Civil War History 47.1 (2001) 86-87
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Quest for a Star:
The Civil War Letters and Diaries of Colonel Francis T. Sherman of the 88th Illinois
What makes Quest for a Star stand out among similar published collections is the author's political commentary. Col. Francis ("Frank") Trowbridge Sherman was no ordinary officer, but the son of Francis Cornwall Sherman, Chicago's Democratic wartime mayor. Although this volume contains rich descriptive accounts of major western battles and prison life, most of the letters were written by Sherman to his father. A War Democrat, the younger Sherman vents opinions about conduct of the war, political climate in the army, and his father's truckling with Peace Democrats. Even the book's title refers to the self-taught colonel's pursuit of promotion and the political machinations involved in this ambition.
Migrating from upstate New York in the early 1830s, the elder Sherman helped pioneer Chicago politics and business. While his father's enterprises and political career as alderman, state legislator, and mayor prospered, Frank by 1861 had little to show from a succession of occupations. With the war, Frank received a commission as lieutenant colonel in the Illinois volunteers, thanks to his father's political influence. Yet he blossomed into a competent combat officer. Like so many others of the war generation, Frank found in the conflict an opportunity for the advancement that eluded him in civilian life and a means of escaping the shadow of his father.
The thirty-six-year-old officer received a commission as colonel of the 88th Illinois in August 1862. From then on, he led a brigade for much of the Army of the Cumberland's campaigning in Tennessee and Georgia. Outside of Atlanta in July [End Page 86] 1864, Frank was captured and spent three months in Southern prisons. Although he complained of feeling "prematurely old" (148) following his release, Frank requested an assignment from his friend Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan and served on the latter's staff during the Appomattox campaign. A few months after the war ended, Frank finally received the star he thought he deserved "all due to General Sheridan," as he put it (168). Early in 1866 he was mustered out of service and apparently never recovered from the experience of command. Frank resumed his prewar restlessness, attempting a number of ventures but dying in 1905 "poor in prosperity and purse," according to a memorial to him.
Civil War enthusiasts and scholars of different stripes will appreciate the richness of material in Quest for a Star. Although Frank truncated his diary entries, his descriptive ability appears in his letters. He writes fulsomely of camp life, campaigning, and engagements at Perryville, Stones River, Kennesaw Mountain, and more. Not one to suffer fools gladly, Frank's repeated criticism of inept performance by superior officers will interest military students. The depiction of Confederate prisons and the exchange process reveals the psychological burden and physical duress that even officers endured. Sheridan buffs will find useful information in Frank's ongoing relationship with the general.
Aside from its addition to literature on military life and operations, this volume also contributes to studies of the home front. Churning under the surface of Frank's experiences are political concerns, which are linked to his frustration over family life and promotion. The Democratic connections that launched his military career proved a barrier as he sought a star from a Republican administration. Frank admonished his father that the Peace Democrats depressed Northern troops while adding to Southern morale. In addition to tension over politics, Frank's letters reveal how the war loosened family bonds. His wife, for example, left the couple's three children with their grandparents on several occasions to join Frank...