Sherman's Memoirs: the 4 Editions

Q&A about Sherman's Controversial Memoirs


This book is the recommended 2nd edition of Sherman's Memoirs, published 1990 by The Library of America.

The following web sites offer Sherman's Memoirs free on-line:

Google Books, 1st Edition (1875)

Google Books, 2nd Edition (1886) (Note: some pages are omitted)

Gutenberg On Line (2nd Edition)

SonoftheSouth (2nd Edition) (3rd Edition, Vol. I and Vol. II) (Johnson 4th edition) (Blaine 4th edition)

The following Volume 1 of the 2nd edition of Sherman's Memoirs is in the public domain and free to download on Amazon Kindle.

There are numerous biographies of General Sherman. The following 5 biographies are in print and available from (listed in order of original publication).

There are numerous books about Sherman's March to the Sea (from Atlanta to Savannah, Nov - Dec 1864) and through the Carolinas (Jan - April 1864). The following 4 books are in-print and available from

Several of Barnard's photos are also available at Digital Library of Georgia

The link below is to the History Channel's depiction of Sherman's march through Georgia.

Grant and Sherman examines the close relationship between the two generals.

The next 6 books portray General Sherman in fiction (descriptions are from

In 1864, Union general William Tecumseh Sherman marched his sixty thousand troops through Georgia to the sea, and then up into the Carolinas. The army fought off Confederate forces, demolished cities, and accumulated a borne-along population of freed blacks and white refugees until all that remained was the dangerous transient life of the dispossessed and the triumphant. In E. L. Doctorow’s hands the great march becomes a floating world, a nomadic consciousness, and an unforgettable reading experience with awesome relevance to our own times.

After their infamous 'March to the Sea', General William Tecumseh Sherman and his 62,000 man army occupied Savannah during December 1864 - January 1865. Sherman took as his army headquarters the mansion of Englishman Charles Green on Madison Square. Against this historical backdrop the novel introduces a young war widow, Belle Anderson, who becomes the general's willing mistress. She discovers true sexual freedom and something else -- a bordello operator who stalks her at night and threatens to expose the affair. "Sherman's Mistress" interweaves the fictional story with many historical characters of the period, including Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, Savannah Mayor Richard Arnold, diarist Fanny Yates Cohen, blockade runner Gazaway Lamar, Major Henry Hitchcock, and Union Generals John Geary and Jefferson C. Davis.

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<a href= Out of Time: An Alternative Outcome to the Civil War
It is November 1864 and General Sherman’s army is marching through Georgia. Sherman has recently burned much of Atlanta and meets very little opposition as his 60,000-man army aims for Savannah. General Hood’s Confederate army will soon be defeated in Tennessee by General Thomas’s Union forces. General Grant is squeezing the vise he has placed around Petersburg, and the Confederate capital Richmond is threatened. General Lee’s troops are demoralized, many shoeless, and some are deserting to return home so they can help feed and protect their family. The South has all but lost the Civil War and leaders on both sides sense the end is near. It is just a matter of time, yet the Confederates do not give up or in. They are hoping for a miracle. Across the ocean comes a foreign fleet of submarines, promising to save the South from inevitable defeat. Is that possible? What could be their motive? And why -- oh why -- do they come at the last hour?

Georgia 1864: Sherman's army marches inexorably from Atlanta to the sea. In its path: the charming old city of Savannah, where the attractive widow Sara and her feisty twelve-year-old daughter Hattie struggle to save the family rice plantation. When Sherman offers the conquered city to President Lincoln as "a Christmas gift," Hattie and the feared general find themselves on a collision course that will astonish both of them.

The year is 1881. Lincoln, since losing the Civil War and then the presidency, is an itinerant socialist speech-maker. In the Confederate States of America, President James Longstreet buys northern Mexico, and the U.S. president declares war, the course of which operates through several historical figures. In San Francisco, antiwar newspaper publisher Samuel Clemens talks himself out of seditious trouble with William Sherman, while the British fleet reduces the city to rubble. The British/Canadian invasion of Montana is stopped by Teddy Roosevelt, yelling "bully" constantly, and by George Custer, whose brother Tom dies, reappears, and then is later referred to as dead. The War in Mexico goes worse for the bluecoats, as would be expected, since they face the dashing, slashing J.E.B. Stuart and his "camelry" --whether their mounts are dromedaries or Bactrians is unclear. At Louisville, Stonewall Jackson reprises his successes by repelling the Union attack and capturing Frederick Douglass, war correspondent...

