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Category: William Tecumseh Sherman

It’s not over till it’s over

“I shall never forget how you received the news of the secession of South Carolina.  I happened to be in your room with you when the mail was brought in, and when you read of the actual passage of the formal and solemn withdrawal by that State from the Union, you cried like a little child, exclaiming: ‘My God, you Southern people don’t know what you are doing!  Peaceable secession!  There can be no peaceable secession.  Secession means war.  The North will fight you, and fight you hard, and God only knows how or where it will end!’” – from D. F. Boyd letter to General W. T. Sherman, July 17, 1875 (quoted in Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman)

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When you get old (and we all get old)

“I can see, in memory, a beautiful young city-bred lady, who had married a poor second-lieutenant, and followed him to his post on the plains, whose quarters were in a ‘dug-out’ ten feet by about fifteen, seven feet high, with a dirt roof; four feet of the walls were the natural earth, the other three of sod, with holes for windows and corn-sacks for curtains.  This little lady had her Saratoga trunk, which was the chief article of furniture; yet, by means of a rug on the ground-floor, a few candle-boxes covered with red calico for seats, a table improvised out of a barrel-head, and a fire-place and chimney excavated in the back wall or bank, she had transformed her ‘hole in the ground’ into a most attractive home for her young warrior husband; and she entertained me with a supper consisting of the best of coffee, fried ham, cakes, and jellies from the commissary, which made on my mind an impression more lasting than have any one of the hundreds of magnificent banquets I have since attended in the palaces and mansions of our own and foreign lands.

“Still more would I like to go over again the many magnificent trips made across the interior plains, mountains, and deserts before the days of the completed Pacific Railroad, with regular ‘Doughertys’ drawn by four smart mules, one soldier with carbine or loaded musket in hand seated alongside the driver; two in the back seat with loaded rifles swung in the loops made for them; the lightest kind of baggage, and generally a bag of oats to supplement the grass, and to attach the mules to their camp.  With an outfit of two, three, or four of such, I have made journeys of as much as eighteen hundred miles in a single season, usually from post to post, averaging in distance about two hundred miles a week, with as much regularity as is done to-day by the steam-car its five hundred miles a day; but those days are gone, and, though I recognize the great national advantages of the more rapid locomotion, I cannot help occasionally regretting the change.” – William Tecumseh Sherman, Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman

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“The troops were posted to the best advantage to protect the parties engaged in building these [rail]roads, and in person I reconnoitered well to the front, traversing the buffalo regions from south to north, and from east to west, often with a very small escort, mingling with the Indians whenever safe, and thereby gained personal knowledge of matters which enabled me to use the troops to the best advantage.  I am sure that without the courage and activity of the department commanders with the small bodies of regular troops on the plains during the years 1866-‘69, the Pacific Railroads could not have been built; but once built and in full operation the fate of the buffalo and Indian was settled for all time to come.” – William Tecumseh Sherman, Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman

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Costing arms and legs

“The rebel wounded (sixty-eight) were carried to a house near by, all surgical operations necessary were performed by our surgeons, and then these wounded men were left in care of an officer and four men of the rebel prisoners, with a scanty supply of food, which was the best we could do for them.  In person I visited this house while the surgeons were at work, with arms and legs lying around loose, in the yard and on the porch; and in a room on a bed lay a pale, handsome young fellow, whose left arm had just been cut off near the shoulder.  Some one used my name, when he asked, in a feeble voice, if I were General Sherman.  He then announced himself as Captain Macbeth, whose battery had just been captured; and said that he remembered me when I used to visit his father’s house, in Charleston.  I inquired about his family, and enabled him to write a note to his mother, which was sent her afterward from Goldsboro’.” – William Tecumseh Sherman, Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman

