Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman


Text to Speech

believe that five hundred new men added to an old and experienced

regiment were more valuable than a thousand men in the form of a

new regiment, for the former by association with good, experienced

captains, lieutenants, and non-commissioned officers, soon became

veterans, whereas the latter were generally unavailable for a year.

The German method of recruitment is simply perfect, and there is no

good reason why we should not follow it substantially.

On a road, marching by the flank, it would be considered "good

order" to have five thousand men to a mile, so that a full corps of

thirty thousand men would extend six miles, but with the average

trains and batteries of artillery the probabilities are that it

would draw out to ten miles. On a long and regular march the

divisions and brigades should alternate in the lead, the leading

division should be on the road by the earliest dawn, and march at

the rate of about two miles, or, at most, two and a half miles an

hour, so as to reach camp by noon. Even then the rear divisions

and trains will hardly reach camp much before night. Theoretically,

a marching column should preserve such order that by simply halting

and facing to the right or left, it would be in line of battle; but

this is rarely the case, and generally deployments are made

"forward," by conducting each brigade by the flank obliquely to the

right or left to its approximate position in line of battle, and

there deployed. In such a line of battle, a brigade of three

thousand infantry would oconpy a mile of "front;" but for a strong

line of battle five-thousand men with two batteries should be

allowed to each mile, or a division would habitually constitute a

double line with skirmishers and a reserve on a mile of "front."

The "feeding" of an army is a matter of the most vital importance,

and demands the earliest attention of the general intrusted with a

campaign. To be strong, healthy, and capable of the largest

measure of physical effort, the soldier needs about three pounds

gross of food per day, and the horse or mule about twenty pounds.

When a general first estimates the quantity of food and forage

needed for an army of fifty or one hundred thousand men, he is apt

to be dismayed, and here a good staff is indispensable, though the

general cannot throw off on them the responsibility. He must give

the subject his personal attention, for the army reposes in him

alone, and should never doubt the fact that their existence

overrides in importance all other considerations. Once satisfied

of this, and that all has been done that can be, the soldiers are

always willing to bear the largest measure of privation. Probably

no army ever had a more varied experience in this regard than the

one I commanded in 1864'65.

Our base of supply was at Nashville, supplied by railways and the

Cumberland River, thence by rail to Chattanooga, a "secondary

base," and thence forward a single-track railroad. The stores came

forward daily, but I endeavored to have on hand a full supply for

twenty days in advance. These stores were habitually in the

wagon-trains, distributed to corps, divisions, and regiments, in

charge of experienced quartermasters and commissaries, and became

subject to the orders of the generals commanding these bodies.

They were generally issued on provision returns, but these had to

be closely scrutinized, for too often the colonels would make

requisitions for provisions for more men than they reported for

battle. Of course, there are always a good many non-combatants

with an army, but, after careful study, I limited their amount to

twenty-five per cent. of the "effective strength," and that was

found to be liberal. An ordinary army-wagon drawn by six mules may

be counted on to carry three thousand pounds net, equal to the food

of a full regiment for one day, but, by driving along beef-cattle,

a commissary may safely count the contents of one wagon as

sufficient for two days' food for a regiment of a thousand men; and

as a corps should have food on hand for twenty days ready for

detachment, it should have three hundred such wagons, as a

provision-train; and for forage, ammunition, clothing, and other

necessary stores, it was found necessary to have three hundred more

wagons, or six hundred wagons in all, for a corps d'armee.

These should be absolutely under the immediate control of the corps

commander, who will, however, find it economical to distribute them

in due proportion to his divisions, brigades, and even regiments.

Each regiment ought usually to have at least one wagon for

convenience to distribute stores, and each company two pack-mules,

so that the regiment may always be certain of a meal on reaching

camp without waiting for the larger trains.

