MEMPHIS, Dec. 20th, 1862.
I embarked to-day on the Forest Queen and will have 20,000 men in boats by noon and be off for the real South. At Helena I will get about 12,000 more. Like most of our boasts of the “Myriads of the northwest sweeping away to the Gulf,” “breaking the back bone,” &c. &c., the great Mississippi expedition will be 32,000 men. Vicksburg is well fortified and is within telegraphic and railroad reach of Meridian, Mobile, Camp Moore and Grenada, where Pemberton has 30,000 to 35,000 men. Therefore don't expect me to achieve miracles. Vicksburg is not the only thing to be done. Grant is at Coffeeville! (?) with say 40,000 men. He expected me to have the same but they are not here. We can get the Yazoo, can front in any and every direction and can take Vicksburg, clean out the Yazoo, capture or destroy the fleet of enemy's gunboats and transports concealed up about Yazoo city — and do many other useful things. Blair is down at Helena and will doubtless form a part of the expedition. He will have a chance of catching the Elephant by the tail and get a good lift.
Of course the pressure of this force acting in concert with Grant must produce good results. Even if we don't open the Mississippi, by the way an event not so important as at first sight, until the great armies of the enemy are defeated — we are progressing. I wish Burnside and Rosecrans were getting along faster, but I suppose they encounter the same troubles we all do. . . .
The great evil is absenteeism, which is real desertion and should be punished with death. Of course I would have the wounded and sick well cared for, but the sick list real and feigned is fearful. More than one-half the paper army is not in the enemy's country and whilst the actual regiments present for duty are in arrears of pay and favor, sick and discharged men are carefully paid and provided for. Unite with others and discriminate in favor of the officers and soldiers who are with their companies. The “absent and sick” should receive half pay because of the advantages they receive of fine hospitals and quiet residence at home. The “absent without leave” should be treated as deserters and in no event receive a dollar’s pay — clothing or anything else. In course of time we may get an army. Finance is very important but no use of discussing that now; we must fight it out if it devastates the land and costs every cent of the North. . . .
I rise at 3 A.M. to finish up necessary business and as usual write in haste. . . . I am very popular with the people here and officers and indeed with all my men. I don’t seek popularity with the “sneaks and absentees” or the “Dear People.” . . .
W. T. SHERMAN.
SOURCE: Rachel Sherman Thorndike, Editor, The Sherman letters: correspondence between General and Senator Sherman from 1837 to 1891, p. 176-7