MEMPHIS, Sept. 3, 1862.
It is easy to say “thou shalt not steal,” but to stop stealing puzzles the brains of hundreds of men and employs thousands of bailiffs, sheriffs, &c., &c. So you or Congress may command “slaves shall be free,” but to make them free and see that they are not converted into thieves, idlers or worse is a difficult problem and will require much machinery to carry out. Our commissaries must be ordered to feed them and some provision must be made for the women and children. My order gives employment to say two thousand, all men. Now that is about 1/8 of a command. Extend that population to the whole army of 80,000 gives 10,000 slaves, and if we pay 10 dollars a month the estimate can be made. If the women and children are to be provided for, we must allow for their support of, say, one million. Where are they to get work? Who is to feed them, clothe them, and house them?
We cannot now give tents to our soldiers and our wagon trains are a horrible impediment, and if we are to take along and feed the negroes who flee to us for refuge it will be an impossible task. You cannot solve this negro question in a day.
Your brigade is not here. I think it is with Buell near Chattanooga. The last I saw of them they were in Garfield's brigade at Shiloh. Still I should be glad if you would come to Memphis on a visit. Provided the southern army do not reach Kentucky or get into Maryland. In either of those events the people of the North must rise en masse with such weapons as they can get and repair to the frontier. . . .
The people are always right. Of course, in the long run, because this year they are one thing, next year another. Do you say the people were right last year in saying, acting and believing that 30,000 were enough to hold Kentucky and carry on an offensive war against the South? “The People” is a vague expression.
Here the people are not right because you are warring against them. People in the aggregate may be wrong. There is such a thing as absolute right and absolute wrong. And people may do wrong as well as right. Our people are always right, but another people may be and always are wrong.
Affectionately your brother,
W. T. SHERMAN
SOURCE: Rachel Sherman Thorndike, Editor, The Sherman letters: correspondence between General and Senator Sherman from 1837 to 1891, p. 160-1