Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman

Text to Speech

farmhouse a short distance back, when we rode back to it together

side by side, our staff-officers and escorts following. We had

never met before, though we had been in the regular army together

for thirteen years; but it so happened that we had never before


together. He was some twelve or more years my senior; but we knew

enough of each other to be well acquainted at once. We soon

reached the house of a Mr. Bennett, dismounted, and left our horses

with orderlies in the road. Our officers, on foot, passed into the

yard, and General Johnston and I entered the small frame-house. We

asked the farmer if we could have the use of his house for a few

minutes, and he and his wife withdrew into a smaller log-house,

which stood close by.

As soon as we were alone together I showed him the dispatch

announcing Mr. Lincoln's assassination, and watched him closely.

The perspiration came out in large drops on his forehead, and he

did not attempt to conceal his distress. He denounced the act as a

disgrace to the age, and hoped I did not charge it to the

Confederate Government. I told him I could not believe that he or

General Lee, or the officers of the Confederate army, could

possibly be privy to acts of assassination; but I would not say as

much for Jeff. Davis, George Sanders, and men of that stripe. We

talked about the effect of this act on the country at large and on

the armies, and he realized that it made my situation extremely

delicate. I explained to him that I had not yet revealed the news

to my own personal staff or to the army, and that I dreaded the

effect when made known in Raleigh. Mr. Lincoln was peculiarly

endeared to the soldiers, and I feared that some foolish woman or

man in Raleigh might say something or do something that would

madden our men, and that a fate worse than that of Columbia would

befall the place.

I then told Johnston that he must be convinced that he could not

oppose my army, and that, since Lee had surrendered, he could do

the same with honor and propriety. He plainly and repeatedly

admitted this, and added that any further fighting would be

"murder;" but he thought that, instead of surrendering piecemeal,

we might arrange terms that would embrace all the Confederate

armies. I asked him if he could control other armies than his own;

he said, not then, but intimated that he could procure authority

from Mr. Davis. I then told him that I had recently had an

interview with General Grant and President Lincoln, and that I was

possessed of their views; that with them and the people North there

seemed to be no vindictive feeling against the Confederate armies,

but there was against Davis and his political adherents; and that

the terms that General Grant had given to General Lee's army were

certainly most generous and liberal. All this he admitted, but

always recurred to the idea of a universal surrender, embracing his

own army, that of Dick Taylor in Louisiana and Texas, and of Maury,

Forrest, and others, in Alabama and Georgia. General Johnston's

account of our interview in his "Narrative" (page 402, et seq.) is

quite accurate and correct, only I do not recall his naming the

capitulation of Loeben, to which he refers. Our conversation was

very general and extremely cordial, satisfying me that it could

have but one result, and that which we all desired, viz., to end

the war as quickly as possible; and, being anxious to return to

Raleigh before the news of Mr. Lincoln's assassination could be

divulged, on General Johnston's saying that he thought that, during

the night, he could procure authority to act in the name of all the

Confederate armies in existence we agreed to meet again the next

day at noon at the same place, and parted, he for Hillsboro' and I

for Raleigh.

We rode back to Durham's Station in the order we had come, and then

I showed the dispatch announcing Mr. Lincoln's death. I cautioned

the officers to watch the soldiers closely, to prevent any violent

retaliation by them, leaving that to the Government at Washington;

and on our way back to Raleigh in the cars I showed the same

dispatch to General Logan and to several of the officers of the

Fifteenth Corps that were posted at Morrisville and Jones's

Station, all of whom were deeply impressed by it; but all gave

their opinion that this sad news should not change our general

course of action.

As soon as I reached Raleigh I published the following orders to

the army, announcing the assassination of the President, and I

doubt if, in the whole land, there were more sincere mourners over

his sad fate than were then in and about Raleigh. I watched the

effect closely, and was gratified that there was no single act of

retaliation; though I saw and felt that one single word by me would

have laid the city in ashes, and turned its whole population

houseless upon the country, if not worse:

[Special Field Orders, No. 56.]