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Dream come true

“After supper I sat on a chair astride, with my back to a good fire, musing, and became conscious that an old negro, with a tallow-candle in his hand, was scanning my face closely.  I inquired, ‘What do you want, old man?’  He answered, ‘Dey say you is Massa Sherman.’  I answered that such was the case, and inquired what he wanted.  He only wanted to look at me, and kept muttering, ‘Dis nigger can’t sleep dis night.’  I asked him why he trembled so, and he said that he wanted to be sure that we were in fact ‘Yankees,’ for on a former occasion some rebel cavalry had put on light-blue overcoats, personating Yankee troops, and many of the negroes were deceived thereby, himself among the number—had shown them sympathy, and had in consequence been unmercifully beaten therefor.  This time he wanted to be certain before committing himself; so I told him to go out on the porch, from which he could see the whole horizon lit up with camp-fires, and he could then judge whether he had ever seen any thing like it before.  The old man became convinced that the ‘Yankees’ had come at last, about whom he had been dreaming all his life.” – William Tecumseh Sherman, Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman

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Bummers and dudes

“The skill and success of our men in collecting forage was one of the features of this march.  Each brigade commander had authority to detail a company of foragers, usually about fifty men, with one or two commissioned officers selected for their boldness and enterprise.  This party would be dispatched before daylight with a knowledge of the intended day’s march and camp; would proceed on foot five or six miles from the route traveled by their brigade, and then visit every plantation and farm within range.  They would usually procure a wagon or family carriage, load it with bacon, corn-meal, turkeys, chickens, ducks, and every thing that could be used as food or forage, and would then regain the main road, usually in advance of their train.  When this came up, they would deliver to the brigade commissary the supplies thus gathered by the way.  Often I would pass these foraging-parties at the roadside, waiting for their wagons to come up, and was amused at their strange collections—mules, horses, even cattle, packed with old saddles and loaded with hams, bacon, bags of corn-meal, and poultry of every character and description.  Although this foraging was attended with great danger and hard work, there seemed to be a charm about it that attracted the soldiers, and it was a privilege to be detailed on such a party.  Daily they returned mounted on all sorts of beasts, which were at once taken from them and appropriated to the general use; but the next day they would start out again on foot, only to repeat the experience of the day before.  No doubt, many acts of pillage, robbery, and violence, were committed by these parties of foragers, usually called ‘bummers;’ for I have since heard of jewelry taken from women, and the plunder of articles that never reached the commissary; but these acts were exceptional and incidental.  I never heard of any cases of murder or rape; and no army could have carried along sufficient food and forage for a march of three hundred miles; so that foraging in some shape was necessary.  The country was sparsely settled, with no magistrates or civil authorities who could respond to requisitions, as is done in all the wars of Europe; so that this system of foraging was simply indispensable to our success.  By it our men were well supplied with all the essentials of life and health, while the wagons retained enough in case of unexpected delay, and our animals were well fed.  Indeed, when we reached Savannah, the trains were pronounced by experts to be the finest in flesh and appearance ever seen with any army.” – William Tecumseh Sherman, Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman

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A difference of opinion

“HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF TENNESSEE, IN THE FIELD, October 12, 1864 – To the Officer commanding the United States forces at Resaca, Georgia.  SIR: I demand the immediate and unconditional surrender of the post and garrison under your command, and, should this be acceded to, all white officers and soldiers will be parolled in a few days.  If the place is carried by assault, no prisoners will be taken.  Most respectfully, your obedient servant, J. B. HOOD, General.

“HEADQUARTERS SECOND BRIGADE, THIRD DIVISION, FIFTEENTH CORPS, RESACA, GEORGIA, October 12, 1864.  To General J. B. HOOD: Your communication of this date just received.  In reply, I have to state that I am somewhat surprised at the concluding paragraph, to the effect that, if the place is carried by assault, no prisoners will be taken.  In my opinion I can hold this post.  If you want it, come and take it.  I am, general, very respectfully, your most obedient servant, CLARK R. WEAVER, Commanding Officer.”

– from Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman

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The shortest distance between two points of conflict

“AROUND ALLATOONA, October 5, 1864. – Commanding Officer, United States Forces, Allatoona: I have placed the forces under my command in such positions that you are surrounded, and to avoid a needless effusion of blood I call on you to surrender your forces at once, and unconditionally.  Five minutes will be allowed you to decide.  Should you accede to this, you will be treated in the most honorable manner as prisoners of war.  I have the honor to be, very respectfully yours, S. G. FRENCH, Major-General commanding forces Confederate States.

