Book Review – Grant and Sherman: The Friendship that Won the Civil War

Seeing my interest in Team of Rivals about the Lincoln presidency, Heather bought me Grant and Sherman: The Friendship that Won the Civil War. This was a very interesting book about two men and the war that brought them together.

Grant was essentially a failure early on. Discharged from the Army for being drunk while processing payroll, he bounced from one job to another, doing anything he could to earn money to support his family (including chopping and selling firewood) until his father-in-law gave him a spot working in his leather goods shop, another job he was ill-suited for. He rejoined the Army after the beginning of the Civil War, mostly for the money and change of scenery. And he found his niche. He was a quiet, friendly and unpretentious man with an unmatched internal drive.

Sherman’s father died when he was nine, requiring that he and some of his siblings be farmed out to relatives. Oddly, his new home with his uncle and aunt was just down the street from his mother’s house where she still lived with some of his younger siblings. He ended up marrying his “foster” sister. He, like Grant, failed at most things he tried, although he settled in well as a military school superintendant in Louisiana just before the war began.

The book goes through Grant and Sherman’s time together and apart and how they relied on each other, Grant providing leadership and Sherman providing organization. Grant, with his drive and military acumen, became the most successful general of the war. Sherman, through the tutelage of Grant, developed the leadership and confidence he later needed to drive through Georgia and corner Joe Johnston’s Army.

One of the most interesting quotes from the book was describing an occurrence during the siege of Vicksburg: “One hot June day, after hours of desultory sniping, a private of the Eleventh Wisconsin said to his comrades, ‘I’m going down into the ravine and shake hands with them Rebs!’ and he did just that. More men from both sides came out, shaking hands with their enemies, until hundreds of men were milling about in the no-man’s-land of this ravine. They talked about everything: how hot it was, the kind of illnesses they had, what they thought of their generals. Union soldiers traded rations of coffee for Confederate tobacco. Farmboys swapped knives and chatted about their hometowns, and some soldiers even pulled out tintypes of their wives and sweethearts to show to men who had been shooting at them an hour before.

“A Union officer came walking into the middle of this friendly gathering and began berating the men of both sides for all this fraternization. The young men fell silent, said good-bye to one another, slowly walked back up the slopes to their respective trenches, and soon began shooting at one another again.”

This illustrates the truth of Hermann Goering’s statement: ““Why, of course, the people don’t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out if it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally, the common people don’t want war. . . . But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a Parliament, or a Communist dictatorship.”

Sherman and Grant both enjoyed enormous fame after the war and for the rest of their lives. Grant was elected president, yet another job he was bad at. He finished his memoirs on his deathbed to ensure his family’s financial well-being.

Sherman left some of the greatest quotes in American history: 1) “I confess, without shame, I am sick and tired of fighting—its glory is all moonshine; even success the most brilliant is over dead and mangled bodies, with the anguish and lamentations of distant families, appealing to me for sons, husbands and fathers. . . . It is only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded and lacerated (friend or foe), that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation. . . .” 2) “There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but, boys, it is all hell.” 3) [regarding the presidency] “If nominated I will not run; if elected, I will not serve.”

1 Comment

Mike W. says:


Thanks for the post. The last paragraph was a fantastic mirror in which to see all the potential “commanders-in-chief” we have before us this election cycle. McCain plans on keeping troops in Iraq for 100 years and Clinton would bomb Iran to oblivion for launching an attack on Israel. All we need is more willingness to shed more blood in a false sense of security.

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