As she enters the Commencement Ball at West Point on a spring evening in 1837, Cecelia Stovall looks and feels like the perfect, innocent Southern belle. But at that dance she will meet the man who will change her life--and the lives of her fellow Southerners--forever. Cecelia falls instantly in love with the dashing young Northern cadet William Sherman, and they embark on a fiery, secret rendezvous despite their broad cultural differances. Legend has it that Sherman's love for Cecelia was the reason he spared her hometown Augusta during his infamous march to the sea, when he burned Atlanta to the ground. Diane Haeger has re-created this lost romance in a sweeping and lyrical novel that will be treasured equally by the history enthusiast and the incurable romantic.

General Sherman
General William T. Sherman (1820-1891) was one of the top three Union Generals during the Civil War (the others were Ulysses S. Grant and Philip Sheridan), and the first general on either side to publish a book-length account of his memoirs. His Memoirs was published in spring 1875 and over the years there were three more editions. This web site is about the book itself and the controversy that resulted. The left column provides a bibliography relating to General Sherman and also to the book (includes web sites for complete text of each of the 4 editions).

Why is Sherman's Memoirs an important book?

Sherman played a seminal role in the Civil War, and his Memoirs are considered one of the finest writings by a modern army general. His first person account of events, coupled with numerous letters and war department records, make his book a primary source of information about the war.

The war ended in April 1865. Why were his Memoirs not published until 1875?

According to Wikipedia, around 1868 Sherman began to write a "private" recollection for his children about his life before the Civil War, identified now as his unpublished "Autobiography, 1828–1861". This manuscript is held by the Ohio Historical Society. Much of the material in it would eventually be incorporated in revised form in his memoirs, which he began writing in 1872 or 1873. When he showed his work to friends they urged him to publish. The book came out as Memoirs of General William T. Sherman. By Himself. It was published by D. Appleton & Co., in two volumes. He began with the year 1846 (with the Mexican War) and ended with Chapter 24, "Conclusion - Military Lessons of the War." (Cover of 1875 edition is shown below left; the two volumes standing are shown right.)

Sherman's Memoirs Sherman's Memoirs

Preface to 1st edition

Nearly ten years have passed since the close of the civil war in America, and yet no satisfactory history thereof is accessible to the public; nor should any be attempted until the Government has published, and placed within the reach of students, the abundant materials that are buried in the War Department at Washington. These are in process of compilation; but, at the rate of progress for the past ten years, it is probable that a new century will come before they are published and circulated, with full indexes to enable the historian to make a judicious selection of materials. What is now offered is not designed as a history of the war, or even as a complete account of all the incidents in which the writer bore a part, but merely his recollection of events, corrected by a reference to his own memoranda, which may assist the future historian when he comes to describe the whole, and account for the motives and reasons which influenced some of the actors in the grand drama of war.

I trust a perusal of these pages will prove interesting to the survivors, who have manifested so often their intense love of the "cause" which moved a nation to vindicate its own authority; and, equally so, to the rising generation, who therefrom may learn that a country and government such as ours are worth fighting for, and dying for, if need be. If successful in this, I shall feel amply repaid for departing from the usage of military men, who seldom attempt to publish their own deeds, but rest content with simply contributing by their acts to the honor and glory of their country.

St. Louis, Missouri, January 21, 1875.

What was the reaction to the book?

Generally favorable. However, many other participants in the war began to nitpick, as it were, and wrote Sherman letters pointing out areas of disagreement or outright errors. The most forceful argument was a 276-page book published in 1875, called Sherman’s Historical Raid. The Memoirs in the light of the Record. A review based upon compilations from the files of the War Office, by Henry V. Boynton. Cincinnati: Wilstach, Baldwin & Co. 1875.

