Quest For A Star

Letters Diaries Colonel Francis T. Sherman

  • Author(s): Author C. Knight Aldrich
  • Series:
  • Imprint: Univ Tennessee Press
  • Publication Date: 2000-01-30
  • Status: Out of Print Cancel

An ambitious, capable, self-trained officer with strong opinions, Francis Trowbridge Sherman of Chicago recorded his Civil War experiences in both diaries and letters to his family. Published here for the first time, his writings are notable not only for their vivid descriptions of his wartime experiences but also for their insights into the volatile politics of the era. Sherman’s father was Francis Cornwall Sherman, the Democratic mayor of Chicago during much of the war, and the two disagreed sharply about how the conflict might be resolved.

Thanks to his father’s political influence, Sherman won an officer’s commission and eventually became a colonel in the 88th Illinois Volunteer Infantry. Commanding a brigade for much of his early service, he saw action at Perryville, Stones River, Missionary Ridge, and other battles. He was captured near Atlanta and endured three months in a Confederate prison before being released in a prisoner exchange. During the last months of the war, he served with Gen. Philip Sheridan in the Appomattox campaign.

In his letters, written mainly to his father, Colonel Sherman rarely hesitated to criticize what he saw as the incompetence of superior officers, especially Gen. Don Carlos Buell. He was equally quick to chastise his father for his associations with the Peace Democrats, who favored compromise with the South. The younger Sherman remained a staunch War Democrat throughout his military service, even as he frequently fumed about the manner in which the war was being waged.

Paralleling Colonel Sherman’s convictions about the rightness of the Union cause were his frustrations about his progress as an officer. He believed, with some justification, that he deserved a promotion to brigadier general, but the politics that had brought him his early commissions hindered his further rise in the army. He persisted, however, in his longtime quest for a star (a general’s insignia), and after the war, he finally won the promotion he had long sought.

Colonel Sherman’s diaries and letters have been carefully edited and annotated by C. Knight Aldrich, his great-grandson, who places them in historical perspective. A psychiatrist by training, Dr. Aldrich also offers some fascinating speculation about the inner conflicts that may have fueled Sherman’s ambitions and political beliefs.

The Editor: C. Knight Aldrich was a professor of psychiatry and family medicine at the University of Virginia Medical School.