Sunday, October 6, 2013

Major General William T. Sherman to Ellen Ewing Sherman, June 6, 1862

Camp at Chewalla, 10 miles N. West of Corinth
 daylight, June 6, 1862.

. . . I get nearly all or all the papers here somehow or other, and have seen most of the pieces you have clipped out, but I had not seen that of your father from the Louisville Journal signed E. It is sufficiently complimentary, more so than I merit, from such a high source, and the illustration of the fable of the warrior's fight with the mud turtles is very strong and like your father. I will get even with the miserable class of corrupt editors yet. They are the chief cause of this unhappy war. They fan the flames of local hatred and keep alive those prejudices which have forced friends into opposing hostile ranks. At the North and South each radical class keeps its votaries filled with the most outrageous lies of the other. In the North the people have been made to believe that those of the South are horrid barbarians, unworthy a Christian burial, whilst at the South the people have been made to believe that we wanted to steal their negroes, rob them of their property, pollute their families, and to reduce the whites below the level of their own negroes. Worse than this at the North, no sooner does an officer rise from the common level, but some rival uses the press to malign him, destroy his usefulness, and pull him back to obscurity or infamy. Thus it was with me, and now they have nearly succeeded with Grant. He is as brave as any man should be, he has won several victories such as Donelson which ought to entitle him to universal praise, but his rivals have almost succeeded through the instrumentality of the press in pulling him down, and many thousands of families will be taught to look to him as the cause of the death of their fathers, husbands and brothers.

The very object of war is to produce results by death and slaughter, but the moment a battle occurs the newspapers make the leader responsible for the death and misery, whether of victory or defeat. If this be pushed much further officers of modesty and merit will keep away, will draw back into obscurity and leave our armies to be led by fools or rash men, such as _____.  Grant had made up his mind to go home, I tried to dissuade him, but so fixed was he in his purpose that I thought his mind was made up and asked for his escort a company of 4th Illinois. But last night I got a note from him saying he would stay.1 His case is a good illustration of my meaning.

He is not a brilliant man and has, himself, thoughtlessly used the press to give him √©clat in Illinois, but he is a good and brave soldier, tried for years; is sober, very industrious and as kind as a child. Yet he has been held up as careless, criminal, a drunkard, tyrant and everything horrible. Very many of our officers, knowing how powerful is public opinion in our government have kept newspaper correspondents near their persons to praise them in their country papers; but so intense is public curiosity that several times flattery designed for one county has reached others, and been published to the world, making their little heroes big fools. It had become so bad — and the evil is not yet eradicated —  that no sooner was a battle fought than every colonel and captain was the hero of the fight. Thus at Shiloh, for a month, all through Illinois and Missouri a newspaper reader would have supposed McClernand and Lew Wallace were away ahead of my division, whereas the former was directly behind me, and the other at Crump's Landing. Again, at Corinth you will hear of five hundred first men inside the works. Let them scramble for the dead lion's paw. It is a barren honor not worth contending for. If these examples and a few more will convince the real substantial men of our country that the press is not even an honest exponent of the claims of men pretending to serve their country, but the base means of building up spurious fame and pulling down honest merit, I feel that I have my full reward in being one of the first to see it and suffer the consequences. . . .

SOURCES: M. A. DeWolfe Howe, Editor, Home Letters of General Sherman, p. 226-9.  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 1/146.

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