Sherman's Historical Raid

Henry Van Ness Boynton (June 22, 1835 - June 3, 1905) was a Union Army officer during the American Civil War and a recipient of the Medal of Honor for his actions at the Battle of Missionary Ridge, Tenn., November 25, 1863. In 1875 he was a reporter for the Cincinnati Gazette. Using War Office records, Boynton methodically detailed discrepancies in the Sherman book. He even went so far as to use a binding nearly identical to Sherman's (blue, with horizontal black bands, as shown below; compare with image of Sherman's Memoirs, above).

Boynton's Historical Raid Cover

Boynton's account has been called "an informed though hostile critique of the memoirs." Boynton wrote:

The object of the present compilation, chiefly from the official records, is to show wherein the Memoirs of General Sherman fall far short of presenting the correct history of many great events of which they treat; how much they lack of giving a complete account of incidents which they relate; how far the author's recollection, even when corrected by his own memoranda, is at fault; and to furnish the future historian with facts which will guard him against perpetuating the error and the injustice which pervade both volumes of the work.

This book is a criticism upon Sherman as a general, only so far as the official records presented furnish such criticism. There is no attempt to contradict his statements, except as the records contradict them. Wherever these show that he has done grave injustice both to the living and to the dead, they are produced with as little comment as is needed to set them in connected order, and point out the refutations which they contain. While by this method of review, his mistakes only are presented, there has been no intention to underrate the great and brilliant services which he performed.

If these pages serve in any degree to correct error and do justice, where error uncorrected, and injustice done, affect the reputations of men or officers, who, either in humble position or exalted station, freely periled their lives, or laid them down for the country, the object for which they have been written will be accomplished.

Henry V. Boynton, 1875

In response, Sherman enlisted his brother-in-law Charles W. Moulton to write a detailed rebuttle (published at Sherman's expense). During the war Moulton was Assistant Quartermaster of Volunteers, and in 1861 served as Captain under General McClellan in West Virginia. Moulton resigned in 1864 with rank of Colonel in the Quartermaster's department. In 1875 he was also, like Boynton, an experienced journalist. The result was an 87-page pamphlet titled The Review of General Sherman’s Memoirs Examined, by Charles William Moulton, 1875.

Moulton's Rebuttle

In his Preface Moulton wrote:

To fully discuss all the points raised in the [Boynton] review of Sherman's Memoirs, has not been attempted. To do this would necessitate full access to the records of the War Department, and more time than I can command. The only endeavor has been to show that the documents published in the Review [again, Boynton's Review; Moulton's use of the term is confusing since it is capitalized here but not the first time] are, almost alone, sufficient for the refutaton of the graver charges against General Sherman.

Charles William Moulton, 1875

Thus, in sequence and all published in 1875, you have 1) Sherman's Memoirs, followed by 2) Boynton's critical review, followed by 3) Moulton's counter-review upholding Sherman's account of events.

What was all the fuss about?

Essentially, Boynton was critical of Sherman's conduct of the war, of his characterization of certain generals (e.g., accusing general George Thomas of being slow to enter battle in Tennessee), and of not giving proper credit where he thought it was due. It is a point-by-point condemnation of Sherman's conduct as general, calling into question his veracity and character. Specific charges were that Sherman:

  • failed to perform his duty at the battle Missionary Ridge
  • failed to capture or destroy General Johnston's army at the Dalton, and unjustly censured General McPherson for its escape
  • was incapacitated at the battle of Atlanta
  • was careless in allowing General Hardee to escape from Savannah
  • was not the originator of the famous "March to the Sea", but General Grant was

Moulton countered these criticisms one by one. Regarding the last one, Moulton wrote:

Did Sherman originate the march to the sea? This reviewer [Boynton] devotes 30 odd pages of his book in attempting to show that Sherman was not the author of this movement, incidentally attempting to show that Grant was the author of it.

To the ordinary reader, the reasons why this attempt [to discredit Sherman] is made are not apparent. It is beyond dispute that the movement was executed by Sherman in a manner satisfactory to General Grant and to the country.

Sherman says that he planned it, President Lincoln confirms the statement, and Grant has never disputed it...

