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Demon of the Lost Cause

Sherman and Civil War History

Wesley Moody

Publication Year: 2011

At the end of the Civil War, Union general William Tecumseh Sherman was surprisingly more popular in the newly defeated South than he was in the North. Yet, only thirty years later, his name was synonymous with evil and destruction in the South, particularly as the creator and enactor of the “total war” policy. In Demon of the Lost Cause, Wesley Moody examines these perplexing contradictions and how they and others function in past and present myths about Sherman.


            Throughout this fascinating study of Sherman’s reputation, from his first public servant role as the major general for the state of California until his death in 1891, Moody explores why Sherman remains one of the most controversial figures in American history. Using contemporary newspaper accounts, Sherman’s letters and memoirs, as well as biographies of Sherman and histories of his times, Moody reveals that Sherman’s shifting reputation was formed by whoever controlled the message, whether it was the Lost Cause historians of the South, Sherman’s enemies in the North, or Sherman himself.


With his famous “March to the Sea” in Georgia, the general became known for inventing a brutal warfare where the conflict is brought to the civilian population. In fact, many of Sherman’s actions were official tactics to be employed when dealing with guerrilla forces, yet Sherman never put an end to the talk of his innovative tactics and even added to the stories himself. Sherman knew he had enemies in the Union army and within the Republican elite who could and would jeopardize his position for their own gain. In fact, these were the same people who spread the word that Sherman was a Southern sympathizer following the war, helping to place the general in the South’s good graces. That all changed, however, when the Lost Cause historians began formulating revisions to the Civil War, as Sherman’s actions were the perfect explanation for why the South had lost.


 Demon of the Lost Cause reveals the machinations behind the Sherman myth and the reasons behind the acceptance of such myths, no matter who invented them. In the case of Sherman’s own mythmaking, Moody postulates that his motivation was to secure a military position to support his wife and children. For the other Sherman mythmakers, personal or political gain was typically the rationale behind the stories they told and believed.  In tracing Sherman’s ever-changing reputation, Moody sheds light on current and past understanding of the Civil War through the lens of one of its most controversial figures.

Published by: University of Missouri Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii

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pp. 1-2

In 2004 the Atlanta Journal Constitution published on the front page of the opinion section an article about William Tecumseh Sherman. More than a quarter of the page was taken up by a photograph of a stern-looking Sherman, with his right hand resting Napoleon-like in his Brooks Brothers uniform, laid over an image of fire. The article is titled “Sherman Still Burns...

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Chapter 1: The Prewar Years and the Early War

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pp. 3-21

Although Sherman was unknown to the general public at the beginning of the war, the template for his future reputation began to emerge early on in the mind of the Southern public. Ulysses S. Grant, in his personal memoirs, described marching his regiment through a deserted Missouri town at the beginning of the war. People “had evidently been led to believe that the...

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Chapter 2: The Atlanta Campaign and the March to the Sea

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pp. 22-34

At the beginning of the Civil War, William T. Sherman had shunned high command. He understood that there would be a learning curve to be faced by both soldiers and politicians. He rightly predicted that commanding generals in the first few years of the war would be very unlikely to survive in their positions until the end. Sherman’s goal was to have the job...

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Chapter 3: The Commanding General versus the North

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pp. 35-60

General William T. Sherman’s status as one of the great generals and the cruelest fiends of the Civil War had not been established by the close of hostilities. Sherman was the most controversial of Civil War generals at the close of the war and the decades that followed, but this had little to do with Sherman’s now infamous March to the Sea or his treatment of Southern civilians....

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Chapter 4: The War of the Memoirs

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pp. 61-74

The public’s perception of General William T. Sherman from the end of the Civil War until his death in 1891 would change repeatedly. The accusations that General Sherman and all Union generals were brutal destroyers appeared in the Southern press before the end of the war, but these accusations had quickly been overshadowed by the twin evils of Radical Republican politicians and carpetbaggers as the perceived enemy of the South....


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pp. 75-87

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Chapter 5: Sherman’s Last Years

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pp. 88-98

William T. Sherman’s reputation in the American South had been very positive in the first fifteen years that followed the Civil War. During Reconstruction he was the political ally of the South, from his surrender terms to Johnston to his stand against the Ku Klux Klan Acts and his less than lukewarm acceptance of African Americans in the army. This, of...

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Chapter 6: Sherman versus the Lost Cause

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pp. 99-116

The death of General William Tecumseh Sherman on Saint Valentine’s Day 1891 was the news story of the year. The great Prussian general Helmuth von Moltke died the same year, but this was a much bigger story in Europe than in the United States. John Holland built the first practical submarine that same year, but its significance would not be realized until the...

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Chapter 7: Embracing the Lost Cause

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pp. 117-125

Sherman benefited from the Lost Cause. As the old cliché goes, no press is bad press. The Lost Cause may have demonized Sherman but they never downplayed his importance. The criticism in the Confederate Veteran helped Sherman overcome what might have been the most devastating attack on his legacy, that of his former subordinate John M. Schofield, whose Forty-Six...

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Chapter 8: Sherman in Film

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pp. 126-131

The myth of William T. Sherman created by Southern writers in the last decade of the nineteenth century became widely accepted and disseminated during the twentieth century. Hollywood films presented the Lost Cause mythology to worldwide audiences. Professional military men and historians used the myth of Sherman to make arguments about events in...

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Chapter 9: Sherman and the Modern Historians

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pp. 132-152

That so many of the major stars in Gone With the Wind were British is perhaps very telling. Although not intended by the movie’s creators, the large number of British actors and actresses in the film reflect an interesting aspect of the creation of the Sherman myth. The modern view of Sherman is as much a product of the view of British professional military men...


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pp. 153-170


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pp. 171-180


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pp. 181-190

Back Cover

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p. BC-BC

E-ISBN-13: 9780826272669
E-ISBN-10: 0826272665
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826219459
Print-ISBN-10: 0826219454

Page Count: 202
Illustrations: 10
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1