On long marches the artillery and wagon-trains should always have

the right of way, and the troops should improvise roads to one

side, unless forced to use a bridge in common, and all trains

should have escorts to protect them, and to assist them in bad

places. To this end there is nothing like actual experience, only,

unless the officers in command give the subject their personal

attention, they will find their wagon-trains loaded down with

tents, personal baggage, and even the arms and knapsacks of the

escort. Each soldier should, if not actually "sick or wounded,"

carry his musket and equipments containing from forty to sixty

rounds of ammunition, his shelter-tent, a blanket or overcoat, and

an extra pair of pants, socks, and drawers, in the form of a scarf,

worn from the left shoulder to the right side in lieu of knapsack,

and in his haversack he should carry some bread, cooked meat, salt,

and coffee. I do not believe a soldier should be loaded down too

much, but, including his clothing, arms, and equipment, he can

carry about fifty pounds without impairing his health or activity.

A simple calculation will show that by such a distribution a corps

will-thus carry the equivalent of five hundred wagon-loads--an

immense relief to the trains.

Where an army is near one of our many large navigable rivers, or

has the safe use of a railway, it can usually be supplied with the

full army ration, which is by far the best furnished to any army in

America or Europe; but when it is compelled to operate away from

such a base, and is dependent on its own train of wagons, the

commanding officer must exercise a wise discretion in the selection

of his stores. In my opinion, there is no better food for man than

beef-cattle driven on the hoof, issued liberally, with salt, bacon,

and bread. Coffee has also become almost indispensable, though

many substitutes were found for it, such as Indian-corn, roasted,

ground, and boiled as coffee; the sweet-potato, and the seed of the

okra plant prepared in the same way. All these were used by the

people of the South, who for years could procure no coffee, but I

noticed that the women always begged of us some real coffee, which

seems to satisfy a natural yearning or craving more powerful than

can be accounted for on the theory of habit. Therefore I would

always advise that the coffee and sugar ration be carried along,

even at the expense of bread, for which there are many substitutes.

Of these, Indian-corn is the best and most abundant. Parched in a

frying-pan, it is excellent food, or if ground, or pounded and

boiled with meat of any sort, it makes a most nutritious meal. The

potato, both Irish and sweet, forms an excellent substitute for

bread, and at Savannah we found that rice (was)also suitable, both for

men and animals. For the former it should be cleaned of its husk

in a hominy block, easily prepared out of a log, and sifted with a

coarse corn bag; but for horses it should be fed in the straw.

During the Atlanta campaign we were supplied by our regular

commissaries with all sorts of patent compounds, such as desiccated

vegetables, and concentrated milk, meat-biscuit, and sausages, but

somehow the men preferred the simpler and more familiar forms of

food, and usually styled these "desecrated vegetables and

consecrated milk." We were also supplied liberally with

lime-juice, sauerkraut, and pickles, as an antidote to scurvy, and

I now recall the extreme anxiety of my medical director, Dr. Kittoe,

about the scurvy, which he reported at one time as spreading and

imperiling the army. This occurred at a crisis about Kenesaw, when

the railroad was taxed to its utmost capacity to provide the

necessary ammunition, food, and forage, and could not possibly

bring us an adequate supply of potatoes and cabbage, the usual

anti-scorbutics, when providentially the black berries ripened and

proved an admirable antidote, and I have known the skirmish-line,

without orders, to fight a respectable battle for the possession of

some old fields that were full of blackberries. Soon, thereafter,

the green corn or roasting-ear came into season, and I heard no

more of the scurvy. Our country abounds with plants which can be

utilized for a prevention to the scurvy; besides the above are the

persimmon, the sassafras root and bud, the wild-mustard, the

"agave," turnip tops, the dandelion cooked as greens, and a

decoction of the ordinary pine-leaf.

For the more delicate and costly articles of food for the sick we

relied mostly on the agents of the Sanitary Commission. I do not

wish to doubt the value of these organizations, which gained so

much applause during our civil war, for no one can question the

motives of these charitable and generous people; but to be honest I

must record an opinion that the Sanitary Commission should limit

its operations to the hospitals at the rear, and should never

appear at the front. They were generally local in feeling, aimed

to furnish their personal friends and neighbors with a better class

of food than the Government supplied, and the consequence was, that

one regiment of a brigade would receive potatoes and fruit which

would be denied another regiment close by: Jealousy would be the

inevitable result, and in an army all parts should be equal; there

should be no "partiality, favor, or affection." The Government

should supply all essential wants, and in the hospitals to the rear

will be found abundant opportunities for the exercise of all

possible charity and generosity. During the war I several times

gained the ill-will of the agents of the Sanitary Commission

because I forbade their coming to the front unless they would

consent to distribute their stores equally among all, regardless of

the parties who had contributed them.

