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Dennis Kennedy

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On the March with General Sherman

I’ve been spending most of my spare time in recent days immersed in reading the two volumes of General W. T. Sherman’s highly-regarded memoirs. I read the presumably definitive Library of America edition, which has much to recommend it, except that I wish they would have bumped up the font size a notch or two.
I found the memoirs absolutely compelling and recommend them to anyone wishing to take on a big reading project (over 1,000 pages) that will greatly reward you for the effort.
I have not written yet about the recently-concluded season of “24,” but there was a fascinating parallel in the way that Sherman barely had a chance to rest after ending the war before he was under heavy attack from politicians with their own agendas.
A few other observations:
1. Over and over, I was struck with the notion that here is the portrait of the truly competent man, one who gets things done.
2. I was fascinated by the Sun Tzu-ian way that Sherman’s genius at strategy was revealed in the battles he did not fight. Time after time, you see him approach entrenched, well-positioned and fortified forces, and then maneuver in ways that the opposing forces retreat from those seemingly superior positions.
3. Although Sherman’s reputation for “telling it like it is” is well-deserved, I was also struck by his generosity. How many famous people would prepare a second edition of their memoirs with the goal of correcting mistakes and allowing people who disagreed with his interpretation of events to submit their stories and printing them in that second edition? In an odd sense, the appendix to the memoirs almost feels like a comments section of a blog.
4. Sherman also seemed to be one of those people who was everywhere and knew everyone in the 19th century and the memoirs abound with fascinating stories of the California Gold Rush and a variety of other events and figures in addition to the compelling story of his war years.
The money quote (for me):
“Some men think that modern armies may be so regulated that a general can sit in an office and play on several columns as on the keys of a piano; this is a fearful mistake. The directing mind must be at the very head of the army – must be seen there, and the effect of his mind and personal energy must be felt by every officer and man present with it, to secure the best results. Every attempt to make war easy and safe will result in humiliation and disaster.”
Sherman’s work has application in many areas, but I hope that people at the Pentagon are still reading this one, along with John Robb’s Global Guerillas. I didn’t plan this, but so far this year I’ve been reading a lot on military strategy – Alexander the Great, Patton, John Boyd and now Sherman.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]

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