ON BOARD GUN-BOAT JULIET,
MOUTH OF WHITE RIVER, January 28, 1864.
. . . I sent you a paper about the banquet2 which was really a fine affair. The hall of the Gayoso was crammed and the utmost harmony prevailed. Everything passed off well. My remarks as reported by the Argus were about right. The Bulletin got mere incoherent points. I cannot speak consecutively, but it seems that what I do say is vehemently applauded. The point which may be wrongly conceived was this. As the South resorted to war, we accepted it, and as they fought for Slaves and States' Rights they could not blame us if they lost both as the result of the war; and again, that they, the South, prided themselves on high grounds of honor. I am willing to take issue then adopting their own rules, as those of the most fashionable clubs of London, New Orleans, and Paris. If a member goes into an election he must abide the result or be blackballed or put in Coventry. Now as the Southern people went into the presidential election they, as honorable men, were bound to abide the result. I also described the mode and manner of seizure of the garrison and arsenal at Baton Rouge and pronounced that a breach of soldierly honor, and the firing on boats from behind a cottonwood tree. People at the North may not feel the weight of these points, but I know the South so well that I know what I said will be gall and wormwood to some, but it will make others think. I was at Memphis Tuesday and part of Wednesday. The festival was on Monday and several real old Southerners met me and confessed their cause would be recorded in history as I put it. I was not aware of the hold I had on the people till I was there this time. Hurlbut did not mingle with them and was difficult of access, and every time I went into a theatre or public assemblage there was a storm of applause. I endeavored to avoid it as much as possible, but it was always so good-natured that I could not repel it. If I succeed in my present blow I would not be surprised if Mississippi would be as Tennessee, but I do not allow myself to be deceived. The Old Regime is not yet dead, and they will fight for their old privileges; yet so many of our old regiments are going on furlough that we will be short-handed. If we had our ranks full I know we could take Mobile and the Alabama River in thirty days and before summer could secure all of Red River also, leaving the Grand Battle to come off in East Tennessee or Georgia in June. We could hold fast all we have and let the South wriggle, but our best plan is activity. . . .
As I am about to march two hundred miles straight into danger with a comparatively small force and that composed of troops in a manner strange to me; but my calculations are all right, and now for the execution. I expect to leave Vicksburg in a very few days, and will cut loose all communications, so you will not hear from me save through the Southern papers till I am back to the Mississippi. You, of course, will be patient and will appreciate my motives in case of accident, for surely I could ask rest and an opportunity for some one else, say McPherson, but there are double reasons: I will never order my command where I am not willing to go, and besides it was politic to break up the force at Memphis which was too large to lie idle, and Hurlbut would not reduce it. I had to bring him away and make a radical change. He ranks McPherson, and we have not confidence enough in his steadiness to put him on this expedition. He is too easily stampeded by rumors. I have a better sense of chances. I run two chances, first, in case the enemy has learned my plans or has guessed them, he may send to Meridian a superior force. A bad road may prevent my moving with the celerity which will command success. Would that I had the Fifteenth corps that would march in sunshine or storm to fulfil my plans without asking what they were. I almost wish I had been left with that specific command, but confess I prefer service near the old Mississippi which enables us to supply ourselves so bountifully. I hear but little from Huntsville, but suppose all our folks are comfortable there. I sent Maj. Taylor, Fitch and McFeely back to Huntsville from Memphis, and have with me only my aids and quarter-master. I don't want any non-combatant mouths along to feed, and am determined this time not to have a tribe of leeches along to consume our food. Not a tent shall be carried or any baggage save on our horses. The wagons and packs shall carry ammunition and food alone. I will set the example myself. Experience has taught me if one tent is carried any quantity of trash will load down the wagons. If I had ten more regiments I would be tempted to try Mobile, but as it is if I break at Meridian and Memphis, I will cut off one of the most fruitful corn supplies of the enemy, and will give Mississippi a chance to rest. The State is now full of conscript gangs carrying to their armies the unwilling, the old and young. We will take all provisions, and God help the starving families! I warned them last year against this last visitation, and now it is at hand. . .
I feel the full load of care and anxiety you bear, mourning for Willy, fearing for the future, and oppressed with intense anxiety for parents. I believe you can bear all, and that you will for our sakes. Just think of me with fifty thousand lives in my hand, with all the anxiety of their families. This load is heavier than even you imagine. . . .
2 In a letter written on the same day to his brother John, Sherman said: "I could not well decline an offer of a public dinner in Memphis, but I dreaded it more than I did the assault on Vicksburg.” See Sherman Letters, p. 221.
SOURCES: M. A. DeWolfe Howe, Editor, Home Letters of General Sherman, p. 280-4. 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 2/10.