Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman

Text to Speech

"Sharp's," both of which were good arms.

The only change that breech-loading arms will probably make in the

art and practice of war will be to increase the amount of

ammunition to be expended, and necessarily to be carried along; to

still further "thin out" the lines of attack, and to reduce battles

to short, quick, decisive conflicts. It does not in the least

affect the grand strategy, or the necessity for perfect

organization, drill, and discipline. The, companies and battalions

will be more dispersed, and the men will be less under the

immediate eye of their officers, and therefore a higher order of

intelligence and courage on the part of the individual soldier will

be an element of strength.

When a regiment is deployed as skirmishers, and crosses an open

field or woods, under heavy fire, if each man runs forward from

tree to tree, or stump to stump, and yet preserves a good general

alignment, it gives great confidence to the men themselves, for

they always keep their eyes well to the right and left, and watch

their comrades; but when some few hold back, stick too close or too

long to a comfortable log, it often stops the line and defeats the

whole object. Therefore, the more we improve the fire-arm the more

will be the necessity for good organization, good discipline and

intelligence on the part of the individual soldier and officer.

There is, of course, such a thing as individual courage, which has

a value in war, but familiarity with danger, experience in war and

its common attendants, and personal habit, are equally valuable

traits, and these are the qualities with which we usually have to

deal in war. All men naturally shrink from pain and danger, and

only incur their risk from some higher motive, or from habit; so

that I would define true courage to be a perfect sensibility of the

measure of danger, and a mental willingness to incur it, rather

than that insensibility to danger of which I have heard far more

than I have seen. The most courageous men are generally

unconscious of possessing the quality; therefore, when one

professes it too openly, by words or bearing, there is reason to

mistrust it. I would further illustrate my meaning by describing a

man of true courage to be one who possesses all his faculties and

senses perfectly when serious danger is actually present.

Modern wars have not materially changed the relative values or

proportions of the several arms of service: infantry, artillery,

cavalry, and engineers. If any thing, the infantry has been

increased in value. The danger of cavalry attempting to charge

infantry armed with breech-loading rifles was fully illustrated at

Sedan, and with us very frequently. So improbable has such a thing

become that we have omitted the infantry-square from our recent

tactics. Still, cavalry against cavalry, and as auxiliary to

infantry, will always be valuable, while all great wars will, as

heretofore, depend chiefly on the infantry. Artillery is more

valuable with new and inexperienced troops than with veterans. In

the early stages of the war the field-guns often bore the

proportion of six to a thousand men; but toward the close of the

war one gun; or at most two, to a thousand men, was deemed enough.

Sieges; such as characterized the wars of the last century, are too

slow for this period of the world, and the Prussians recently

almost ignored them altogether, penetrated France between the

forts, and left a superior force "in observation," to watch the

garrison and accept its surrender when the greater events of the

war ahead made further resistance useless; but earth-forts, and

especially field-works, will hereafter play an important part in

war, because they enable a minor force to hold a superior one in

check for a time, and time is a most valuable element in all wars.

It was one of Prof. Mahan's maxims that the spade was as useful in

war as the musket, and to this I will add the axe. The habit of

intrenching certainly does have the effect of making new troops

timid. When a line of battle is once covered by a good parapet,

made by the engineers or by the labor of the men themselves, it

does require an effort to make them leave it in the face of danger;

but when the enemy is intrenched, it becomes absolutely necessary

to permit each brigade and division of the troops immediately

opposed to throw up a corresponding trench for their own protection

in case of a sudden sally. We invariably did this in all our

recent campaigns, and it had no ill effect, though sometimes our

troops were a little too slow in leaving their well-covered lines

to assail the enemy in position or on retreat. Even our

skirmishers were in the habit of rolling logs together, or of

making a lunette of rails, with dirt in front, to cover their

bodies; and, though it revealed their position, I cannot say that

it worked a bad effect; so that, as a rule, it may safely be left

to the men themselves: On the "defensive," there is no doubt of the

propriety of fortifying; but in the assailing army the general must

watch closely to see that his men do not neglect an opportunity to

drop his precautionary defenses, and act promptly on the

"offensive" at every chance.