The general commanding announces, with pain and sorrow, that on the

evening of the 14th instant, at the theatre in Washington city, his

Excellency the President of the United States, Mr. Lincoln, was

assassinated by one who uttered the State motto of Virginia. At

the same time, the Secretary of State, Mr. Seward, while suffering

from a broken arm, was also stabbed by another murderer in his own

house, but still survives, and his son was wounded, supposed

fatally. It is believed, by persons capable of judging, that other

high officers were designed to share the same fate. Thus it seems

that our enemy, despairing of meeting us in open, manly warfare,

begins to resort to the assassin's tools.

Your general does not wish you to infer that this is universal, for

he knows that the great mass of the Confederate army world scorn to

sanction each acts, but he believes it the legitimate consequence

of rebellion against rightful authority.

We have met every phase which this war has assumed, and must now be

prepared for it in its last and worst shape, that of assassins and

guerrillas; but woe onto the people who seek to expend their wild

passions in such a manner, for there is but one dread result!

By order of Major-General W. T. Sherman,

L. M. DAYTON, Assistant Adjutant-General.

During the evening of the 17th and morning of the 18th I saw nearly

all the general officers of the army (Schofield, Slocum, Howard,

Logan, Blair), and we talked over the matter of the conference at

Bennett's house of the day before, and, without exception, all

advised me to agree to some terms, for they all dreaded the long

and harassing march in pursuit of a dissolving and fleeing army--

a march that might carry us back again over the thousand miles that

we had just accomplished. We all knew that if we could bring

Johnston's army to bay, we could destroy it in an hour, but that

was simply impossible in the country in which we found ourselves.

We discussed all the probabilities, among which was, whether, if

Johnston made a point of it, I should assent to the escape from the

country of Jeff. Davis and his fugitive cabinet; and some one of my

general officers, either Logan or Blair, insisted that, if asked

for, we should even provide a vessel to carry them to Nassau from


The next morning I again started in the cars to Durham's Station,

accompanied by most of my personal staff, and by Generals Blair,

Barry, Howard, etc., and, reaching General Kilpatrick's

headquarters at Durham's, we again mounted, and rode, with the same

escort of the day, before, to Bennett's house, reaching there

punctually at noon. General Johnston had not yet arrived, but a

courier shortly came, and reported him as on the way. It must have

been nearly 2 p.m. when he arrived, as before, with General Wade

Hampton. He had halted his escort out of sight, and we again

entered Bennett's house, and I closed the door. General Johnston

then assured me that he had authority over all the Confederate

armies, so that they would obey his orders to surrender on the same

terms with his own, but he argued that, to obtain so cheaply this

desirable result, I ought to give his men and officers some

assurance of their political rights after their surrender. I

explained to him that Mr. Lincoln's proclamation of amnesty, of

December 8, 1863, still in force; enabled every Confederate soldier

and officer, below the rank of colonel, to obtain an absolute

pardon, by simply laying down his arms, and taking the common oath

of allegiance, and that General Grant, in accepting the surrender

of General Lee's army, had extended the same principle to all the

officers, General Lee included; such a pardon, I understood, would

restore to them all their rights of citizenship. But he insisted

that the officers and men of the Confederate army were

unnecessarily alarmed about this matter, as a sort of bugbear. He

then said that Mr. Breckenridge was near at hand, and he thought

that it would be well for him to be present. I objected, on the

score that he was then in Davis's cabinet, and our negotiations

should be confined strictly to belligerents. He then said

Breckenridge was a major-general in the Confederate army, and might

sink his character of Secretary of War. I consented, and he sent

one of his staff-officers back, who soon returned with

Breckenridge, and he entered the room. General Johnston and I then

again went over the whole ground, and Breckenridge confirmed what

he had said as to the uneasiness of the Southern officers and

soldiers about their political rights in case of surrender. While

we were in consultation, a messenger came with a parcel of papers,

which General Johnston said were from Mr. Reagan,

Postmaster-General. He and Breckenridge looked over them, and,

after some side conversation, he handed one of the papers to me.

