CAMP AT VICKSBURG, April 10, 1863.
. . . I was really amused at a circumstance to-day that may be serious. Grant has been secretly working by night to place some 30 pound rifle guns as close up to Vicksburg as the water will permit, about 2,300 yards, and to cover them against the enemies’ cross batteries, but to-day got the Memphis papers of the 7th giving a minute and full account of them and their location. Now he knows as we all do that the Secesh mail leaves Memphis before day, as soon as the morning papers are printed, reaches Hernando about 11 A. M., and the telegraph carries to Vicksburg the news in a few minutes. This explains a remark which Major Watts of the Confederate Army made to me at parting day before yesterday. We met per appointment on a steamboat just above Vicksburg, and after a long conference relating to exchange of prisoners, Watts, who is a very clever man, remarked: “don’t open those batteries to-morrow (last) night, for I am to give a party and don't want to be interrupted.” Of course the newspaper correspondents, encouraged by the political generals and even President Lincoln, having full swing in this and all camps, report all news secret and otherwise. Indeed with a gossiping world a secret is worth more than common news. Grant was furious, and I believe he ordered the suppression of all the Memphis papers. But that won't do. All persons who don't have to fight must be kept out of camp, else secrecy, a great element of military success, is an impossibility. I may not, but you will live to see the day when the people of the United States will mob the man who thinks otherwise. I am too fast, but there are principles of government as sure to result from war as in law, religion or any moral science. Some prefer to jump to the conclusion by reason. Others prefer to follow developments by the slower and surer road of experience. In like manner Grant has three thousand men at work daily to clear out Willow Bayou, by which he proposes to move a large part of the army to Carthage and Grand Gulf: also a secret, but I'll bet my life it is at this moment in all the Northern papers, and is known through them to the Secesh from Richmond to Vicksburg. Can you feel astonished that I should grow angry at the toleration of such suicidal weakness, that we strong, intelligent men must bend to a silly proclivity for early news that should advise our enemy days in advance? Look out! We are not going to attack Haines' Bluff or Greenwood or Vicksburg direct, but are going to come round below by Grand Gulf! All the enemy wants is a day or two notice of such intention and Grand Gulf becomes like a second Vicksburg! But this is a secret, remember, and though it is the plan it is not a good plan. We commit a great mistake, but I am not going to advise one way or the other. The government has here plenty of representatives, and they must make the plans, and I will fill my part, no more, no less.
The only true plan was the one we started with. The Grand Army should be on the main land moving south along the road and roads from Memphis, Holly Springs and Corinth, concentrating on Grenada; thence towards Canton where the Central Road crosses Big Black and then on Vicksburg. The gun-boats and a small army should be here, and on the first sign of the presence of the main force inland we should attack here violently.
This was our plan at Oxford in December last, is my plan now and Grant knows it is my opinion. I shall communicate it to none else save you or your father. . . . It is my opinion that we shall never take Vicksburg by operations by river alone.
The armies on the Rappahannock and in Kentucky pause for us at Vicksburg. That is folly; all ought to press at the same instant, for the enemy has the centre or inside track, can concentrate on any one point and return to the others in time. Their position is very strong, and they have skill, courage and intelligence enough to avail themselves of all advantages. Their country is suffering terribly by the devastations of our armies and the escapes of their slaves, but nothing seems to shake their constancy or confidence in ultimate success. Could the North only turn out her strength, fill promptly our thinned ranks, keep their counsels, hold their tongues, and stop their infernal pens and press we could make things crash, and either submission or utter horrible ruin would be their fate.
It may be, however, that God in his wisdom wants to take down the conceit of our people and make them feel that they are of the same frail materials of mortality as the other thousand millions of human beings that spin their short webs and die all over earth. In all former wars virtues lost sight of in time of peace have revived, and to any one who looked it is unnecessary to say that our governments, national, state, county and town, had been corrupt, foul and disgraceful. If war will change this, it will be cheaply bought. . . .
The last flag of truce brought me from Vicksburg a beautiful bouquet with compliments of Major Hoadley and Major Watts, the same who wanted me not to fire last night to interrupt his party. The trees are now in full leaf, the black and blue-birds sing sweetly, and the mocking bird is frantic with joy. The rose and violet, the beds of verbena and mignonette, planted by fair hands now in exile from their homes occupied by the rude barbarian, bloom as fair as though grim war had not torn with violent hands all the vestiges of what a few short months ago were the homes of people as good as ourselves. You may well pray that a good God in His mercy will spare the home of your youth the tread of an hostile army. . . .
SOURCES: M. A. DeWolfe Howe, Editor, Home Letters of General Sherman, p. 246-9. 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 2/03.