Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman

Text to Speech

tendered his resignation, which had been accepted by the President;

and that he was still subject to impeachment,--would be impeached

and tried by the Senate. I was surprised to learn that General

Belknap was dishonest in money matters, for I believed him a brave

soldier, and I sorely thought him honest; but the truth was soon

revealed from Washington, and very soon after I received from Judge

Alphonso Taft, of Cincinnati, a letter informing me that he had

been appointed Secretary of War, and should insist on my immediate

return to Washington. I answered that I was ready to go to

Washington, or anywhere, if assured of decent treatment.

I proceeded to Washington, when, on the 6th of April, were

published these orders:

General Orders No. 28.

The following orders of the President of the United States are

hereby promulgated for the information and guidance of all


The headquarters of the army are hereby reestablished at Washington

City, and all orders and instructions relative to military

operations or affecting the military control and discipline of the

army issued by the President through the Secretary of War, shall be

promulgated through the General of the Army, and the departments of

the Adjutant-General and the Inspector-General shall report to him,

and be under his control in all matters relating thereto.

By order of the Secretary of War:

E. D. TOWNSEND, Adjutant-General.

This was all I had ever asked; accordingly my personal staff were

brought back to Washington, where we resumed our old places; only I

did not, for some time, bring back the family, and then only to a

rented house on Fifteenth Street, which we occupied till we left

Washington for good. During the period from 1876 to 1884 we had as

Secretaries of War in succession, the Hon's. Alphonso Taft, J. D.

Cameron, George W. McCrary, Alexander Ramsey, and R. T. Lincoln,

with each and all of whom I was on terms of the most intimate and

friendly relations.

And here I will record of Washington that I saw it, under the magic

hand of Alexander R. Shepherd, grow from a straggling, ill-paved

city, to one of the cleanest, most beautiful, and attractive cities

of the whole world. Its climate is salubrious, with as much

sunshine as any city of America. The country immediately about it

is naturally beautiful and romantic, especially up the Potomac, in

the region of the Great Falls; and, though the soil be poor as

compared with that of my present home, it is susceptible of easy

improvement and embellishment. The social advantages cannot be

surpassed even in London, Paris, or Vienna; and among the resident

population, the members of the Supreme Court, Senate, House of

Representatives, army, navy, and the several executive departments,

may be found an intellectual class one cannot encounter in our

commercial and manufacturing cities. The student may, without tax

and without price, have access, in the libraries of Congress and of

the several departments, to books of every nature and kind; and the

museums of natural history are rapidly approaching a standard of

comparison with the best of the world. Yet it is the usual and

proper center of political intrigue, from which the army especially

should keep aloof, because the army must be true and faithful to

the powers that be, and not be subjected to a temptation to favor

one or other of the great parties into which our people have

divided, and will continue to divide, it may be, with advantage to

the whole.

It would be a labor of love for me, in this connection, to pay a

tribute of respect, by name, to the many able and most patriotic

officers with whom I was so long associated as the commanding

generals of military divisions and departments, as well as

staff-officers; but I must forego the temptation, because of the

magnitude of the subject, certain that each and all of them will

find biographers better posted and more capable than myself; and I

would also like to make recognition of the hundreds of acts of most

graceful hospitality on the part of the officers and families at

our remote military posts in the days, of the "adobe," the "jacal,"

and "dug-out," when a board floor and a shingle roof were luxuries

expected by none except the commanding officer. I can see, in

memory, a beautiful young city-bred lady, who had married a poor

second-lieutenant, and followed him to his post on the plains,

whose quarters were in a "dug-out" ten feet by about fifteen, seven

feet high, with a dirt roof; four feet of the walls were the

natural earth, the other three of sod, with holes for windows and

corn-sacks for curtains. This little lady had her Saratoga trunk,

which was the chief article of furniture; yet, by means of a rug on

the ground-floor, a few candle-boxes covered with red cotton calico

for seats, a table improvised out of a barrel-head, and a fireplace

and chimney excavated in the back wall or bank, she had transformed

her "hole in the ground" into a most attractive home for her young

warrior husband; and she entertained me with a supper consisting of

the best of coffee, fried ham, cakes, and jellies from the

commissary, which made on my mind an impression more lasting than

have any one of the hundreds of magnificent banquets I have since

attended in the palaces and mansions of our own and foreign lands.

