Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman

Text to Speech



Having thus recorded a summary of events, mostly under my own

personal supervision, during the years from 1846 to 1865, it seems

proper that I should add an opinion of some of the useful military

lessons to be derived therefrom.

That civil war, by reason of the existence of slavery, was

apprehended by most of the leading statesmen of the half-century

preceding its outbreak, is a matter of notoriety. General Scott

told me on my arrival at New York, as early as 1850, that the

country was on the eve of civil war; and the Southern politicians

openly asserted that it was their purpose to accept as a casus

belli the election of General Fremont in 1856; but, fortunately or

unfortunately, he was beaten by Mr. Buchanan, which simply

postponed its occurrence for four years. Mr. Seward had also

publicly declared that no government could possibly exist half

slave and half free; yet the Government made no military

preparation, and the Northern people generally paid no attention,

took no warning of its coming, and would not realize its existence

till Fort Sumter was fired on by batteries of artillery, handled by

declared enemies, from the surrounding islands and from the city of


General Bragg, who certainly was a man of intelligence, and who, in

early life, ridiculed a thousand times, in my hearing, the threats

of the people of South Carolina to secede from the Federal Union,

said to me in New Orleans, in February, 1861, that he was convinced

that the feeling between the slave and free States had become so

embittered that it was better to part in peace; better to part

anyhow; and, as a separation was inevitable, that the South should

begin at once, because the possibility of a successful effort was

yearly lessened by the rapid and increasing inequality between the

two sections, from the fact that all the European immigrants were

coming to the Northern States and Territories, and none to the


The slave population m 1860 was near four millions, and the money

value thereof not far from twenty-five hundred million dollars.

Now, ignoring the moral side of the question, a cause that

endangered so vast a moneyed interest was an adequate cause of

anxiety and preparation, and the Northern leaders surely ought to

have foreseen the danger and prepared for it. After the election

of Mr. Lincoln in 1860, there was no concealment of the declaration

and preparation for war in the South. In Louisiana, as I have

related, men were openly enlisted, officers were appointed, and war

was actually begun, in January, 1861. The forts at the mouth of

the Mississippi were seized, and occupied by garrisons that hauled

down the United States flag and hoisted that of the State. The

United States Arsenal at Baton Rouge was captured by New Orleans

militia, its garrison ignominiously sent off, and the contents of

the arsenal distributed. These were as much acts of war as was the

subsequent firing on Fort Sumter, yet no public notice was taken

thereof; and when, months afterward, I came North, I found not one

single sign of preparation. It was for this reason, somewhat, that

the people of the South became convinced that those of the North

were pusillanimous and cowardly, and the Southern leaders were

thereby enabled to commit their people to the war, nominally in

defense of their slave property. Up to the hour of the firing on

Fort Sumter, in April, 1861, it does seem to me that our public

men, our politicians, were blamable for not sounding the note of


Then, when war was actually begun, it was by a call for seventy-

five thousand "ninety-day" men, I suppose to fulfill Mr. Seward's

prophecy that the war would last but ninety days.

The earlier steps by our political Government were extremely

wavering and weak, for which an excuse can be found in the fact

that many of the Southern representatives remained in Congress,

sharing in the public councils, and influencing legislation. But

as soon as Mr. Lincoln was installed, there was no longer any

reason why Congress and the cabinet should have hesitated. They

should have measured the cause, provided the means, and left the

Executive to apply the remedy.