I have many a time crept forward to the skirmish-line to avail

myself of the cover of the pickets "little fort," to observe more

closely some expected result; and always talked familiarly with the

men, and was astonished to see how well they comprehended the

general object, and how accurately they were informed of the sate

of facts existing miles away from their particular corps. Soldiers

are very quick to catch the general drift and purpose of a

campaign, and are always sensible when they are well commanded or

well cared for. Once impressed with this fact, and that they are

making progress, they bear cheerfully any amount of labor and


In camp, and especially in the presence of an active enemy, it is

much easier to maintain discipline than in barracks in time of

peace. Crime and breaches of discipline are much less frequent,

and the necessity for courts-martial far less. The captain can

usually inflict all the punishment necessary, and the colonel

should always. The field-officers' court is the best form for war,

viz., one of the field-officers-the lieutenant-colonel or major

--can examine the case and report his verdict, and the colonel

should execute it. Of course, there are statutory offenses which

demand a general court-martial, and these must be ordered by the

division or corps commander; but, the presence of one of our

regular civilian judge-advocates in an army in the field would be a

first-class nuisance, for technical courts always work mischief.

Too many courts-martial in any command are evidence of poor

diacipline and inefficient officers.

For the rapid transmission of orders in an army covering a large

space of ground, the magnetic telegraph is by far the best, though

habitually the paper and pencil, with good mounted orderlies,

answer every purpose. I have little faith in the signal-service by

flags and torches, though we always used them; because, almost

invariably when they were most needed, the view was cut off by

intervening trees, or by mists and fogs. There was one notable

instance in my experience, when the signal-flags carried a message.

of vital importance over the heads of Hood's army, which had

interposed between me and Allatoona, and had broken the

telegraph-wires--as recorded in Chapter XIX.; but the value of the

magnetic telegraph in war cannot be exaggerated, as was illustrated

by the perfect concert of action between the armies in Virginia and

Georgia during 1864. Hardly a day intervened when General Grant

did not know the exact state of facts with me, more than fifteen

hundred miles away as the wires ran. So on the field a thin

insulated wire may be run on improvised stakes or from tree to tree

for six or more miles in a couple of hours, and I have seen

operators so skillful, that by cutting the wire they would receive

a message with their tongues from a distant station. As a matter

of course, the ordinary commercial wires along the railways form

the usual telegraph-lines for an army, and these are easily

repaired and extended as the army advances, but each army and wing

should have a small party of skilled men to put up the field-wire,

and take it down when done. This is far better than the

signal-flags and torches. Our commercial telegraph-lines will

always supply for war enough skillful operators.

The value of railways is also fully recognized in war quite as much

as, if not more so than, in peace. The Atlanta campaign would

simply have been impossible without the use of the railroads from

Louisville to Nashville--one hundred and eighty-five miles--from

Nashville to Chattanooga--one hundred and fifty-one miles--and from

Chattanooga to Atlanta--one hundred and thirty-seven miles. Every

mile of this "single track" was so delicate, that one man could in

a minute have broken or moved a rail, but our trains usually

carried along the tools and means to repair such a break. We had,

however, to maintain strong guards and garrisons at each important

bridge or trestle--the destruction of which would have necessitated

time for rebuilding. For the protection of a bridge, one or two

log block houses, two stories high, with a piece of ordnance and a

small infantry guard, usually sufficed. The block-house had a

small parapet and ditch about it, and the roof was made shot proof

by earth piled on. These points could usually be reached only by a

dash of the enemy's cavalry, and many of these block houses

successfully resisted serious attacks by both cavalry and

artillery. The only block-house that was actually captured on the

main was the one described near Allatoona. Our trains from

Nashville forward were operated under military rules, and ran about

ten miles an hour in gangs of four trains of ten cars each. Four

such groups of trains daily made one hundred and sixty cars, of ten

tons each, carrying sixteen hundred tons, which exceeded the

absolute necessity of the army, and allowed for the accidents that

were common and inevitable. But, as I have recorded, that single

stem of railroad, four hundred and seventy-three miles long,

supplied an army of one hundred thousand men and thirty-five

thousand animals for the period of one hundred and ninety-six days,

viz., from May 1 to November 12, 1864. To have delivered regularly

that amount of food and forage by ordinary wagons would have

required thirty-six thousand eight hundred wagons of six mules

each, allowing each wagon to have hauled two tons twenty miles each

day, a simple impossibility in roads such as then existed in that

region of country. Therefore, I reiterate that the Atlanta

campaign was an impossibility without these railroads; and only

then, because we had the men and means to maintain and defend them,

in addition to what were necessary to overcome the enemy.

