Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman


Text to Speech

Sherman to assume command of the Army of the United States, is

hereby rescinded.

All official business which by law or regulations requires the

action of the President or Secretary of War will be submitted by

the chiefs of staff corps, departments, and bureaus to the

Secretary of War.

All orders and instructions relating to military operations issued

by the President or Secretary of War will be issued through the

General of the Army.

JOHN A. RAWLINS, Secretary of War.

By command of General SHERMAN:

E. D. TOWNSEND, Assistant Adjutant-General.

Thus we were thrown back on the old method in having a double--if

not a treble-headed machine. Each head of a bureau in daily

consultation with the Secretary of War, and the general to command

without an adjutant, quartermaster, commissary, or any staff except

his own aides, often reading in the newspapers of military events

and orders before he could be consulted or informed. This was the

very reverse of what General Grant, after four years' experience in

Washington as general-in-chief, seemed to want, different from what

he had explained to me in Chicago, and totally different from the

demand he had made on Secretary of War Stanton in his complete

letter of January 29, 1866. I went to him to know the cause: He

said he had been informed by members of Congress that his action,

as defined by his order of March 5th, was regarded as a violation

of laws making provision for the bureaus of the War Department;

that he had repealed his own orders, but not mine, and that he had

no doubt that General Rawlins and I could draw the line of

separation satisfactorily to us both. General Rawlins was very

conscientious, but a very sick man when appointed Secretary of War.

Several times he made orders through the adjutant-general to

individuals of the army without notifying me, but always when his

attention was called to it he apologized, and repeatedly said to me

that he understood from his experience on General Grant's staff how

almost insulting it was for orders to go to individuals of a

regiment, brigade, division, or an army of any kind without the

commanding officer being consulted or even advised. This habit is

more common at Washington than any place on earth, unless it be in

London, where nearly the same condition of facts exists. Members

of Congress daily appeal to the Secretary of War for the discharge

of some soldier on the application of a mother, or some young

officer has to be dry-nursed, withdrawn from his company on the

plains to be stationed near home. The Secretary of War, sometimes

moved by private reasons, or more likely to oblige the member of

Congress, grants the order, of which the commanding general knows

nothing till he reads it in the newspapers. Also, an Indian tribe,

goaded by the pressure of white neighbors, breaks out in revolt.

The general-in-chief must reenforce the local garrisons not only

with men, but horses, wagons, ammunition, and food. All the

necessary information is in the staff bureaus in Washington, but

the general has no right to call for it, and generally finds it

more practicable to ask by telegraph of the distant division or

department commanders for the information before making the formal

orders. The general in actual command of the army should have a

full staff, subject to his own command. If not, he cannot be held

responsible for results.

General Rawlins sank away visibly, rapidly, and died in Washington,

September 6,1869, and I was appointed to perform the duties of his

office till a successor could be selected. I realized how much

easier and better it was to have both offices conjoined.

The army then had one constitutional commander-in-chief of both

army and navy, and one actual commanding general, bringing all

parts into real harmony. An army to be useful must be a unit, and

out of this has grown the saying, attributed to Napoleon, but

doubtless spoken before the days of Alexander, that an army with an

inefficient commander was better than one with two able heads. Our

political system and methods, however, demanded a separate

Secretary of War, and in October President Grant asked me to scan

the list of the volunteer generals of good record who had served in

the civil war, preferably from the "West." I did so, and submitted

to him in writing the names of W. W. Belknap, of Iowa; G. M.

Dodge, the Chief Engineer of the Union Pacific Railroad; and Lucius

Fairchild, of Madison, Wisconsin. I also named General John W.

