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The New Sherman Letters
Extraordinary correspondence, never published before, takes us inside the mind of a military genius. Here is William Tecumseh Sherman in the heat of action inventing modern warfare, grieving the death of his little boy, struggling to hold Kentucky with levies, rolling invincibly across Georgia, and—always—battling the newspapermen whose stories, he believes, are killing his soldiers.
July/August 1987 | Volume 38, Issue 5
Because Sherman wasn’t the last general to bash the press, American Heritage asked one of the United States’s most outspoken newspaper editors, Benjamin C. Bradlee of the Washington Post, to read the letters published here.
“General Sherman’s relations with the press were already legendary,” Bradlee commented. “In fact, they were lousy. After all, he arrested and court-martialed a reporter for the New York Herald, which was the principal supporter of President Lincoln.
“But these letters show new talents for invective. Generals who can write always make me nervous.
“From today’s vantage point, the press seems to have been way out of line, unaware that their dispatches were given vital information to the Confederate generals.”
On the other hand, Bradlee hopes today’s critics of the press don’t take too much comfort from Sherman’s diatribes. The vast majority of newsmen agree on secrecy before and during a battle but insist on full disclosure of the facts and meaning as soon as possible afterward.
Meanwhile, Bradlee hopes “the current crop of press bashers don’t read all of these letters.”
There has not been a major biography of Sherman since Lloyd Lewis’s lively 1932 book, Sherman: Fighting Prophet, but Da Capo Press has recently reprinted the general’s 1875 memoirs, and they are eloquent and fascinating. In August 1962 this magazine ran the great British soldier-historian B. H. Liddell Hart’s assessment of Sherman as “the world’s first modern ‘man of war.’”