Habitually, a passenger-car will carry fifty men with their

necessary baggage. Box-cars, and even platform-cars, answer the

purpose well enough, but they, should always have rough

board-seats. For sick and wounded men, box-cars filled with straw

or bushes were usually employed. Personally, I saw but little of

the practical working of the railroads, for I only turned back once

as far as Resaca; but I had daily reports from the engineer in

charge, and officers who came from the rear often explained to me

the whole thing, with a description of the wrecked trains all the

way from Nashville to Atlanta. I am convinced that the risk to

life to the engineers and men on that railroad fully equaled that

on the skirmish-line, called for as high an order of courage, and

fully equaled it in importance. Still, I doubt if there be any

necessity in time of peace to organize a corps specially to work

the military railroads in time of war, because in peace these same

men gain all the necessary experience, possess all the daring and

courage of soldiers, and only need the occasional protection and

assistance of the necessary train-guard, which may be composed of

the furloughed men coming and going, or of details made from the

local garrisons to the rear.

For the transfer of large armies by rail, from one theatre of

action to another by the rear--the cases of the transfer of the

Eleventh and Twelfth Corps--General Hooker, twenty-three thousand

men--from the East to Chattanooga, eleven hundred and ninety-two

miles in seven days, in the fall of 1863; and that of the Army of

the Ohio--General Schofield, fifteen thousand men--from the valley

of the Tennessee to Washington, fourteen hundred miles in eleven

days, en route to North Carolina in January, 1865, are the best

examples of which I have any knowledge, and reference to these is

made in the report of the Secretary of War, Mr. Stanton, dated

November 22, 1865.

Engineer troops attached to an army are habitually employed in

supervising the construction of forts or field works of a nature

more permanent than the lines need by the troops in motion, and in

repairing roads and making bridges. I had several regiments of

this kind that were most useful, but as a rule we used the

infantry, or employed parties of freedmen, who worked on the

trenches at night while the soldiers slept, and these in turn

rested by day. Habitually the repair of the railroad and its

bridges was committed to hired laborers, like the English navies,

under the supervision of Colonel W. W. Wright, a railroad-engineer,

who was in the military service at the time, and his successful

labors were frequently referred to in the official reports of the


For the passage of rivers, each army corps had a pontoon-train with

a detachment of engineers, and, on reaching a river, the leading

infantry division was charged with the labor of putting it down.

Generally the single pontoon-train could provide for nine hundred

feet of bridge, which sufficed; but when the rivers were very wide

two such trains would be brought together, or the single train was

supplemented by a trestle-bridge, or bridges made on crib-work, out

of timber found near the place. The pontoons in general use were

skeleton frames, made with a hinge, so as to fold back and

constitute a wagon-body. In this same wagon were carried the

cotton canvas cover, the anchor and chains, and a due proportion of

the balks, cheeses, and lashings. All the troops became very

familiar with their mechanism and use, and we were rarely delayed

by reason of a river, however broad. I saw, recently, in

Aldershot, England, a very complete pontoon-train; the boats were

sheathed with wood and felt, made very light; but I think these

were more liable to chafing and damage in rough handling than were

our less expensive and rougher boats. On the whole, I would prefer

the skeleton frame and canvas cover to any style of pontoon that I

have ever seen.

In relation to guards, pickets, and vedettes, I doubt if any

discoveries or improvements were made during our war, or in any of

the modern wars in Europe. These precautions vary with the nature

of the country and the situation of each army. When advancing or

retreating in line of battle, the usual skirmish-line constitutes

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