Sprague, then employed by the Northern Pacific Railroad in

Washington Territory. General Grant knew them all personally, and

said if General Dodge were not connected with the Union Pacific

Railroad, with which the Secretary of War must necessarily have

large transactions, he would choose him, but as the case stood, and

remembering the very excellent speech made by General Belknap at

the Chicago reunion of December, 1868, he authorized me to

communicate with him to ascertain if he were willing to come to

Washington as Secretary of War. General Belknap was then the

collector of internal revenue at Keokuk, Iowa. I telegraphed him

and received a prompt and favorable answer. His name was sent to

the Senate, promptly confirmed, and he entered on his duties

October 25,1869. General Belknap surely had at that date as fair a

fame as any officer of volunteers of my personal acquaintance. He

took up the business where it was left off, and gradually fell into

the current which led to the command of the army itself as of the

legal and financial matters which properly pertain to the War

Department. Orders granting leaves of absence to officers,

transfers, discharges of soldiers for favor, and all the old

abuses, which had embittered the life of General Scott in the days

of Secretaries of War Marcy and Davis, were renewed. I called his

attention to these facts, but without sensible effect. My office

was under his in the old War Department, and one day I sent my

aide-de-camp, Colonel Audenried, up to him with some message, and

when he returned red as a beet, very much agitated, he asked me as

a personal favor never again to send him to General Belknap. I

inquired his reason, and he explained that he had been treated with

a rudeness and discourtesy he had never seen displayed by any

officer to a soldier. Colonel Audenried was one of the most

polished gentlemen in the army, noted for his personal bearing and

deportment, and I had some trouble to impress on him the patience

necessary for the occasion, but I promised on future occasions to

send some other or go myself. Things went on from bad to worse,

till in 1870 I received from Mr. Hugh Campbell, of St. Louis, a

personal friend and an honorable gentleman, a telegraphic message

complaining that I had removed from his position Mr. Ward, post

trader at Fort Laramie, with only a month in which to dispose of

his large stock of goods, to make room for his successor.

It so happened that we of the Indian Peace Commission had been much

indebted to this same trader, Ward, for advances of flour, sugar,

and coffee, to provide for the Crow Indians, who had come down from

their reservation on the Yellowstone to meet us in 1868, before our

own supplies had been received. For a time I could not-comprehend

the nature of Mr. Campbell's complaint, so I telegraphed to the

department commander, General C. C. Augur, at Omaha, to know if any

such occurrence had happened, and the reasons therefor. I received

a prompt answer that it was substantially true, and had been

ordered by The Secretary of War. It so happened that during

General Grant's command of the army Congress had given to the

general of the army the appointment of "post-traders." He had

naturally devolved it on the subordinate division and department

commanders, but the legal power remained with the general of the

army. I went up to the Secretary of War, showed him the

telegraphic correspondence, and pointed out the existing law in the

Revised Statutes. General Belknap was visibly taken aback, and

explained that he had supposed the right of appointment rested with

him, that Ward was an old rebel Democrat, etc.; whereas Ward had

been in fact the sutler of Fort Laramie, a United States military

post, throughout the civil war. I told him that I should revoke

his orders, and leave the matter where it belonged, to the local

council of administration and commanding officers. Ward was

unanimously reelected and reinstated. He remained the trader of

the post until Congress repealed the law, and gave back the power

of appointment to the Secretary of War, when of course he had to

go. But meantime he was able to make the necessary business

arrangements which saved him and his partners the sacrifice which

would have been necessary in the first instance. I never had any

knowledge whatever of General Belknap's transactions with the

traders at Fort Sill and Fort Lincoln which resulted in his

downfall. I have never sought to ascertain his motives for

breaking with me, because he knew I had always befriended him while

under my military command, and in securing him his office of

Secretary of War. I spoke frequently to President Grant of the

growing tendency of his Secretary of War to usurp all the powers of

the commanding general, which would surely result in driving me

away. He as frequently promised to bring us together to agree upon

a just line of separation of our respective offices, but never did.

Determined to bring the matter to an issue, I wrote the following

letter

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE UNITED STATES,

WASHINGTON, D. C., August 17, 1870.

General W. W. BELKNAP, Secretary of War.

