy, however, he makes clear that Grant’s Vicksburg campaign created Sherman’s march by teaching both generals that war need not be made by the books and that to live off the Confederacy was to reenforce the Union arms. He deals brilliantly with Sherman’s rapid education in modern war — which Sherman and Grant together created and which they understood better, by April 1865, than the European generals who faced each other in 1614.
But the great merit of the book is its re-creation of the war as a national experience. Mr. Lewis achieves a truly magnificent effect he tells the story not only of Sherman but of the armies, and not only of the armies, North and South, but of the nations as well — civilians, soldiers, bureaucrats, farmers, mechanics. He gives us humor and journalism and slang, song, caricature, folklore, rumor, panic, and mob. This generation has been busily rewriting the history of the Civil War, and of that effort Mr. Lewis’s book is much the deepest and finest that has yet appeared. It is brilliant biography and even more brilliant history. The task of the Pulitzer Prize committee would seem to have been simplified.