“HEADQUARTERS FOURTH DIVISION, FIFTEENTH CORPS, ALLATOONA, GEORGIA, 8:30 A.M., October 5, 1864. – Major-General S. G. French, Confederate States, etc.: Your communication demanding surrender of my command I acknowledge receipt of, and respectfully reply that we are prepared for ‘the needless effusion of blood’ whenever it is agreeable to you.  I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant, JOHN M. CORSE, Brigadier-General commanding forces United States.”

– from Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman


Never to be voted most popular

“I peremptorily required that all the citizens and families resident in Atlanta should go away, giving to each the option to go south or north, as their interests or feelings dictated.  I was resolved to make Atlanta a pure military garrison or depot, with no civil population to influence military measures.  I had seen Memphis, Vicksburg, Natchez, and New Orleans, all captured from the enemy, and each at once was garrisoned by a full division of troops, if not more; so that success was actually crippling our armies in the field by detachments to guard and protect the interests of a hostile population.

“I gave notice of this purpose, as early as the 4th of September, to General Halleck, in a letter concluding with these words: ‘If the people raise a howl against my barbarity and cruelty, I will answer that war is war, and not popularity-seeking.  If they want peace, they and their relatives must stop the war.’

“I knew, of course, that such a measure would be strongly criticized, but made up my mind to do it with the absolute certainty of its justness, and that time would sanction its wisdom.  I knew that the people of the South would read in this measure two important conclusions: one, that we were in earnest; and the other, if they were sincere in their common and popular clamor ‘to die in the last ditch,’ that the opportunity would soon come.” – William Tecumseh Sherman, Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman

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A man on a mission

“I was still busy in pushing forward the repairs to the railroad-bridge at Bear Creek, and in patching up the many breaks between it and Tuscumbia, when on the 27th of October, as I sat on the porch of a house, 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 a letter from General Blair at Tuscumbia, and another short one, which was a telegraph-message from General Grant at Chattanooga, addressed to me through General George Crook, commanding at Huntsville, Alabama, to this effect: ‘Drop all work on Memphis & Charleston Railroad, cross the Tennessee, and hurry eastward with all possible dispatch toward Bridgeport, till you meet further orders from me.  U.S. Grant.’

“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 pulled down the Tennessee River, over Muscle Shoals, was fired at all the way by guerrillas, but on reaching Tuscumbia he had providentially found it in possession of our troops.  He had reported to General Blair, who sent him on to me at Iuka.  This Pike proved to be a singular character; his manner attracted my notice at once, and I got him a horse, and had him travel with us eastward to about Elkton, whence I sent him back to General Crook at Huntsville; but told him, if I could ever do him a personal service, he might apply to me.  The next spring when I was in Chattanooga, preparing for the Atlanta campaign, Corporal Pike made his appearance and asked me a fulfillment of my promise.  I inquired what he wanted, and he said he wanted to do something bold, something that would make him a hero.  I explained to him, that we were getting ready to go for Joe Johnston at Dalton, that I expected to be in the neighborhood of Atlanta about the 4th of July, and wanted the bridge across the Savannah River at Augusta, Georgia, to be burnt about that time, to produce alarm and confusion behind the rebel army.  I explained to Pike that the chances were three to one that he would be caught and hanged; but the greater the danger the greater seemed to be his desire to attempt it.  I told him to select a companion, to disguise himself as an East Tennessee refugee, work his way over the mountains into North Carolina, and at the time appointed to float down the Savannah River and burn that bridge.  In a few days he had made his preparations and took his departure.  The bridge was not burnt, and I supposed that Pike had been caught and hanged.