GENERAL: I must urgently and respectfully invite your attention

when at leisure to a matter of deep interest to future commanding

generals of the army more than to myself, of the imperative

necessity of fixing and clearly defining the limits of the powers

and duties of the general of the army or of whomsoever may succeed

to the place of commander-in-chief.

The case is well stated by General Grant in his letter of January

29, 1866, to the Secretary of War, Mr. Stanton, hereto appended,

and though I find no official answer recorded, I remember that

General Grant told me that the Secretary of War had promptly

assured him in conversation that he fully approved of his views as

expressed in this letter.

At that time the subject was much discussed, and soon after

Congress enacted the bill reviving the grade of general, which bill

was approved July 25, 1866, and provided that the general, when

commissioned, may be authorized under the direction and during the

pleasure of the President to command the armies of the United

States; and a few days after, viz., July 28, 1866, was enacted the

law which defined the military peace establishment. The enacting

clause reads: "That the military peace establishment of the United

States shall hereafter consist of five regiments of artillery, ten

regiments of cavalry, forty-five regiments of infantry, the

professors and Corps of Cadets of the United States Military

Academy, and such other forces as shall be provided for by this

act, to be known as the army of the United States."

The act then recites in great detail all the parts of the army,

making no distinction between the line and staff, but clearly makes

each and every part an element of the whole.

Section 37 provides for a board to revise the army regulations and

report; and declares that the regulations then in force, viz.,

those of 1863, should remain until Congress "shall act on said

report;" and section 38 and last enacts that all laws and parts of

laws inconsistent with the provisions of this act be and the same

are hereby repealed.

Under the provisions of this law my predecessor, General Grant, did

not hesitate to command and make orders to all parts of the army,

the Military Academy, and staff, and it was under his advice that

the new regulations were compiled in 1868 that drew the line more

clearly between the high and responsible duties of the Secretary of

War and the general of the army. He assured me many a time before

I was called here to succeed him that he wanted me to perfect the

distinction, and it was by his express orders that on assuming the

command of the army I specifically placed the heads of the staff

corps here in Washington in the exact relation to the army which

they would bear to an army in the field.

I am aware that subsequently, in his orders of March 26th, he

modified his former orders of March 5th, but only as to the heads

of bureaus in Washington, who have, he told me, certain functions

of office imposed on them by special laws of Congress, which laws,

of course, override all orders and regulations, but I did not

either understand from him in person, or from General Rawlins, at

whose instance this order was made, that it was designed in any way

to modify, alter, or change his purposes that division and

department commanders, as well as the general of the army, should

exercise the same command of the staff as they did of the line of

the army.

I need not remind the Secretary that orders and reports are made to

and from the Military Academy which the general does not even see,

though the Military Academy is specifically named as a part of that

army which he is required to command. Leaves of absence are

granted, the stations of officers are changed, and other orders are

now made directly to the army, not through the general, but direct

through other officials and the adjutant-general.

So long as this is the case I surely do not command the army of the

United States, and am not responsible for it.

I am aware that the confusion results from the fact that the

thirty-seventh section of the act of July 28, 1866, clothes the

army regulations of 1863 with the sanction of law, but the next

section repeals all laws and parts of laws inconsistent with the

provisions of this act. The regulations of 1863 are but a

compilation of orders made prior to the war, when such men as Davis

and Floyd took pleasure in stripping General Scott of even the

semblance of power, and purposely reduced him to a cipher in the

command of the army.

Not one word can be found in those regulations speaking of the

duties of the lieutenant-general commanding the army, or defining a

single act of authority rightfully devolving on him. Not a single

mention is made of the rights and duties of a commander-in-chief of

the army. He is ignored, and purposely, too, as a part of the

programme resulting in the rebellion, that the army without a

legitimate head should pass into the anarchy which these men were

shaping for the whole country.

I invite your attention to the army regulations of 1847, when our

best soldiers lived, among whom was your own father, and see

paragraphs 48 and 49, page 8, and they are so important that I

quote them entire:

"48. The military establishment is placed under the orders of the

major-general commanding in chief in all that regards its

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