Disunion: Sherman’s Demons

The New York Times’ Disunion series has a great entry on Cump Sherman and his mental illness. Sherman has long been my favourite Civil War personality, due in large part to his personality, and his personality was hugely determined by his bipolar disorder. Luckily for him – and us – he shared Lincoln’s ability to pull himself out of a major depressive episode to change the course of American history.

In letters to his wife, Ellen Ewing Sherman, Sherman himself confirmed and amplified what others observed. Everyone around him seemed poised to betray him, he wrote her. “I am up all night.” He had lost his appetite. Viewing his situation from the perspective of this mental turmoil, he was convinced that he was caught in an impossible military contradiction where “to advance would be madness and to stand still folly.” And he entirely lacked the means to lead others and to control himself: “I find myself riding a whirlwind unable to guide the storm.” In the near future he anticipated total “failure and humiliation,” an onrushing infamy that “nearly makes me crazy — indeed I may be so now.”

This chronicle of his breakdown also sheds more light on Sherman’s deep loathing of reporters!


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