“When we reached Columbia, South Carolina, in February, 1865, just as we were leaving the town, in passing near the asylum, I heard my name called, and saw a very dirty fellow followed by a file of men running toward me, and as they got near I recognized Pike.  He called to me to identify him as one of my men; he was then a prisoner under guard, and I instructed the guard to bring him that night to my camp some fifteen miles up the road, which was done.  Pike gave me a graphic narrative of his adventures, which would have filled a volume; told me how he had made two attempts to burn the bridge, and failed; and said that at the time of our entering Columbia he was a prisoner in the hands of the rebels, under trial for his life, but in the confusion of their retreat he made his escape and got into our lines, where he was again made a prisoner by our troops because of his looks.  Pike got some clothes, cleaned up, and I used him afterward to communicate with Wilmington, North Carolina.  Some time after the war, he was appointed a lieutenant of the Regular Cavalry, and was killed in Oregon, by the accidental discharge of a pistol.  Just before his death he wrote me, saying that he was tired of the monotony of garrison-life, and wanted to turn Indian, join the Cheyennes on the Plains, who were then giving us great trouble, and, after he had gained their confidence, he would betray them into our hands.  Of course I wrote him that he must try and settle down and become a gentleman as well as an officer, apply himself to his duties, and forget the wild desires of his nature, which were well enough in time of war, but not suited to his new condition as an officer; but, poor fellow! he was killed by an accident, which probably saved him from a slower but harder fate.” — William Tecumseh Sherman, Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman (emphases in original)

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Varieties of knowledge

“One day, as I was riding the line near a farm known as Parson Fox’s, I heard that the family of a Mr. Wilkinson, of New Orleans, was ‘refugeeing’ at a house near by.  I rode up, inquired, and found two young girls of that name, who said they were the children of General Wilkinson, of Louisiana, and that their brother had been at the military school at Alexandria.  Inquiring for their mother, I was told she was spending the day at Parson Fox’s.  As this house was on my route, I rode there, went through a large gate into the yard, followed by my staff and escort, and found quite a number of ladies sitting on the porch.  I rode up and inquired if that were Parson Fox’s.  The parson, a fine-looking, venerable old man, rose, and said that he was Parson Fox.  I then inquired for Mrs. Wilkinson, when an elderly lady answered that she was the person.  I asked her if she were from Plaquemine Parish, Louisiana, and she said she was.  I then inquired if she had a son who had been a cadet at Alexandria when General Sherman was superintendent, and she answered yes.  I then announced myself, inquired after the boy, and she said he was inside of Vicksburg, an artillery lieutenant.  I then asked about her husband, whom I had known, when she burst into tears, and cried out in agony, ‘You killed him at Bull Run, where he was fighting for his country!’  I disclaimed killing anybody at Bull Run; but all the women present (nearly a dozen) burst into loud lamentations, which made it most uncomfortable for me, and I rode away.  On the 3d of July, as I sat at my bivouac by the road-side near Trible’s, I saw a poor, miserable horse, carrying a lady, and led by a little negro boy, coming across a cotton-field toward me; as they approached I recognized poor Mrs. Wilkinson, and helped her to dismount.  I inquired what had brought he to see me in that style, and she answered that she knew Vicksburg was going to surrender, and she wanted to go right away to see her boy.  I had a telegraph-wire to General Grant’s headquarters, and had heard that there were symptoms of surrender, but as yet nothing definite.  I tried to console and dissuade her, but she was resolved, and I could not help giving her a letter to General Grant, explaining to him who she was, and asking him to give her the earliest opportunity to see her son.  The distance was fully twenty miles, but off she started, and I afterward learned that my letter had enabled her to see her son, who had escaped unharmed.” – William Tecumseh Sherman, Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman (emphasis in original)

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“At that time [1849] so demoralizing was the effect of the gold-mines that everybody not in the military service justified desertion, because a soldier, if free, could earn more money in a day than he received per month.  Not only did soldiers and sailors desert, but captains and masters of ships actually abandoned their vessels and cargoes to try their luck at the mines.  Preachers and professors forgot their creeds and took to trade, and even to keeping gambling-houses.” — William Tecumseh Sherman, “Early Recollections of California,” from Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman

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