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General Sherman’s Death Wish Commando: The Rise and Fall of James Pike

From the Texas Rangers to the Union Army to the Indian Wars, Pike always followed dangerous pathways.

James Pike book photo
Photo of Pike from his autobiographical book published after the Civil War.

The memoirs of general officers are generally best used to gain an overview in broad strokes of how a war was fought — the movements of corps, divisions, regiments, brigades and other large formations.  Given the concentration on the “big picture,” the daily routine of the common soldier is often not covered in such writings, much less the exploits of specific individuals.

For this reason the rather eccentric character James Pike stands out as a unique figure in the memoirs of General Sherman.  When Pike first appears in Sherman’s narrative, he had just delivered the General important messages including an urgent change of mission order from General Ulysses Grant.  But it’s how he did it that’s impressive.  As Sherman described it:

“I was approached by a dirty, black-haired individual with mixed dress and strange demeanor, who inquired for me, and, on being assured that I was in fact the man he handed me [the] letter….  The bearer of this message was Corporal Pike, who described to me, in his peculiar way, that General Crook had sent him in a canoe; that he had paddled down the Tennessee River… was fired at all the way be guerrillas….”

Sherman was so impressed with Pike that he told him to let him know if ever needed any favors in the future.  Another soldier might have asked for a furlough to visit home or a safer duty assignment.  But that wasn’t Pike’s style.

The following Spring found Sherman in Chattanooga, Tennessee preparing for the Atlanta campaign.

Go to the next page for Pike’s exploits behind enemy lines.

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