Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Brigadier General William T. Sherman to Ellen Ewing Sherman, August 19, 1861

FORT CORCORAN, August 19, 1861.

. . . Among my regiments are three who claim to have been enlisted only for three months, but the Secretary of War has decided they are in for two years. In each of the regiments there has been a kind of mutiny, not open and decided, but a determination to do no duty.

Yesterday, Sunday, I had two companies of regular cavalry and one of artillery ready to attack one of these regiments. For some hours I thought I would have to give an order to fire, but they did not like the artillery and have gone to duty; but I think this is a bad class of men to depend on to fight. They may eat their rations and go on parade, but when danger comes they will be sure to show the white feather.

Still, they are now in a state of subjection. I went over to Washington on this business some days ago, saw the President and General Scott; at the table of the latter I met Robert Anderson for the first time. I only had a few words with him, but on Saturday he sent for me to meet him at Willard's. There I found Senator Johnson, a Mr. Maynard, and two or three other members of Congress from Kentucky and Tennessee. One of them, Senator Johnson I think, premised by saying that it was the determination of the government to send assistance to the Union men of Kentucky and Tennessee; that there were large numbers of them who merely needed arms, money and organization; that Anderson was the proper general to organize and lead the movement; but that his health was liable at any moment to fail him, and the President had agreed that he might select any three of the Brigadiers to go with him; that he had at once asked for me, and two others, Burnside and Thomas, which was conceded; that when McClellan heard I was asked for he did not want to spare me, as he thought there remained imminent danger of an attack here. Then Anderson said he would prefer to wait a few days till things assumed a more settled shape — say seven to ten days, at the expiration of which time I should be relieved, and ordered to Kentucky. I have said or done nothing one way or other, but in about seven days I will, if nothing threatening happens, apply for relief that I may stop at Lancaster to see you, for a day or so. I expect to go to Louisville and thence through East Kentucky and Tennessee, to see myself the state of the country, and if possible, to organize resistance to the southern Confederacy. It is a matter of great importance and upon it may hang the existence of the present government.

Most assuredly events have favored the southern Confederacy, and instead of making friends, the administration seems to have lost ground, not only in the South and Middle States, but also in the North. The clamor for discharge on every possible frivolous pretext has been a severe blow to the army and may be to the country. I hear that the new enlistments drag. This every reasonable person must have apprehended from the foolish cry first raised, a mere impulse sure to be followed by reaction. . . .

SOURCES: M. A. DeWolfe Howe, Editor, Home Letters of General Sherman, p. 217-8.  A full copy of this letter can be found in the William T Sherman Family papers (SHR), University of Notre Dame Archives (UNDA), Notre Dame, IN 46556, Folder CSHR 1/139.

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