Still more would I like to go over again the many magnificent trips

made across the interior plains, mountains, and deserts before the

days of the completed Pacific Railroad, with regular "Doughertys"

drawn by four smart mules, one soldier with carbine or loaded

musket in hand seated alongside the driver; two in the back seat

with loaded rifles swung in the loops made for them; the lightest

kind of baggage, and generally a bag of oats to supplement the

grass, and to attach the mules to their camp. With an outfit of

two, three, or four of such, I have made journeys of as much as

eighteen hundred miles in a single season, usually from post to

post, averaging in distance about two hundred miles a week, with as

much regularity as is done today by the steam-car its five hundred

miles a day; but those days are gone, and, though I recognize the

great national advantages of the more rapid locomotion, I cannot

help occasionally regretting the change. One instance in 1866

rises in my memory, which I must record: Returning eastward from

Fort Garland, we ascended the Rocky Mountains to the Sangre-de-

Cristo Pass. The road descending the mountain was very rough and

sidling. I got out with my rifle, and walked ahead about four

miles, where I awaited my "Dougherty." After an hour or so I saw,

coming down the road, a wagon; and did not recognize it as my own

till quite near. It had been upset, the top all mashed in, and no

means at hand for repairs. I consequently turned aside from the

main road to a camp of cavalry near the Spanish Peaks, where we

were most hospitably received by Major A---- and his accomplished

wife. They occupied a large hospital-tent, which about a dozen

beautiful greyhounds were free to enter at will. The ambulance was

repaired, and the next morning we renewed our journey, escorted by

the major and his wife on their fine saddle-horses.

They accompanied us about ten miles of the way; and, though age has

since begun to tell on them, I shall ever remember them in their

pride and strength as they galloped alongside our wagons down the

long slopes of the Spanish Peaks in a driving snow-storm.

And yet again would it be a pleasant task to recall the many

banquets and feasts of the various associations of officers and

soldiers, who had fought the good battles of the civil war, in

which I shared as a guest or host, when we could indulge in a

reasonable amount of glorification at deeds done and recorded, with

wit, humor, and song; these when memory was fresh, and when the old

soldiers were made welcome to the best of cheer and applause in

every city and town of the land. But no! I must hurry to my

conclusion, for this journey has already been sufficiently


I had always intended to divide time with my natural successor,

General P. H. Sheridan, and early, notified him that I should about

the year 1884 retire from the command of the army, leaving him

about an equal period of time for the highest office in the army.

It so happened that Congress had meantime by successive "enactments

"cut down the army to twenty-five thousand men, the usual strength

of a corps d'armee, the legitimate command of a lieutenant-general.

Up to 1882 officers not disabled by wounds or sickness could only

avail themselves of the privileges of retirement on application,

after thirty years of service, at sixty-two years of age; but on

the 30th of June, 1882, a bill was passed which, by operation of

the law itself, compulsorily retired all army officers, regardless

of rank, at the age of sixty-four years. At the time this law was

debated in Congress, I was consulted by Senators and others in the

most friendly manner, representing that, if I wanted it, an

exception could justly and easily be made in favor of the general

and lieutenant-general, whose commissions expired with their lives;

but I invariably replied that I did not ask or expect an exception

in my case, because no one could know or realize when his own

mental and physical powers began to decline. I remembered well the

experience of Gil Blas with the Bishop of Granada, and favored the

passage of the law fixing a positive period for retirement, to

obviate in the future special cases of injustice such as I had seen

in the recent past. The law was passed, and every officer then knew

the very day on which he must retire, and could make his

preparations accordingly. In my own case the law was liberal in

the extreme, being "without reduction in his current pay and


I would be sixty-four years old on the 8th of February, 1884, a

date inconvenient to move, and not suited to other incidents; so I

resolved to retire on the 1st day of November, 1883, to resume my

former home at St. Louis, and give my successor ample time to meet

the incoming Congress, But, preliminary thereto, I concluded to

make one more tour of the continent, going out to the Pacific by

the Northern route, and returning by that of the thirty-fifth

parallel. This we accomplished, beginning at Buffalo, June 21st,

and ending at St. Louis, Missouri, September 30, 1883, a full and

most excellent account of which can be found in Colonel Tidball's

"Diary," which forms part of the report of the General of the Army

for the year 1883.