It was in Reagan's handwriting, and began with a long preamble and

terms, so general and verbose, that I said they were inadmissible.

Then recalling the conversation of Mr. Lincoln, at City Point, I

sat down at the table, and wrote off the terms, which I thought

concisely expressed his views and wishes, and explained that I was

willing to submit these terms to the new President, Mr. Johnson,

provided that both armies should remain in statu quo until the

truce therein declared should expire. I had full faith that

General Johnston would religiously respect the truce, which he did;

and that I would be the gainer, for in the few days it would take

to send the papers to Washington, and receive an answer, I could

finish the railroad up to Raleigh, and be the better prepared for a

long chase.

Neither Mr. Breckenridge nor General Johnston wrote one word of

that paper. I wrote it myself, and announced it as the best I

could do, and they readily assented.

While copies of this paper were being made for signature, the

officers of our staffs commingled in the yard at Bennett's house,

and were all presented to Generals Johnston and Breckenridge. All

without exception were rejoiced that the war was over, and that in

a very few days we could turn our faces toward home. I remember

telling Breckenridge that he had better get away, as the feeling of

our people was utterly hostile to the political element of the

South, and to him especially, because he was the Vice-President of

the United States, who had as such announced Mr. Lincoln, of

Illinois, duly and properly elected the President of the United

States, and yet that he had afterward openly rebelled and taken up

arms against the Government. He answered me that he surely would

give us no more trouble, and intimated that he would speedily leave

the country forever. I may have also advised him that Mr. Davis

too should get abroad as soon as possible.

The papers were duly signed; we parted about dark, and my party

returned to Raleigh. Early the next morning, April 19th, I

dispatched by telegraph to Morehead City to prepare a fleet-steamer

to carry a messenger to Washington, and sent Major Henry Hitchcock

down by rail, bearing the following letters, and agreement with

General Johnston, with instructions to be very careful to let

nothing escape him to the greedy newspaper correspondents, but to

submit his papers to General Halleck, General Grant, or the

Secretary of War, and to bring me back with all expedition their

orders and instructions.

On their face they recited that I had no authority to make final

terms involving civil or political questions, but that I submitted

them to the proper quarter in Washington for their action; and the

letters fully explained that the military situation was such that

the delay was an advantage to us. I cared little whether they were

approved, modified, or disapproved in toto; only I wanted

instructions. Many of my general officers, among whom, I am almost

positive, were Generals Logan and Blair, urged me to accept the

"terms," without reference at all to Washington, but I preferred

the latter course:



General H. W. HALLECK, Chief of Staff, Washington, D. C.

GENERAL: I received your dispatch describing the man Clark,

detailed to assassinate me. He had better be in a hurry, or he

will be too late.

The news of Mr. Lincoln's death produced a most intense effect on

our troops. At first I feared it would lead to excesses; but now

it has softened down, and can easily be guided. None evinced more

feeling than General Johnston, who admitted that the act was

calculated to stain his cause with a dark hue; and he contended

that the loss was most serious to the South, who had begun to

realize that Mr. Lincoln was the best friend they had.

I cannot believe that even Mr. Davis was privy to the diabolical

plot, but think it the emanation of a set of young men of the

South, who are very devils. I want to throw upon the South the

care of this class of men, who will soon be as obnoxious to their

industrial classes as to us.

Had I pushed Johnston's army to an extremity, it would have

dispersed, and done infinite mischief. Johnston informed me that

General Stoneman had been at Salisbury, and was now at Statesville.

I have sent him orders to come to me.

General Johnston also informed me that General Wilson was at

Colmbia, Georgia, and he wanted me to arrest his progress. I leave

that to you.

Indeed, if the President sanctions my agreement with Johnston, our

interest is to cease all destruction.

Please give all orders necessary according to the views the

Executive may take, and influence him, if possible, not to vary the

terms at all, for I have considered every thing, and believe that,

the Confederate armies once dispersed, we can adjust all else

fairly and well. I am, yours, etc.,

W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General commanding.


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