At the time of Mr. Lincoln's inauguration, viz., March 4, 1861, the

Regular Army, by law, consisted of two regiments of dragoons, two

regiments of cavalry, one regiment of mounted rifles, four

regiments of artillery, and ten regiments of infantry, admitting of

an aggregate strength of thirteen thousand and twenty-four officers

and men. On the subsequent 4th of May the President, by his own

orders (afterward sanctioned by Congress), added a regiment of

cavalry, a regiment of artillery, and eight regiments of infantry,

which, with the former army, admitted of a strength of thirty-nine

thousand nine hundred and seventy-three; but at no time during the

war did the Regular Army attain a strength of twenty-five thousand


To the new regiments of infantry was given an organization

differing from any that had heretofore prevailed in this country--

of three battalions of eight companies each; but at no time did

more than one of these regiments attain its full standard; nor in

the vast army of volunteers that was raised during the war were any

of the regiments of infantry formed on the three-battalion system,

but these were universally single battalions of ten companies; so

that, on the reorganization of the Regular Army at the close of the

war, Congress adopted the form of twelve companies for the

regiments of cavalry and artillery, and that of ten companies for

the infantry, which is the present standard.

Inasmuch as the Regular Army will naturally form the standard of

organization for any increase or for new regiments of volunteers,

it becomes important to study this subject in the light of past

experience, and to select that form which is best for peace as well

as war.

A cavalry regiment is now composed of twelve companies, usually

divided into six squadrons, of two companies each, or better

subdivided into three battalions of four companies each. This is

an excellent form, easily admitting of subdivision as well as union

into larger masses.

A single battalion of four companies, with a field-officer, will

compose a good body for a garrison, for a separate expedition, or

for a detachment; and, in war, three regiments would compose a good

brigade, three brigades a division, and three divisions a strong

cavalry corps, such as was formed and fought by Generals Sheridan

and Wilson during the war.

In the artillery arm, the officers differ widely in their opinion

of the true organization. A single company forms a battery, and

habitually each battery acts separately, though sometimes several

are united or "massed;" but these always act in concert with

cavalry or infantry.

Nevertheless, the regimental organization for artillery has always

been maintained in this country for classification and promotion.

Twelve companies compose a regiment, and, though probably no

colonel ever commanded his full regiment in the form of twelve

batteries, yet in peace they occupy our heavy sea-coast forts or

act as infantry; then the regimental organization is both necessary

and convenient.

But the infantry composes the great mass of all armies, and the

true form of the regiment or unit has been the subject of infinite

discussion; and, as I have stated, during the civil war the

regiment was a single battalion of ten companies. In olden times

the regiment was composed of eight battalion companies and two

flank companies. The first and tenth companies were armed with

rifles, and were styled and used as "skirmishers;" but during 'the

war they were never used exclusively for that special purpose, and

in fact no distinction existed between them and the other eight


The ten-company organization is awkward in practice, and I am

satisfied that the infantry regiment should have the same identical

organization as exists for the cavalry and artillery, viz., twelve

companies, so as to be susceptible of division into three

battalions of four companies each.

These companies should habitually be about a hundred one men

strong, giving twelve hundred to a regiment, which in practice

would settle down to about one thousand men.

Three such regiments would compose a brigade, three brigades a

division, and three divisions a corps. Then, by allowing to an

infantry corps a brigade of cavalry and six batteries of

field-artillery, we would have an efficient corps d'armee of

thirty thousand men, whose organization would be simple and most

efficient, and whose strength should never be allowed to fall below

twenty-five thousand men.

The corps is the true unit for grand campaigns and battle, should

have a full and perfect staff, and every thing requisite for

separate action, ready at all times to be detached and sent off for

any nature of service. The general in command should have the rank

of lieutenant-general, and should be, by experience and education,

equal to any thing in war. Habitually with us he was a major-

general, specially selected and assigned to the command by an order

of the President, constituting, in fact, a separate grade.

The division is the unit of administration, and is the legitimate

command of a major general.

The brigade is the next subdivision, and is commanded by a


The regiment is the family. The colonel, as the father, should

have a personal acquaintance with every officer and man, and should

instill a feeling of pride and affection for himself, so that his

officers and men would naturally look to him for personal advice

and instruction. In war the regiment should never be subdivided,

but should always be maintained entire. In peace this is


The company is the true unit of discipline, and the captain is the

company. A good captain makes a good company, and he should have

the power to reward as well as punish. The fact that soldiers

world naturally like to have a good fellow for their captain is the

best reason why he should be appointed by the colonel, or by some

superior authority, instead of being elected by the men.

