Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Senator John Sherman to Major General William T. Sherman, September 23, 1862

MANSFIELD, OHIO, Sept. 23rd, 1862.

Dear Brother:

The rapid change in our military condition in Kentucky drew to Cincinnati an immense body of irregular forces as well as a large number of the new regiments. I went there with the intention, if advisable, to go to Memphis, but all thought it wrong for me to venture. . . .

Since the date of your letter the condition of affairs has changed very much for the worse. The sudden over running of Kentucky, the surrender of Murfreesville, the battle of Richmond, the long and unaccountable delay of Buell, have all combined to make a gloomy feeling here, but do not affect the resolution to fight this war to a successful conclusion. We are now anxiously awaiting further movements in Kentucky by Buell. If he fails it is manifest a year is lost and our new levies will have to commence the war in the West over again. The terrible battles in Maryland and the retreat of the rebels into Virginia give only a ray of comfort, for we lost more than we gained. The surrender at Harper's Ferry loses us more material of war than the entire train of rebels is worth. And even now it is uncertain whether the retreat into Virginia is not a part of the plan of operations originally designed to carry the war into Western Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio. As one of the bad signs I regret to notice so many quarrels between officers. . . .

The feeling among the people is general that the regular officers are indisposed to treat with decent civility those who, like most of the great military men of history, are educated in the field rather than in the school. And it is feared that habits of education and association make them feel indifferent of the success of the war — fighting rather from a pride of duty than from an earnest conviction that the rebellion must be put down with energy. Since Halleck went to Washington every movement is left to him absolutely. No interference or even advice is tendered. He has chosen his own officers, and if he fails I see nothing left but for the people to resort to such desperate means as the French and English did in their revolutions.

I am rejoiced that you have been able to keep out of the adversities that have befallen us. Your course in Memphis is judicious. Your speech I can heartily endorse. I hope you can maintain yourself at Memphis until relieved, and I have no doubt you will fill an honorable place in the history of our times. By the way, I received within a day or two a letter from a gentleman of the highest political status containing this passage: “Within the last few days I heard an officer say he heard your brother the General, abuse you roundly at Corinth as one of the blank abolitionists who had brought on the war, and that he was ashamed to own you as a brother.”  I have no doubt the officer said this but I knew you did not, and so contradicted it with decided emphasis. I only repeat it now to show you how persistently efforts are being made to separate the class of high regular officers to which you belong from civilians. Whenever that separation is effected all important commands will gradually be transferred to such officers as Banks, Sigel, Morgan, Nelson, and to such regular officers as show a sympathy with the Radical faction as Hunter, Fremont and Doubleday. I earnestly deprecate all such tendencies. I want the war conducted regularly according to the tenets of civilized warfare. I prefer regular officers and scarcely ever criticise them and never in public, but if the time shall come when emancipation of blacks and civilization of whites is necessary in order to preserve the unity of this country, then I would prefer a fanatic like John Brown to lead our armies and an abolitionist like Chase with brains and energy to guide our counsels.

Affectionately yours,


SOURCE: Rachel Sherman Thorndike, Editor, The Sherman letters: correspondence between General and Senator Sherman from 1837 to 1891, p. 163-5

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