CAMP BEFORE VICKSBURG, April 23, 1863.
Last night another batch of transports were prepared to run Vicksburg batteries. In order to afford assistance to the unfortunate I crossed over through the submerged swamp with eight yawls, and was in the Mississippi about four miles below Vicksburg and three above Warrenton. The first boat to arrive was the Tigress, a fast side-wheel boat which was riddled with shot and repeatedly struck in the hull. She rounded to, tied to the bank and sunk a wreck; all hands saved. The next was the Empire City, also crippled but afloat, then the Cheeseman that was partially disabled, then the Anglo-Saxon and Moderator, both of which were so disabled that they drifted down stream catching the Warrenton batteries as they passed. The Horizon was the sixth and last, passed down about daylight. The Cheeseman took the Empire City in tow and went down just after day, catching thunder from the Warrenton batteries. Five of the six boats succeeded in getting by, all bound for Carthage, where they are designed to carry troops to Grand Gulf and some other point across the Mississippi. This is a desperate and terrible thing, floating by terrific batteries without the power of replying. Two men were mortally wounded and many lacerated and torn, but we could not ascertain the full extent of damage for we were trying to hurry them past the lower or Warrenton batteries before daylight. The only way to go to Carthage is by a bayou road from Milliken's Bend, and over that narrow road our army is to pass below Vicksburg, and by means of these boats pass on to the east side of the Mississippi. I look upon the whole thing as one of the most hazardous and desperate moves of this or any war. A narrow difficult road, liable by a shower to become a quagmire. A canal is being dug on whose success the coal for steamers, provisions for men and forage for animals must all be transported. McClernand's Corps has moved down. McPherson will follow, and mine comes last. I don't object to this, for I have no faith in the whole plan.
Politicians and all sorts of influences are brought to bear on Grant to do something. Hooker remains statu quo. Rosecrans is also at a deadlock, and we who are now six hundred miles [ahead] of any are being pushed to a most perilous and hazardous enterprise.
I did think our government would learn something by experience if not by reason. An order is received to-day from Washington to consolidate the old regiments. All regiments below 500, embracing all the old regiments which have been depleted by death and all sorts of causes, are to be reduced to battalions of five companies in each regiment; the colonel and major and one assistant-sergeant to be mustered out, and all the officers, sergeants and corporals of five companies to be discharged. This will soon take all my colonels, Kilby Smith, Giles Smith, and hundreds of our best captains, lieutenants and sergeants and corporals. Instead of drafting and filling up with privates, one half of the officers are to be discharged, and the privates squeezed into battalions. If the worst enemy of the United States were to devise a plan to break down our army, a better one could not be attempted. Two years have been spent in educating colonels, captains, sergeants and corporals, and now they are to be driven out of service at the very beginning of the campaign in order that governors may have a due proportion of officers for the drafted men. I do regard this as one of the fatal mistakes of this war. It is worse than a defeat. It is the absolute giving up of the chief advantage of two years' work. I don't know if you understand it, but believe you do. The order is positive and must be executed. It is now too late to help it, but I have postponed its execution for a few days to see if Grant won't suspend its operation till this move is made. All the old politician colonels have been weeded out by the progress of the war, and now that we begin to have some officers who do know something they must be discharged because the regiments have dwindled below one half the legal standard. We all know the President was empowered to do this, but took it for granted that he would fill up the ranks by a draft and leave us the services of the men who are now ready to drill and instruct them as soldiers. Last fall the same thing was done, that is new regiments were received instead of filling up the old ones, and the consequence was those new regiments have filled our hospitals and depots, and now again the same thing is to be repeated. It may be the whole war will be turned over to the negroes, and I begin to believe they will do as well as Lincoln and his advisers. I cannot imagine what Halleck is about. We have Thomas and Dana both here from Washington, no doubt impressing on Grant the necessity of achieving something brilliant. It is the same old Bull Run mania, but why should other armies be passive and ours pushed to destruction?
Prime is here and agrees with me; but we must drift on with events. We are excellent friends. Indeed, I am on the best of terms with everybody, but I avoid McClernand because I know he is envious and jealous of everybody who stands in his way. . . . He now has the lead. Admiral Porter is there, and he is already calling “For God's sake, send down some one.” He calls for me — Grant has gone himself — went this morning. I know they have got this fleet in a tight place, Vicksburg above and Port Hudson below, and how are they to get out? One or other of the gates must be stormed and carried, or else none. I tremble for the result. Of course, it is possible to land at Grand Gulf and move inland, but I doubt the capacity of any channel at our command equal to the conveyance of the supplies for this army. This army should not all be here. The great part should be at or near Grenada moving south by land. . . .
SOURCES: M. A. DeWolfe Howe, Editor, Home Letters of General Sherman, p. 253-6. 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.