Friday, November 23, 2012

Major General William T. Sherman to Senator John Sherman, October 1, 1862

MEMPHIS, Oct. 1, 1862.

Dear Brother:

I did not expect you would come if the confederates got possession of Kentucky. Even on the Mississippi the boats are fired on daily. I have been compelled to burn down one town and resort to retaliation. I understand Prentiss has ordered back from Helena a part of the forces towards St. Louis, on the ground that the confederates are again advancing on Missouri. I rather think you now agree with me that this is no common war, that it was not going to end in a few months or a few years. For after eighteen months’ war the enemy is actually united, armed, and determined, with powerful forces well handled, disciplined and commanded on the Potomac, the Ohio, the Missouri. You must now see that I was right in not seeking prominence at the outstart. I knew and know yet that the northern people have to unlearn all their experience of the past thirty years and be born again before they will see the truth. . . .

The South has united people and as many men as she can arm, and though our armies pass across and through the land, the war closes in behind and leaves the same enemy behind. We attempt to occupy places, and the people rise up and make the detachments prisoners. I know you all recognize in these facts simply that Mason is a coward, Ford an ass, McClellan slow, Buell over-cautious, and Wright timid. This may all be so, but the causes lie deeper. Everybody thought I exaggerated the dangers, so I have no right to an opinion, but I rather think many now see the character of the war in which we are engaged. I don't see the end or the beginning of the end, but suppose we must prevail and persist or perish. I don't believe that two nations can exist within our old limits, and therefore that war is on us and we must fight it out. . . .

When anybody tells you that I ever doubted your honesty and patriotism, tell him he says false. I may have said you were a politician and that we differed widely in the origin of this war, but that being in it, we fully agreed that it must be fought out. But you have more faith than I in the people. They are not infallible. People may err as much as men, as individuals and whole communities may err. Can the people of the North be right and the South too? One of the peoples must be wrong. . . .

Your brother,


SOURCE: Rachel Sherman Thorndike, Editor, The Sherman letters: correspondence between General and Senator Sherman from 1837 to 1891, p. 165-6

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