Grant was president when Sherman's book came out. Before reading it, however, he learned of Boynton's criticisms, and was quite dismayed that the journalist would call his old friend, in effect, a liar. Though quite busy with official duties, he sent for a copy of Sherman's 2 volumes and went through them line by line over a 3-week period. From his review Grant concluded:

...when I finished the book, I found that I approved every word; that, apart from a few mistakes, that any writer would make in so voluminous a work, it wa a true book, an honorable book, creditable to Sherman, just to his companions -- to myself particularly so -- just such a book as I expected Sherman would write. That it was accurate, becasue Sherman keeps a diary, and he compiled the book from notes made at the time.. Then he is a very accurate man. You cannot imagine how pleased I was, for my respect and affection for Sherman were so great...Taking Sherman's book as a whole it is a sound, true, honest work, and a valuable contribution to the history of the war.

Ulysses S. Grant, quoted in "Around The World with General Grant," John Russell Young, pp 290-291

Others came to the Sherman's defense, including Union Cavalry General Judson Kilpatrick in a long letter to the New York Times January 24, 1876. The extant documents, in hindsight, make Boynton's book seem like a 'hatchet job', authored more for some personal aggrandizement than to set the record straight.

How did Sherman react to Boynton's criticims?

Initially Sherman arranged for several people, including his brother-in-law Moulton, to write tracts rebutting Boynton. But Boynton's diatribe continued to disturb him. In 1880 he was interviewed by a reporter for the Cleveland Leader and was quoted as stating about Boynton: "Everybody knows him to be a notorious slanderer. You could hire him to do anything for money. Why, for a thousand dollars, he would slander his own mother."

At that, Boynton began court proceedings, suing Sherman for slander and libel and requesting a court martial for Sherman with the charge of "conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman." The request went all the way to Boynton's friend, President Rutherford B. Hayes, who denied the court martial. Sherman then challenged Boynton to sue him in civil courts but no further legal action was taken. Essentially, Boynton backed down from a legal fight, and Sherman ended up winning the battle of words. (The Chickamauga Campaign, ed. by Steven E. Woodworth, pp, 171-172)

When did the 2nd edition come out?

Sherman did acknowledge some plain factual errors brought to his attention in the 1875 publication, and many of them were corrected in a single-volume reprint of the book published in 1876. Then, over the next 10 years Sherman carefully asseembled a pile of letters received from many sources, with an eye to publishing a revised 2nd edition of the book. In 1886, just after publication of Grant's Memoirs, a fully revised 2nd edition was published by Appleton. The 2nd edition is considered the most important of the 4 editions, because it was personally revised by Sherman (unlike the 3rd and 4th editions). Changes in the second edition included:

  • About 50 corrections and revisions made to the body of the text, all of them minor but in respose to letters and comments received the previous decade. Sherman refused to revise his original text on the ground that "I disclaim the character of historian, but assume to be a witness on the stand before the great tribunal of history" and "any witness who may disagree with me should publish his own version of [the] facts in the truthful narration of which he is interested."
  • A new Preface, so the book has both the original and a 2nd Preface
  • A new chapter at the beginning of the book, covering period 1820-1846
  • A new chapter at the end of the book covering events after the war, ending with his 1884 retirement from the army.
  • An appendix listing many of the letters he received.
  • Portraits and improved maps.
  • An index.

Preface to the Second Edition

Another ten years have passed since I ventured to publish my Memoirs, and, being once more at leisure, I have revised them in the light of the many criticisms public and private. My habit has been to note in pencil the suggestions of critics, and to examine the substance of their differences; for critics must differ from the author, to manifest their superiority. Where I have found material error I have corrected; and I have added two chapters, one at the beginning, another at the end, both of the most general character, and an appendix.

I wish my friends and enemies to understand that I disclaim the character of historian, but assume to be a witness on the stand before the great tribunal of history, to assist some future Napier, Alison, or Hume to comprehend the feelings and thoughts of the actors in the grand conflicts of the recent past, and thereby to lessen his labors in the compilation necessary for the future benefit of mankind.

In this free country every man is at perfect liberty to publish his own thoughts and impressions, and any witness who may differ from me should publish his own version of facts in the truthful narration of which he is interested. I am publishing my own memoirs, not theirs, and we all know that no three honest witnesses of a simple brawl can agree on all the details. How much more likely will be the difference in a great battle covering a vast space of broken ground, when each division, brigade, regiment, and even company, naturally and honestly believes that it was the focus of the whole affair! Each of them won the battle. None ever lost. That was the fate of the old man who unhappily commanded.

