A Chancellor’s Village Lecture
Professor Robert O’Connell describes his approach to his topic: “It’s no secret that story is at the core of biography. Well, what do you do if your subject is so hyperactive, contradictory, mercurial, and just plain wordy that all you keep getting out of your research is a jumble of activity and virtually no clarity? I fell back on something William Tecumseh Sherman liked to do: divide and conquer.
“One night on my sofa, I realized that Sherman’s life made the most sense as three separate stories: the first having to do with his significance as a military strategist; the second telling the tale of how ‘Uncle Billy’ and his boys came together to form the Army of the West, the first distinctively American ground force; and finally the personal side, a life that might have jumped out of a Jane Austin novel: father’s untimely death leads to young ‘Cump’ being raised as the foster son of an important politician; falls in love with foster sister; then wages epic tug-of-war to truly win her from daddy, ultimately moving on to other conquests. It boils down to a kind of three-ring circus of Sherman, but in the end it helped me weave together a life that made a little more sense, a life that might put a much mythicized and vilified figure in better perspective.
Speaker: Robert L. O’Connell
Dr. Robert L. O’Connell is presently a Visiting Professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey California, where he has taught since 2004. Previously, he had a thirty-year career in the U.S. Intelligence Community, during which time he worked at the U.S. Army Foreign Science and Technology Center, the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, served as a U.S. delegation member at the Conference on Disarmament, Geneva, Switzerland, and finally as a senior analyst at the National Ground Intelligence Center.
Professor O’Connell received his B.A. from Colgate University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in history from the University of Virginia. He is the author of seven published books – one novel and six histories, the last two of which, The Ghosts of Cannae and Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman were New York Times non-fiction bestsellers. Fierce Patriot was also the recipient of the 2015 William Henry Seward Award for Excellence in Civil War Biography.