CAMP NEAR VICKSBURG, Jan. 25, 1863.
I received yours of Jan. 2, to-day, and being in camp with some leisure hasten to answer. I shall be glad to meet Gen. Banks on many accounts, because of his known intelligence and high character and because we have been long expecting him. I was hurried down the river with positive orders to get away from Memphis December 18, to co-operate with Grant to come down by land and Banks to ascend the river. I was on time and made every effort to carry Vicksburg, but unsuccessfully. Hearing nothing from Banks or Grant, and being superseded by McClernand, I proposed that we should go to the Arkansas and attack the Post from which the enemy threatened our rear and line of communications. We succeeded perfectly there, and General Grant came down and met us at Napoleon and hurried us back to Vicksburg, on the theory that Banks might be here, disappointed at our non-appearance.
So here we are again, but not a word of Banks. This time instead of landing up the Yazoo we have landed on the Louisiana side and I occupy a neck of low ground enclosed with a high levee directly in front of Vicksburg. Last summer when Vicksburg was invested by our troops from below a canal was dug across a narrow neck with the purpose of turning the river so as to leave Vicksburg out in the cold. The river is now rising rapidly and already fills the canal, which however is a narrow ditch — the water flows across it, but thus far it shows no symptoms of cutting a channel, but, on the contrary, threatens to overflow the low ground embraced in the levee. All my soldiers are busy day and night in throwing up a levee on the inside of this canal to prevent the water overflowing us. My right extends along the levee below Vicksburg, and I have some guns below, which will prevent the enemy's boats coming up to town. Since I broke the railroad leading west most of the necessary supplies to Vicksburg have come from Red River by water, and we now stop this; but as they hold Port Hudson, preventing Banks coming up, and Vicksburg prevents our boats going down, they hold substantially a long reach of the river embracing the mouth of Red River. Last night my extreme right brigade, Blair's, captured a ferry boat which came in for wood, not suspecting our presence. So we have also our boat below Vicksburg — I have not much faith in the canal. It starts after the current has been turned, and I doubt if the canal will draw in a volume and depth of water sufficient to cut a new channel, and if it do the enemy will simply shift his guns to Warrenton, a point on the same range of hills, below the mouth of our canal — at last we must attack the enemy in his strong position. Outnumbering us in every sense in men, in guns, and holding a position stronger than Gibraltar. . . .
We must get on land before we can fight. That was my attempt and the point I chose is the only one between Vicksburg and Haines Bluff— we may attempt the latter, and I think it is the safest place, but on this side of the river we do no good whatever, for the Mississippi is an ugly stream to ford at this season of the year.
Unless you enact a law denying to all citizens between the ages of 18 and 45 who do not enlist and serve 3 years faithfully, all right of suffrage, or to hold office after the war is over, you will have trouble. The Army growls a good deal at the apathy of the nation, at home quite comfortable and happy yet pushing them forward on all sorts of desperate expeditions. Newspapers can now turn armies against their leaders. Every officer and soldier knows I pushed the attack on Vicksburg as far as they wanted to venture, and if others think differently, they naturally say, Why not come down and try? . . .
Two years have passed and the rebel flag still haunts our nation's capital — our armies enter the best rebel territory and the wave closes in behind, scarcely leaving a furrow mark behind. The utmost we can claim is that our enemy respects our power to do them physical harm more than they did at first; but as to loving us any more, it were idle even to claim it. Our armies are devastating the land and it is sad to see the destruction that attends our progress — we cannot help it. Farms disappear, houses are burned and plundered, and every living animal killed and eaten. General officers make feeble efforts to stay the disorder, but it is idle. . . .
The South abounds in corn, cattle and provisions and the progress in manufacturing shoes and cloth for the soldiers is wonderful. They are as well supplied as we and they have an abundance of the best cannon, arms and ammunition. In long range cannon they rather excel us and their regiments are armed with the very best Enfield rifles and cartridges, put up at Glasgow, Liverpool and their new Southern armories, and I still say they have now as large armies in the field as we. They give up cheerfully all they have. I still see no end or even the beginning of the end. . . .
The early actors and heroes of the war will be swept away, and those who study its progress, its developments, and divine its course and destiny will be most appreciated. We are in for the war, and must fight it out, cost what it may. As to making popularity out of it, it is simply ridiculous and all who attempt it will be swept as chaff before the wind. . . .
Your affectionate brother,
W. T. SHERMAN.
SOURCE: Rachel Sherman Thorndike, Editor, The Sherman letters: correspondence between General and Senator Sherman from 1837 to 1891, p. 183-5