In this edition I give the best maps which I believe have ever been prepared, compiled by General O. M. Poe, from personal knowledge and official surveys, and what I chiefly aim to establish is the true cause of the results which are already known to the whole world; and it may be a relief to many to know that I shall publish no other, but, like the player at cards, will "stand;" not that I have accomplished perfection, but because I can do no better with the cards in hand. Of omissions there are plenty, but of willful perversion of facts, none.

In the preface to the first edition, in 1875, I used these words: "Nearly ten years have passed since the close of the civil war in America, and yet no satisfactory history thereof is accessible to the public; nor should any be attempted until the Government has published, and placed within the reach of students, the abundant materials that are buried in the War Department at Washington. These are in process of compilation; but, at the rate of progress for the past ten years, it is probable that a new century will come before they are published and circulated, with full indexes to enable the historian to make a judicious selection of materials"

Another decade is past, and I am in possession of all these publications, my last being Volume XI, Part 3, Series 1, the last date in which is August 30, 1862. I am afraid that if I assume again the character of prophet, I must extend the time deep into the next century, and pray meanwhile that the official records of the war, Union and Confederate, may approach completion before the "next war," or rather that we, as a people, may be spared another war until the last one is officially recorded. Meantime the rising generation must be content with memoirs and histories compiled from the best sources available.

In this sense I offer mine as to the events of which I was an eye-witness and participant, or for which I was responsible.

General (retired).
St. Louis, Missouri, March 30, 1885.

When did the 3rd edition come out?

Subsequently, Sherman shifted to the publishing house of Charles L. Webster & Co., the publisher of Grant’s memoirs. The new publishing house brought out a "third edition, revised and corrected" in 1890, Volume I and Volume II. This edition was substantively identical to the second (except for the omission of Sherman's short 1875 and 1886 prefaces, both quoted above).

When did the 4th edition come out?

There were TWO 4th editions. After Sherman died in 1891, his first publisher, Appleton, reissued the original (1875) edition with two new chapters about Sherman’s later years added by the journalist W. Fletcher Johnson. This is the 1891 Johnson edition: Volume I, Volume II.

Meanwhile, Charles L. Webster & Co. (Sherman's new publisher) issued a "fourth edition, revised, corrected, and complete" with the text of Sherman’s second edition, a new chapter prepared under the auspices of the Sherman family bringing the general’s life from his retirement to his death and funeral, and an appreciation by Congressman James G. Blaine (who was related to Sherman's wife). Note that this edition omits Sherman’s prefaces to the 1875 and 1886 editions (1891 Blaine edition: Volume I, Volume II).

Both the Johnson 4th edition and the Blaine 4th edition used the same galleys as the 2nd edition, so the basic text is all original Sherman; the added material is by others.

Which edition of Sherman's Memoirs is recommended?

For general purposes the 2nd edition is recommended. It includes Sherman's own revisions, and has pictures, improved maps and an index. It also has the added advantage of being easily available for a reasonable price in a modern reprint (all editions are available for downloading on the internet; see links in the left column). If you are ordering the book (as opposed to reading it free on-line), the recommended text is the 1990 publication by Library of America. This volume contains the complete 2nd edition of Sherman's Memoirs, plus a detailed chronology of Sherman's life and notes on the text by Charles Royster (b. 1944), Boyd Professor of History at Louisiana State University and author of The Destructive War: William Tecumseh Sherman, Stonewall Jackson, and the Americans.

How much are orginal editions of Sherman's Memoirs?

Original editions are widely available for sale on the internet. As with all historic books, the price varies on the basis of rarity, condition and whether or not it is signed by the author. For unsigned copies of the first or second edition, the price seems to run anywhere from about $100 to $900, the latter price for a very fine 1st edition from The Manhattan Rare Book Company. lists many copies for sale. This list includes modern editions (such as that published by Library of America), as well as original editions printed in the 19th century. Also check out Bauman's Rare Books, which sells original editions from time to time. This signed copy of the 4th edition (the Blaine version) was advertised for $2400, but was marked as sold when accessed 12/30/2012. The same book without the inscription was listed for $600 at this Bauman Rare Books web site.

Contact Lawrence Martin

First posted Jan 5, 2013; last revised September 20, 2014