The sick, wounded, and dead of an army are the subjects of the

greatest possible anxiety, and add an immense amount of labor to

the well men. Each regiment in an active campaign should have a

surgeon and two assistants always close at hand, and each brigade

and division should have an experienced surgeon as a medical

director. The great majority of wounds and of sickness should be

treated by the regimental surgeon, on the ground, under the eye of

the colonel. As few should be sent to the brigade or division

hospital as possible, for the men always receive better care with

their own regiment than with strangers, and as a rule the cure is

more certain; but when men receive disabling wounds, or have

sickness likely to become permanent, the sooner they go far to the

rear the better for all. The tent or the shelter of a tree is a

better hospital than a house, whose walls absorb fetid and

poisonous emanations, and then give them back to the atmosphere.

To men accustomed to the open air, who live on the plainest food,

wounds seem to give less pain, and are attended with less danger to

life than to ordinary soldiers in barracks.

Wounds which, in 1861, would have sent a man to the hospital for

months, in 1865 were regarded as mere scratches, rather the subject

of a joke than of sorrow. To new soldiers the sight of blood and

death always has a sickening effect, but soon men become accustomed

to it, and I have heard them exclaim on seeing a dead comrade borne

to the rear, "Well, Bill has turned up his toes to the daisies."

Of course, during a skirmish or battle, armed men should never

leave their ranks to attend a dead or wounded comrade--this should

be seen to in advance by the colonel, who should designate his

musicians or company cooks as hospital attendants, with a white rag

on their arm to indicate their office. A wounded man should go

himself (if able) to the surgeon near at hand, or, if he need help,

he should receive it from one of the attendants and not a comrade.

It is wonderful how soon the men accustom themselves to these

simple rules. In great battles these matters call for a more

enlarged attention, and then it becomes the duty of the division

general to see that proper stretchers and field hospitals are ready

for the wounded, and trenches are dug for the dead. There should

be no real neglect of the dead, because it has a bad effect on the

living; for each soldier values himself and comrade as highly as

though he were living in a good house at home.

The regimental chaplain, if any, usually attends the burials from

the hospital, should make notes and communicate details to the

captain of the company, and to the family at home. Of course it is

usually impossible to mark the grave with names, dates, etc., and

consequently the names of the "unknown" in our national cemeteries

equal about one-half of all the dead.

Very few of the battles in which I have participated were fought as

described in European text-books, viz., in great masses, in perfect

order, manoeuvring by corps, divisions, and brigades. We were

generally in a wooded country, and, though our lines were deployed

according to tactics, the men generally fought in strong

skirmish-lines, taking advantage of the shape of ground, and of

every cover. We were generally the assailants, and in wooded and

broken countries the "defensive" had a positive advantage over us,

for they were always ready, had cover, and always knew the ground

to their immediate front; whereas we, their assailants, had to

grope our way over unknown ground, and generally found a cleared

field or prepared entanglements that held us for a time under a

close and withering fire. Rarely did the opposing lines in compact

order come into actual contact, but when, as at Peach-Tree Creek

and Atlanta, the lines did become commingled, the men fought

individually in every possible style, more frequently with the

musket clubbed than with the bayonet, and in some instances the men

clinched like wrestlers, and went to the ground together.

Europeans frequently criticised our war, because we did not always

take full advantage of a victory; the true reason was, that

habitually the woods served as a screen, and we often did not

realize the fact that our enemy had retreated till he was already

miles away and was again intrenched, having left a mere

shirmish-line to cover the movement, in turn to fall back to the

new position.

Our war was fought with the muzzle-loading rifle. Toward the close

I had one brigade(Walcutt's)armed with breech-loading "Spencer's;"

the cavalry generally had breach-loading carbines, "Spencer's" and

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