In the United States the people are the "sovereign," all power

originally proceeds from them, and therefore the election of

officers by the men is the common rule. This is wrong, because an

army is not a popular organization, but an animated machine, an

instrument in the hands of the Executive for enforcing the law, and

maintaining the honor and dignity of the nation; and the President,

as the constitutional commander-in-chief of the army and navy,

should exercise the power of appointment (subject to the

confirmation of the Senate) of the officers of "volunteers," as

well as of "regulars."

No army can be efficient unless it be a unit for action; and the

power must come from above, not from below: the President usually

delegates his power to the commander-in-chief, and he to the next,

and so on down to the lowest actual commander of troops, however

small the detachment. No matter how troops come together, when

once united, the highest officer in rank is held responsible, and

should be consequently armed with the fullest power of the

Executive, subject only to law and existing orders. The more

simple the principle, the greater the likelihood of determined

action; and the less a commanding officer is circumscribed by

bounds or by precedent, the greater is the probability that he will

make the best use of his command and achieve the best results.

The Regular Army and the Military Academy at West Point have in the

past provided, and doubtless will in the future provide an ample

supply of good officers for future wars; but, should their numbers

be insufficient, we can always safely rely on the great number of

young men of education and force of character throughout the

country, to supplement them. At the close of our civil war,

lasting four years, some of our best corps and division generals,

as well as staff-officers, were from civil life; but I cannot

recall any of the most successful who did not express a regret that

he had not received in early life instruction in the elementary

principles of the art of war, instead of being forced to acquire

this knowledge in the dangerous and expensive school of actual war.

But the vital difficulty was, and will be again, to obtain an

adequate number of good soldiers. We tried almost every system

known to modern nations, all with more or less success--voluntary

enlistments, the draft, and bought substitutes--and I think that all

officers of experience will confirm my assertion that the men who

voluntarily enlisted at the outbreak of the war were the best,

better than the conscript, and far better than the bought

substitute. When a regiment is once organized in a State, and

mustered into the service of the United States, the officers and

men become subject to the same laws of discipline and government as

the regular troops. They are in no sense "militia," but compose

a part of the Army of the United States, only retain their State

title for convenience, and yet may be principally recruited from

the neighborhood of their original organization: Once organized,

the regiment should be kept full by recruits, and when it becomes

difficult to obtain more recruits the pay should be raised by

Congress, instead of tempting new men by exaggerated bounties. I

believe it would have been more economical to have raised the pay

of the soldier to thirty or even fifty dollars a month than to have

held out the promise of three hundred and even six hundred dollars

in the form of bounty. Toward the close of the war, I have often

heard the soldiers complain that the "stay at-home" men got better

pay, bounties, and food, than they who were exposed to all the

dangers and vicissitudes of the battles and marches at the front.

The feeling of the soldier should be that, in every event, the

sympathy and preference of his government is for him who fights,

rather than for him who is on provost or guard duty to the rear,

and, like most men, he measures this by the amount of pay. Of

course, the soldier must be trained to obedience, and should be

"content with his wages;" but whoever has commanded an army in the

field knows the difference between a willing, contented mass of

men, and one that feels a cause of grievance. There is a soul to

an army as well as to the individual man, and no general can

accomplish the full work of his army unless he commands the soul of

his men, as well as their bodies and legs.

The greatest mistake made in our civil war was in the mode of

recruitment and promotion. When a regiment became reduced by the

necessary wear and tear of service, instead of being filled up at

the bottom, and the vacancies among the officers filled from the

best noncommissioned officers and men, the habit was to raise new

regiments, with new colonels, captains, and men, leaving the old

and experienced battalions to dwindle away into mere skeleton

organizations. I believe with the volunteers this matter was left

to the States exclusively, and I remember that Wisconsin kept her

regiments filled with recruits, whereas other States generally

filled their quotas by new regiments, and the result was that we

estimated a Wisconsin regiment equal to an ordinary brigade. I

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