Tuesday, December 11, 2007

ON THIS DAY: Wednesday, Dec. 11, 1861

Sherman Insane!”

Brig. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman has been home in Lancaster, Ohio, for a few days, recovering at his father-in-law's house (above) from the stress he had experienced in Kentucky and Missouri. Then he picks up today’s Cincinnati newspaper and reads an article that threatens to blow a hole in his recuperation. “General William T. Sherman Insane” reads the headline in the Cincinnati Commercial.

The story asserts Sherman was “stark mad” while in command of Union forces in eastern Kentucky. The paper claims he had telegraphed three times in one day asking permission to abandon Kentucky, that he had frightened leading men in Kentucky “almost out of their wits,” and that in Missouri “he was a madman.”

None of this was true. Sherman was not “insane,” although he had suffered what we would call an “emotional break,” probably the result of a high intelligence combining with a vivid imagination during stressful circumstances. Nor was his demand for a large buildup of troops unrealistic, although it was dismissed as such at the time.

A 20th-century psychiatrist who examined the known facts termed Sherman’s distress no more than a “mild ‘anxiety state.’” Contributing to the overheated news report was the inability of journalists to understand Sherman’s idiosyncrasies or see past his hostility to members of the press.

The newspaper article—widely reprinted—“distressed [Sherman] almost to death,” one of the general’s brother’s will report. Sherman spends the rest of the day sputtering and trying to decide what to do. Soon, his family, led by wife, Ellen, will rally in his defense.

IN NEWS ELSEWHERE: Charleston, South Carolina, experiences a disastrous fire, piling more woe on the suffering caused by a Union naval blockade. The fire sweeps across 540 acres, leveling 575 homes, stores, and churches. Unionists, who consider South Carolina the cockpit of secession, are only too happy to see the Charlestonians suffer.

In Washington, however, Abraham Lincoln reiterates his original purposes in the war. He says he regards the Union as unbroken and he will restore national law over the seceded states as soon as he can. He also will protect the all citizens in those states who have not engaged in rebellion. By taking this position, Lincoln is repudiating the harsher plans of the Radical Republicans whose desire is to free the slaves and punish the South.

Your suggestions, comments, and questions are always welcome. Address the author: Ohioan@bloodtearsandglory.com

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