Before retiring also, as was my duty, I desired that my aides-

de-camp who had been so faithful and true to me should not suffer

by my act. All were to retain the rank of colonels of cavalry till

the last day, February 8, 1884; but meantime each secured places,

as follows:

Colonel O. M. Poe was lieutenant-colonel of the Engineer Corps

United States Army, and was by his own choice assigned to Detroit

in charge of the engineering works on the Upper Lakes, which duty

was most congenial to him.

Colonel J. C. Tidball was assigned to command the Artillery School

at Fort Monroe, by virtue of his commission as lieutenant-colonel,

Third Artillery, a station for which he was specially qualified.

Colonel John E. Tourtelotte was then entitled to promotion to

major of the Seventh Cavalry, a rank in which he could be certain

of an honorable command.

The only remaining aide-de-camp was Colonel John M. Bacon, who

utterly ignored self in his personal attachment to me. He was then

a captain of the Ninth Cavalry, but with almost a certainty of

promotion to be major of the Seventh before the date of my official

retirement, which actually resulted. The last two accompanied me

to St. Louis, and remained with me to the end. Having previously

accomplished the removal of my family to St. Louis, and having

completed my last journey to the Pacific, I wrote the following



WASHINGTON, D. C., October 8, 1883.

Hon. R. T. LINCOLN, Secretary of War.

SIR: By the act of Congress, approved June 30, 1882, all

army-officers are retired on reaching the age of sixty-four years.

If living, I will attain that age on the 8th day of February, 1884;

but as that period of the year is not suited for the changes

necessary on my retirement, I have contemplated anticipating the

event by several months, to enable the President to meet these

changes at a more convenient season of the year, and also to enable

my successor to be in office before the assembling of the next


I therefore request authority to turn over the command of the army

to Lieutenant-General Sheridan on the 1st day of November, 1883,

and that I be ordered to my home at St. Louis, Missouri, there to

await the date of my legal retirement; and inasmuch as for a long

time I must have much correspondence about war and official

matters, I also ask the favor to have with me for a time my two

present aides-de-camp, Colonels J. E. Tourtelotte and J. M. Bacon.

The others of my personal staff, viz., Colonels O. M. Poe and J.

C. Tidball, have already been assigned to appropriate duties in

their own branches of the military service, the engineers and

artillery. All should retain the rank and pay as aides-de-camp

until February 8,1884. By or before the 1st day of November I can

complete all official reports, and believe I can surrender the army

to my successor in good shape and condition, well provided in all

respects, and distributed for the best interests of the country.

I am grateful that my physical and mental-strength remain

unimpaired by years, and am thankful for the liberal provision made

by Congress for my remaining years, which will enable me to respond

promptly to any call the President may make for my military service

or judgment as long as I live. I have the honor to be your

obedient servant,

W. T. SHERMAN, General.

The answer was:


WASHINGTON CITY, October 10, 1888.

General W. T. SHERMAN, Washington, D. C.

GENERAL: I have submitted to the President your letter of the 8th

instant, requesting that you be relieved of the command of the army

on the 1st of November next, as a more convenient time for making

the changes in military commands which must follow your retirement

from active service, than would be the date of your retirement

under the law.

In signifying his approval of your request, the President directs

me to express to you his earnest hope that there may be given you

many years of health and happiness in which to enjoy the gratitude

of your fellow-citizens, well earned by your most distinguished

public services.

It will give me pleasure to comply with your wishes respecting your

aides-de-camp, and the necessary orders will be duly issued.

I have the honor to be, General, your obedient servant,

ROBERT T. LINCOLN, Secretary of War.

On the 27th day of October I submitted to the Secretary of

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