Friday, December 20, 2013

Major General William T. Sherman to Ellen Ewing Sherman, January 15, 1865

SAVANNAH, Geo., January 15, 1865.

. . . It may be some days yet before I dive again beneath the surface to turn up again in some mysterious place. I have a clear perception of the move, but take it for granted that Lee will not let me walk over the track without making me sustain some loss. Of course my course will be north. I will feign on Augusta and Charleston, avoid both and make for Columbia, Fayetteville and Newbern, N. C. Don't breathe, for the walls have ears, and foreknowledge published by some mischievous fool might cost many lives. We have lived long enough for men to thank me for keeping my own counsels, and keeping away from armies those pests of newspaper men. If I have attained any fame it is pure and unalloyed by the taint of parasitic flattery and the result is to you and the children more agreeable, for it will go to your and their benefit more than all the surface flattery of all the newspaper men of the country. Mr. Stanton has been here and is cured of that Negro nonsense which arises, not from a love of the Negro but a desire to dodge service. Mr. Chase and others have written to me to modify my opinions, but you know I cannot, for if I attempt the part of a hypocrite it would break out at each sentence. I want soldiers made of the best bone and muscle in the land, and won't attempt military feats with doubtful materials. I have said that slavery is dead and the Negro free, and want him treated as free, and not hunted and badgered to make a soldier of, when his family is left back on the plantations. I am right and won't change.1 The papers of the 11th are just in and I see Butler is out. That is another of the incubi of the army. We want and must have professional soldiers, young and vigorous. Mr. Stanton was delighted at my men and the tone which pervades the army. He enjoyed a good story, which is true, told by one of my old 15th corps men. After we reached the coast we were out of bread, and it took some days for us to get boats up. A foraging party was out and got a boat and pulled down the Ogeechee to Ossabaw and met a steamer coming up. They hailed her and got answer that it was the Nemeha, and had Major General Foster on board; the soldiers answered “Oh H—1, we've got twenty-seven Major-Generals up at camp. What we want is hard tack.” The soldiers manifest to me the most thorough affection, and a wonderful confidence. They haven't found out yet where I have not been. Every place we go, they hear I lived there once, and the usual exclamation is, The “Old Man” must be “omnipresent” as well as “omnipotent.” I was telling some officers the other day if events should carry us to Charleston I would have advantage because I know the ground, etc., etc. They laughed heartily at my innocence, for they knew I had been everywhere. But really my long sojourn in this quarter of the world from 1840 to 1846 was and is providential to me.

I have read most of the current discourses about me, those you sent inclusive; but take more interest in the London Spectator, the same that reviewed my Knoxville Campaign. He is surely a critic, for he catches the real points well. The Times utterly overstates the cases and the Dublin papers are too fulsome. Our American papers are shallow. They don't look below the surface. I receive letters from all the great men, so full of real respect that I cannot disregard them, yet I dread the elevation to which they have got me. A single mistake or accident, my pile, though well founded, would tumble; but I base my hopes of fair fame on the opinion of my own army, and my associates. . . .

I will surely be off in the course of this week, and you will hear of me only through Richmond for two months. You have got used to it now and will not be concerned though I think the chances of getting killed on this trip about even. If South Carolina lets me pass across without desperate fighting, her fame is gone forever. . . .

I would not be surprised if I would involve our government with England. I have taken all the cotton as prize of war, thirty thousand bales, equal to thirteen millions of dollars, much of which is claimed by English merchants. I disregard their consular certificates on the ground that this cotton has been notoriously employed to buy cartridges and arms and piratical ships, and was collected here for that very purpose. Our own merchants are equally culpable. They buy cotton in advance and take the chances of capture, and then claim. . . .

1 Sherman's unwillingness to weaken his army by increasing it with any but the most effective fighting men was frequently construed as an evidence of hostility to the negro. His true feeling on this subject is shown especially in the account of Stanton's visit to Savannah in the Memoirs (Vol. II, chap. xxii). The clear remembrance of those who knew him best warrants the belief that his knowledge of the South gave him a sympathetic understanding of the moral effect of employing negro troops, which increased his reluctance to include them in his army.

SOURCES: M. A. DeWolfe Howe, Editor, Home Letters of General Sherman, p. 327-30.  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 2/20

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