Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Major General William T. Sherman to Senator John Sherman, February 18, 1863


My Dear Brother:

. . . We have reproached the South for arbitrary conduct in coercing their people — at last we find we must imitate their example. We have denounced their tyranny in filling their armies with conscripts, and now we must follow her example. We have denounced their tyranny in suppressing freedom of speech and the press, and here too in time we must follow their example. The longer it is deferred the worse it becomes. Who gave notice of McDowell's movement on Manassas, and enabled Johnston so to reinforce Beauregard that our army was defeated? The press. Who gave notice of the movement on Vicksburg? The press. Who has prevented all secret combinations and movements against our enemy? The press. . . .

In the South this powerful machine was at once scotched and used by the rebel government, but at the North was allowed to go free. What are the results? After arousing the passions of the people till the two great sections hate each other with a hate hardly paralleled in history, it now begins to stir up sedition at home, and even to encourage mutiny in our armies. What has paralyzed the Army of the Potomac?  Mutual jealousies kept alive by the press. What has enabled the enemy to combine so as to hold Tennessee after we have twice crossed it with victorious armies? What defeats and will continue to defeat our best plans here and elsewhere? The press. I cannot pick up a paper but tells of our situation here, in the mud, sickness, and digging a canal in which we have little faith. But our officers attempt secretly to cut two other channels — one into Yazoo by an old pass and one through Lake Providence into Tensas, Black, Red, &c., whereby we could turn not only Vicksburg, Port Hudson, but also Grand (Gulf), Natchez, Ellis Cliff, Fort Adams and all the strategic points on the main river, and the busy agents of the press follow up and proclaim to the world the whole thing, and instead of surprising our enemy we find him felling trees and blocking passages that would without this have been in our possession, and all the real effects of surprise are lost. I say with the press unfettered as now we are defeated to the end of time. ‘Tis folly to say the people must have news. Every soldier can and does write to his family and friends, and all have ample opportunities for so doing, and this pretext forms no good reason why agents of the press should reveal prematurely all our plans and designs. We cannot prevent it. Clerks of steamboats, correspondents in disguise or openly attend each army and detachment, and presto! appear in Memphis and St. Louis minute accounts of our plans and designs. These reach Vicksburg by telegraph from Hernando and Holly Springs before we know of it. The only two really successful military strokes out here have succeeded because of the absence of newspapers, or by throwing them off the trail. Halleck had to make a simulated attack on Columbus to prevent the press giving notice of his intended move against Forts Henry and Donelson. We succeeded in reaching the Post of Arkansas before the correspondents could reach the papers.



SOURCE: Rachel Sherman Thorndike, Editor, The Sherman letters: correspondence between General and Senator Sherman from 1837 to 1891, p. 191-3

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