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A Soldier's Life

Sherman by Lee B. Kennett
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In Sherman, Lee Kennett offers a brilliant new interpretation of the general's life and career, one that probes his erratic, contradictory nature. Here we see the making of a true soldier, beginning with the frontier society and the extraordinary family from which he came, his formative years at West Point, and the critical period leading up to the Civil War. Throughout the spirited battles at Bull Run and Shiloh, the siege of Vicksburg, and ultimately, the Great March, Sherman displayed a blend of drive, determination, and mastery of detail unique in the annals of war.

By drawing upon previously unexploited materials and maintaining a sharp, lively narrative, Lee Kennett presents a rich, authoritative portrait of Sherman -- the man and the soldier -- who emerges from this work more human and more fascinating than ever before.

HarperCollins; June 2009
464 pages; ISBN 9780061943614
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Title: Sherman
Author: Lee B. Kennett

Chapter One


Among the countless paths and trails that crisscrossed pre-Columbian America there was a track called the Mingo Trail that wound through the woodlands of southern Ohio. This area was then the home of the Wyandots. One of their principal settlements lay some thirty miles south of modern-day Columbus, where the trail met a river the Indians called the Hockhocking; a ford or "ripple" there made for an easy crossing and spawned a village they called Cranetown. Well into the eighteenth century the area remained isolated from the British colonies to the east; the momentous struggle that began at Lexington and Concord produced no reverberations along the Hockhocking. Frontiersmen visiting Cranetown in the era of the American Revolution found a settlement with a hundred wigwams and perhaps five times that number of Wyandots.

The land of the Wyandots would shortly lose both its isolation and its identity. In the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 Congress laid down the rules for the settlement of the area; nine years later the Federal government struck a bargain with one Ebenezer Zane, who undertook to lay out an access route running from Wheeling, in what was then Virginia, to Maysville, Kentucky. Zane and his men were soon at work, cutting underbrush and marking or "blazing" trees along their way.

Zane followed preexisting trails when he could, so it is not surprising that his route took the Mingo Trail to the river crossing at Cranetown. Zane's Trace, as it came to be known, could not at first accommodate wheeled traffic, but later it was transformed to Zane's Road and survives today as Highway 22.

The first log cabin in the vicinity of Cranetown went up in April 1798; before the summer was over it was joined by a dozen others. These first homesteaders were farmers whose overriding concern was to get a crop of grain in the ground so they would be able to feed their livestock through the winter. Theirs was hard living, isolated and closely bound to the soil, without benefit of clergy or physicians; they doctored themselves with what was at hand, herbs, doses of gunpowder, and alcohol, taking the last "in the "inter to sustain animal heat and in the summer to counteract the same"

What this burgeoning community most needed were the goods and services of a town, so Ebenezer Zane founded one. With a real estate agent's eye for development he took up a quarter-section, 160 acres, at the Cranetown site and in 1800 he had it surveyed out into lots. Several lots he set aside for a courthouse and other public buildings, and others were offered to settlers; they found ready buyers at prices ranging from $5 to $50. Named New Lancaster, shortened in 1805 to Lancaster, the town became the seat of Fairfield County.

The new town, like the countryside around it, continued to attract inhabitants, and as it grew it changed. In 1800 it was a cluster of log cabins, by 1805 it had ninety buildings, and by 1810 there were three structures in brick. It had a post office from its founding, and soon after it became a regular stop on the stage line; in 1836 it became linked to distant markets by a canal-whose construction gave the future Union general his first employment at fifty cents a day.

A class structure emerged. With government came officialdom; with law courts had come judges and lawyers to serve the town and surrounding county. Several physicians set up practice; clerics of various denominations had come to minister to their flocks and a succession of schoolmasters set up shop. In the town's early days it was the commercial and financial sector that seemed to lag behind; most of the business ventures launched in Lancaster's first decade foundered. Money was always in short supply and barter was common; credit was tight. Not until 1816 did the town have a bank.

In new communities such as Lancaster, where everybody was from somewhere else, a number of inhabitants gave themselves a fresh start by hiding their past or by taking on a new and more glamorous identity; in this period frontier communities played host to more than one "long-lost Dauphin of France" Lancaster had a celebrity in Mrs. Bilderbeck, who said that for many months she had been held prisoner by the Miami Indians; the stories she related were probably true. There was Augustus Witter, who claimed to have fought in the Battle of Waterloo, which was quite possible; and there was an old black woman named Aunt Disa who said she had served as wet nurse to the infant George Washington, which was problematical.

The population of Lancaster and Fairfield County was a rich mixture of ethnic strains and cultures; many of the inhabitants were a logical "spillover" from more settled areas to the east, notably from western Virginia and Pennsylvania; but New England was also represented, particularly Connecticut. Recent immigrants from the German states were so numerous that for a time Lancaster had a German language newspaper. There was a sprinkling of Frenchmen and Spaniards. While the bulk of the population was white and Protestant, other races and creeds were represented. Free blacks seem to have been there from the first, though relatively few in number. They were often craftsmen; the town's tinsmith, for example, was a black man; finally, there was a seasoning of Wyandots, some of whom stayed on until the 1840s.

As time passed these people coexisted, mingled, and somehow became one. According to an early Ohio historian the process was a simple one: "The families married and intermarried and a race of native Buckeyes was the result, combining all that was good in the different races" Certain it is that over time the new settlers' welter of dialects and accents was transformed into a common way of speaking, instantly recognizable to the Southerner or New Englander who hears it. And by the mid-nineteenth century...