CAMP OPPOSITE VICKSBURG, April 17, 1863.
. . . I have never been considered the advocate of McClellan or anybody. I have often said that McClellan’s reputation as a scholar and soldier was second to none after Mexico. I heard Gen. Persifor F. Smith in 1849 pronounce him better qualified to command than any of our then generals. I remember once when we were riding along and talking of certain events in Mexico he named some half dozen young officers who he thought should at once be pushed forward, and McClellan was the first in order after Lee. I admit the right and duty of Mr. Lincoln to select his own agents and when one displeases him there can be no accord, and he should set him aside. He is ex necessitate to that extent king and can do no wrong. At all events everybody must and should submit with good grace. But knowing the very common clay out of which many of our new generals are made I have trembled at any shifting of commanders until the army feel assured that a change is necessary. I know Hooker well and tremble to think of his handling 100,000 men in the presence of Lee. I don't think Lee will attack Hooker in position because he will doubt if it will pay, but let Hooker once advance or move laterally and I fear for the result. . . .
Here we have begun a move that is one of the most dangerous in war. Last night our gun-boats, seven of the largest, ran the blockade and are below Vicksburg. They suffered comparatively little. Three transports followed, one of which was fired and burned to the water's edge. The Silver Wave passed unhurt and my old boat the Forest Queen had one shot in her hull and one through a steam pipe, which disabled her. She is below Vicksburg and above Warrenton and is being repaired.
McClernand's Corps has marched along the margin of an intricate bayou forty-seven miles to New Carthage, and the plan is to take and hold Grand Gulf, and make it the base of a movement in rear of Vicksburg. I don't like the project for several reasons. The channel by which provisions, stores, ammunition, etc., are to be conveyed to Carthage is a narrow crooked bayou with plenty of water now, but in two months will dry up. No boat has yet entered it, and though four steam dredges are employed in cutting a canal into it I doubt if it can be available in ten days. The road used is pure alluvium and three hours' rain will make it a quagmire over which a wagon could no more pass than in the channel of the Mississippi.
Now the amount of provisions, forage and more especially coal used by an army and fleet such as we will have, will overtax the capacity of the canal.
Again we know the enemy has up the Yazoo some of the finest boats that ever navigated the Mississippi, with plenty of cotton to barricade them and convert them into formidable rams. Knowing now as they well do that our best ironclads are below Vicksburg, and that it is one thing to run down stream and very different up, they can simply swop. They can let us have the reach below Vicksburg and they take the one above, and in the exchange they get decidedly the best of the bargain. To accomplish such a move successfully we should have at least double their force, whereas we know that our effective force is but little if any superior to theirs. They can now use all the scattered bands in Louisiana to threaten this narrow long canal and force us to guard it, so that the main army beyond will be unequal to a march inland from Grand Gulf. We could undertake, and safely, to hold the river and allow the gun-boat fleet to go to Port Hudson and assist in the reduction of that place so that all could unite against Vicksburg. I have written and explained to Grant all these points, but the clamor is so great he fears to seem to give up the attack on Vicksburg. My opinion is we should now feint on the river and hasten to Grenada by any available road, and then move in great force south, parallel with the river, leaving the gun-boats and a comparatively small force here. Grant, however, trembles at the approaching thunders of popular criticism and must risk anything, and it is my duty to back him though the contemplated and partially executed move does not comport with my ideas. I know the pictorials will giving flaming pictures of the successful running the batteries of Vicksburg, but who thinks of their getting back? What will be thought if some ten large cotton freighted boats come out of Yazoo and put all our transports to the bottom and have us on the narrow margin of a great and turbid stream? The fear of public clamor is more degrading to the mind than a just measure of the dangers of battle with an open fair enemy in equal or even unequal fight. Hugh and Charley1 were with me last night at the picket station below Vicksburg and saw the cannonading, and will describe its appearance better than I could. I can't help but overlook the present and look ahead. I wish the enemy would commit this mistake with us, but no, they are too cunning. General Thomas is here raising negro brigades. I would prefer to have this a white man's war and provide for the negroes after the time has passed, but we are in a revolution and I must not pretend to judge. With my opinions of negroes and my experience, yea prejudice, I cannot trust them yet. Time may change this but I cannot bring myself to trust negroes with arms in positions of danger and trust. . . .
1 Brothers of Mrs. Sherman.
SOURCES: M. A. DeWolfe Howe, Editor, Home Letters of General Sherman, p. 249-53. 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.