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JoMH: Albert Castel Denounces Hart's Bio of Sherman

The first article I selected from the Journal of Military History (more or less at random) was "Liddell Hart's Sherman Propaganda as History" by Albert Castel, who is widely recognized as one of the foremost experts on the Atlanta Campaign. The article first appeared in the April 2003 issue. In this article, Castel criticizes B. H. Liddell Hart's 1929 W. T. Sherman biography, Sherman: Soldier, Realist, American. Castel's main argument, as you can plainly see by the title of the article, is that Hart's book is not really history, but instead "propaganda" aimed at promoting Hart's goal of the "indirect approach" to warfare. This "indirect approach" is defined as a way to win a war by avoiding casualties as much as possible. In the interwar years between the World Wars, Hart advocated the use of tanks and planes to rain destruction on the enemy's cities, trying to win any future war as quickly and cheaply (in terms of monetary cost as well as cost in lives) as possible.

In the article, Castel covers Hart's use of his sources, primarily the Official Records, and demonstrates repeatedly with given examples that Hart either did not truly read the correspondence in the ORs or instead chose to deliberately bury information at the expense of others and to Sherman's benefit. Some of the situations included Sherman's role in the battles of Shiloh and Chattanooga, his performance in the Meridian Expedition and especially the choices Sherman made in the Atlanta Campaign, of which Castel gives numerous examples.

I found this article to be fascinating for several reasons. First, it is quite obvious even to the uninitiated in reading Castel's article that he has a decidedly anti-Sherman and pro-Thomas slant. I say this as someone who does not prefer one man over the other, considering both to be solid military leaders. This view was earlier brought forth in Castel's Decision in the West: The Atlanta Campaign of 1864, released in the early 1990's. The thought occurred to me that Castel is overstating his case against Hart's glowing biography of Sherman (and by extension Sherman himself) in an effort to overturn commonly held beliefs that Sherman was one of the greatest leaders to come out of the Civil War. Don't get me wrong. Castel makes some great points, especially concerning Sherman's use of McPherson's Army of the Tennessee as a flanking force at Snake Creek Gap instead of Thomas' larger Army of the Cumberland. But some of the accusations against Sherman's generalship seem overstated or exaggerated.

The other thing that interested me was that Castel pulls no punches in his condemnation of Hart's biography of Sherman. I do not know enough about Liddell Hart to properly judge if Castel's arguments against him are fully valid. According to even Castel himself, a lot of praise has been given to Sherman: Soldier, Realist, American over the years, including comments by an established historian in a 1995 issue of Civil War Regiments in an article entitled "The Best of Their Genre: Historians and Their Favorite Civil War Books." Castel believes this praise to be wholly without merit, and he uses the same military scenarios mentioned in the previous paragraph to highlight Hart's (mis)use or misleading use of the material in the Official Records. I've read other scholarly articles critiquing the work of others, but I haven't seen one quite this blunt and harsh in its assessment of another historian's work.

I do not know if anyone published a rebuttal to Castel's article, either in a later issue of the Journal of Military History or in some other scholarly journal. If you know of one, I would appreciate it if you'd let me know of its existence.

If anyone else has read this article I'd be interested to hear your take, especially if you are familiar with Hart and have read some of his books. That's it for now, but I'm excited about what else I'll find of interest in the Journal of Military History and its predecessors, and this is not just restricted to my interest in the Civil War.


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