The Letters In Perspective


He did no such thing, of course. Instead, after helping to deliver Chattanooga, he launched his all-out campaign against Atlanta and then set out on his “smoky march” through Georgia and the Carolinas. What he strode into was fame. If his tactics were often faulty, the strategy that brought on the battle sometimes made that almost beside the point; incidental defeat, as at Tunnel Hill and Bentonville, served as well as incidental victory, so long as the end-purpose was achieved, which it always was. And while we need not agree with the assessment of him as “America’s greatest military genius,” or even that he “invent[ed] modern warfare,” no one can deny that he was redoubtable in the extreme to his opponents, while to his soldiers he was something else entirely. “Uncle Billy,” they liked to call him, and some among them loved to boast all the rest of their lives that, on the march, he had leaned down out of the saddle to get a light from them for his cigar. Tall, fidgety, red-haired and stubble-bearded, he wore shoes instead of boots, and a spur on only one of them at that. He was a living presence, ever after, to almost anyone who saw him. Whatever he touched came alive in his hands, including his Memoirs, published ten years after the war, and these letters released here, a century and a quarter after he wrote most of them from his various fields of fight. They too come alive in our hands, after all those years in hiding, and we are fortunate to have them.