Book Review: Man of Fire: William Tecumseh Sherman in the Civil War


by Derek D. Maxfield

El Dorado Hills, Ca.: Savas Beatie, 2023. Pp. xxx, 162. Ilus., maps, appends, suggested reading. $16.95 paper. ISBN: 1611215994

General Sherman and His War

Prof. Maxfield (Genesee CC), the author of Hellmira: The Union’s Most Infamous Civil War Prison Camp?Elmira, NY, has written several other book in the Emerging Civil War series. This study of Sherman began while he was an undergraduate at SUNY Cortland, 25 years ago, when he began to view the general as rather egotistic and long-winded, and that his memoirs were self-serving. Since then Maxfield has read every biography and book about the general that he was able to find. Influenced by his interest in U.S. Grant, and thus that officer's relationship with Sherman, this research led him to see the latter in a different light, developing a strong concept of the essential complexities in his life, which led to this wonderful introductory biography.

Man of Fire, tells the story of a man who became a hero for the cause of the Union in the Civil War, while gaining a controversial place in American history, a complex man, captivating, brilliant, and successful, yet was condemned by many for hard war on the Confederate home front, while being hailed for his Atlanta, the March to the Sea, and the Carolinas campaigns.

In several excellent opening chapters, Maxfield emphasizes that Sherman was fundamentally “a restless spirit,” a self-doubting person who desired perpetual support, and spent his entire lifetime looking for himself.

Sherman struggled with his marriage, his adopted family, as a businessman, with his religious identity, and about soldiering, while seeking both contentment and accomplishment. His life quest never ended though the anxiety over his profession subsided somewhat as he experienced the war between the United States and the secessionists, and that with the Native Americans. Maxfield portrays Sherman as a hero of the Republic, close friend and principal subordinate of Union General Grant, a racist toward African Americans, yet determined to crush secession, a gifted intellectual, someone who was called insane by journalists early in the conflict between the states, held a hatred toward the press, was a progressive and passionate combatant, a “merciless opponent in war”, “a man of liberal terms in peace”, who yet had made war on women and children. In the end, Maxfield succeeds in giving us some understanding of this highly complex, misunderstood man.

Man of Fire is extremely readable and illuminating. Maxfield offers an insightful framework for readers, based on extensive research, often comparing the opinions of several others historians, such as James McDonough, Lloyd Lewis, Charles Edmund Vetter, Brian Holden Reid, Brooks Simpson, Robert L. O’Connell, Michael Fellman, Lee Kennett, and even novelist Shelby Foote.

Supplementing the main text are several appendices by Maxfield's colleagues at Genesee CC, about which he writes, "Their work added to the quality of the book is immeasurable.”

Man of Fire is an outstanding study of this unique American, and is highly recommended.


Our Reviewer: David Marshall has been a high school American history teacher in the Miami-Dade School district for more than three decades. A life-long Civil War enthusiast, David is president of the Miami Civil War Round Table Book Club. In addition to numerous reviews in Civil War News and other publications, he has given presentations to Civil War Round Tables on Joshua Chamberlain, Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the common soldier. His most recent previous reviews here include Lieutenant General James Longstreet, Count the Dead, All Roads Led To Gettysburg, Unhappy Catastrophes, The Heart of Hell, The Whartons' War, Gettysburg’s Southern Front , Civil War Monuments and Memorials, The Tale Untwisted, The Confederate Military Forces in the Trans-Mississippi West, The Civilian War, The Carnage was Fearful, The Civil Wars of Joseph E. Johnston, Confederate States Army, Vol. I, Navigating Liberty: Black Refugees and Antislavery Reformers in the Civil War South, Gettysburg In Color, Vol 1, "The Bullets Flew Like Hail", John Brown's Raid, Searching For Irvin McDowell, A House Built by Slaves, They Came Only To Die, and General Grant and the Verdict of History 



Note: Man of Fire is also available in e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: David Marshall   

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