Thursday, December 19, 2013

Major General William T. Sherman to Ellen Ewing Sherman, January 5, 1865

SAVANNAH, January 5, 1865

I have written several times to you and to the children. Yesterday I got your letter of December 23, and realize the despair and anguish through which you have passed in the pain and sickness of the little baby I never saw. All spoke of him as so bright and fair that I had hoped he would be spared to us to fill the great void in our hearts left by Willy, but it is otherwise decreed and we must submit. I have seen death in such quantity and in such forms that it no longer startles me, but with you it is different, and 'tis well that like the Spaniards you realize the fact that our little baby has passed from the troubles of life to a better existence. I sent Charley off a few days ago to carry to General Grant and to Washington some important despatches, but told him he must not go farther than Washington as by the time he returns I will be off again on another raid. It is pretty hard on me that I am compelled to make these blows which are necessarily trying to me, but it seems devolved on me and cannot be avoided. If the honors proffered and tendered me from all quarters are of any value they will accrue to you and the children. John writes that I am in everybody's mouth and that even he is known as my brother, and that all the Shermans are now feted as relatives of me. Surely you and the children will not be overlooked by those who profess to honor me. I do think that in the several grand epochs of this war, my name will have a prominent part, and not least among them will be the determination I took at Atlanta to destroy that place, and march on this city, whilst Thomas, my lieutenant, should dispose of Hood. The idea, the execution and strategy are all good, and will in time be understood. I don't know that you comprehend the magnitude of the thing, but you can see the importance attached to it in England where the critics stand ready to turn against any American general who makes a mistake or fails in its execution. In my case they had time to commit themselves to the conclusion that if I succeeded I would be a great general, but if I failed I would be set down a fool. My success is already assured, so that I will be found to sustain the title. I am told that were I to go north I would be feted and petted, but as I have no intention of going, you must sustain the honors of the family. I know exactly what amount of merit attaches to my own conduct, and what will survive the clamor of time. The quiet preparation I made before the Atlanta Campaign, the rapid movement on Resaca, the crossing the Chattahoochee without loss in the face of a skilful general with a good army, the movement on Jonesboro, whereby Atlanta fell, and the resolution I made to divide my army, with one part to take Savannah and the other to meet Hood in Tennessee, are all clearly mine, and will survive us both in history. I don't know that you can understand the merit of the latter, but it will stamp me in years to come, and will be more appreciated in Europe than in America. I warrant your father will find parallel in the history of the Greeks and Persians, but none on our continent. For his sake I am glad of the success that has attended me, and I know he will feel more pride in my success than you or I do. Oh that Willy were living! how his eyes would brighten and his bosom swell with honest pride if he could hear and understand these things. . . .

You will doubtless read all the details of our march and stay in Savannah in the papers, whose spies infest our camps, spite of all I can do, but I could tell you thousands of little incidents which would more interest you. The women here are, as at Memphis, disposed to usurp my time more from curiosity than business. They had been told of my burning and killing until they expected the veriest monster, but their eyes were opened when Hardee, G. W. Smith and McLaws, the three chief officers of the Rebel army, fled across the Savannah river consigning their families to my special care. There are some very elegant people here, whom I knew in better days and who do not seem ashamed to call on the “vandal chief.” They regard us just as the Romans did the Goths and the parallel is not unjust. Many of my stalwart men with red beards and huge frames look like giants, and it is wonderful how smoothly all things move, for they all seem to feel implicit faith in me not because I am strong or bold, but because they think I know everything. It seems impossible for us to go anywhere without being where I have been before. My former life from 1840 to 1846 seems providential and every bit of knowledge then acquired is returned, tenfold. Should it so happen that I should approach Charleston on that very ground where I used to hunt with Jim Poyas, and Mr. Quash, and ride by moonlight to save daytime, it would be even more strange than here where I was only a visitor. Col. Kilburn arrived here from Louisville yesterday, and begged me to remember him to you. I continue to receive letters, most flattering, from all my old friends and enclose you two, one from General Hitchcock and one from Professor Mahan. Such men do not flatter and are judges of what they write. . . .

SOURCES: M. A. DeWolfe Howe, Editor, Home Letters of General Sherman, p. 324-7.  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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