Friday, October 11, 2013

Major General William T. Sherman to Ellen Ewing Sherman, January 4, 1863

ON BOARD Forest Queen,
MILLIKEN'S BEND, January 4, 1863.

Well, we have been to Vicksburg and it was too much for us, and we have backed out. I suppose the attack on Holly Springs and the railroad compelled Grant to fall behind the Tallahatchie, and consequently the Confederates were enabled to reinforce Vicksburg. Besides, its natural strength had been improved by a vast amount of labor, so that it was impossible for me to capture or even to penetrate to the road from which alone I could expect to take it. For five days we were thundering away, and when my main assault failed, and Admiral Porter deemed another requiring the cooperation of the gunboats “too hazardous,” I saw no alternative but to regain my steamboats and the main river, which I did unopposed and unmolested. To re-embark a large command in the face of an enterprising and successful enemy is no easy task, but I accomplished it. McClernand has arrived to supersede me by order of the President himself.1 Of course I submit gracefully. The President is charged with maintaining the government and has a perfect right to choose his agents. My command is to be an army corps composed of Morgan L. Smith's old command (poor Morgan now lies wounded badly in the hip on board the Chancellor, and his division is commanded by Stuart), and the troops I got at Helena commanded by Fred Steele whom I know well. These are all new and strange to me but such is life and luck. Before I withdrew from the Yazoo I saw McClernand and told him that we had failed to carry the enemy's line of works before Vicksburg, but I could hold my ground at Yazoo — but it would be useless. He promptly confirmed my judgment that it was best to come out into the main river at Milliken's Bend. We did so day before yesterday, and it has rained hard two days and I am satisfied that we got out of the Swamp at Chickasaw Bayou in time, for now water and mud must be forty feet deep there. . . .  Regulars did well, of course, but they or no human beings could have crossed the bayou and live. People at a distance will ridicule our being unable to pass a narrow bayou, but nobody who was there will. Instead of lying idle I proposed we should come to the Arkansas and attack the Post of Arkansas, fifty miles up that river, from which the enemy has attacked the river capturing one of our boats, towing two barges of navy coal and capturing a mail, so I have no doubt some curious lieutenant has read your letters to me. We must make the river safe behind us before we push too far down. We are now on our way to the Post of Arkansas. McClernand assumed command to-day, so I will not be care-worn again by the duty of looking to supplies, plans, etc. . . .  It will in the end cost us at least ten thousand lives to take Vicksburg. I would have pushed the attack to the bitter end, but even had we reached the city unassisted we could not have held it if they are at liberty to reinforce from the interior. . . .

1 On January 2, Sherman had learned that McClernand had “orders from the War Department to command the expeditionary force on the Mississippi River” (Memoirs, I, 322). On January 24, Sherman wrote to his wife: “It was simply absurd to supersede me by McClernand, but Mr. Lincoln knows I am not anxious to command, and he knows McClernand is, and must gratify him. He will get his fill before he is done.”

SOURCES: M. A. DeWolfe Howe, Editor, Home Letters of General Sherman, p. 235-7.  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 1/150.

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