Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman

Text to Speech

bring the legal condition of the slaves more near the status of

human beings under all Christian and civilized governments. In the

first place, I argued that, in sales of slaves made by the State, I

would forbid the separation of families, letting the father,

mother, and children, be sold together to one person, instead of

each to the highest bidder. And, again, I would advise the repeal

of the statute which enacted a severe penalty for even the owner to

teach his slave to read and write, because that actually qualified

property and took away a part of its value; illustrating the

assertion by the case of Henry Sampson, who had been the slave of

Colonel Chambers, of Rapides Parish, who had gone to California as

the servant of an officer of the army, and who was afterward

employed by me in the bank at San Francisco. At first he could not

write or read, and I could only afford to pay him one hundred

dollars a month; but he was taught to read and write by Reilley,

our bank-teller, when his services became worth two hundred and

fifty dollars a month, which enabled him to buy his own freedom and

that of his brother and his family."

What I said was listened to by all with the most profound

attention; and, when I was through, some one (I think it was Mr.

Hyams) struck the table with his fist, making the glasses jingle,

and said, "By God, he is right!" and at once he took up the debate,

which went on, for an hour or more, on both sides with ability and

fairness. Of course, I was glad to be thus relieved, because at

the time all men in Louisiana were dreadfully excited on questions

affecting their slaves, who constituted the bulk of their wealth,

and without whom they honestly believed that sugar, cotton, and

rice, could not possibly be cultivated.

On the 30th and 31st of July, 1860, we had an examination at the

seminary, winding up with a ball, and as much publicity as possible

to attract general notice; and immediately thereafter we all

scattered--the cadets to their homes, and the professors wherever

they pleased--all to meet again on the 1st day of the next

November. Major Smith and I agreed to meet in New York on a

certain day in August, to purchase books, models, etc. I went

directly to my family in Lancaster, and after a few days proceeded

to Washington, to endeavor to procure from the General Government

the necessary muskets and equipments for our cadets by the

beginning of the next term. I was in Washington on the 17th day of

August, and hunted up my friend Major Buell, of the Adjutant-

General's Department, who was on duty with the Secretary of War,

Floyd. I had with me a letter of Governor Moore's, authorizing me

to act in his name. Major Buell took me into Floyd's room at the

War Department, to whom I explained my business, and I was

agreeably surprised to meet with such easy success. Although the

State of Louisiana had already drawn her full quota of arms, Floyd

promptly promised to order my requisition to be filled, and I

procured the necessary blanks at the Ordnance-Office, filled them

with two hundred cadet muskets, and all equipments complete, and

was assured that all these articles would be shipped to Louisiana

in season for our use that fall. These assurances were faithfully

carried out.

I then went on to New York, there met Major Smith according to

appointment, and together we selected and purchased a good supply

of uniforms, clothing, and text books, as well as a fair number of

books of history and fiction, to commence a library.

When this business was completed, I returned to Lancaster, and

remained with my family till the time approached for me to return

to Louisiana. I again left my family at Lancaster, until assured

of the completion of the two buildings designed for the married

professors for which I had contracted that spring with Mr. Mills,

of Alexandria, and which were well under progress when I left in

August. One of these was designed for me and the other for Vallas.

Mr. Ewing presented me with a horse, which I took down the river

with me, and en route I ordered from Grimsley & Co. a full

equipment of saddle, bridle, etc., the same that I used in the war,

and which I lost with my horse, shot under me at Shiloh.

Reaching Alexandria early in October, I pushed forward the

construction of the two buildings, some fences, gates, and all

other work, with the object of a more perfect start at the opening

of the regular term November 1, 1860.

About this time Dr. Powhatan Clark was elected Assistant Professor

of Chemistry, etc., and acted as secretary of the Board of

Supervisors, but no other changes were made in our small circle of


November came, and with it nearly if not quite all our first set of

cadets, and others, to the number of about one hundred and thirty.

We divided them into two companies, issued arms and clothing, and

began a regular system of drills and instruction, as well as the

regular recitations. I had moved into my new house, but prudently

had not sent for my family, nominally on the ground of waiting

until the season was further advanced, but really because of the

storm that was lowering heavy on the political horizon. The

presidential election was to occur in November, and the nominations

had already been made in stormy debates by the usual conventions.

Lincoln and Hamlin (to the South utterly unknown) were the nominees

of the Republican party, and for the first time both these

candidates were from Northern States. The Democratic party

divided--one set nominating a ticket at Charleston, and the other

at Baltimore. Breckenridge and Lane were the nominees of the

Southern or Democratic party; and Bell and Everett, a kind of

compromise, mostly in favor in Louisiana. Political excitement was

at its very height, and it was constantly asserted that Mr.

Lincoln's election would imperil the Union. I purposely kept aloof

from politics, would take no part, and remember that on the day of

the election in November I was notified that it would be advisable

for me to vote for Bell and Everett, but I openly said I would not,

and I did not. The election of Mr. Lincoln fell upon us all like a

clap of thunder. People saw and felt that the South had threatened

so long that, if she quietly submitted, the question of slavery in

the Territories was at an end forever. I mingled freely with the

members of the Board of Supervisors, and with the people of Rapides

Parish generally, keeping aloof from all cliques and parties, and I

certainly hoped that the threatened storm would blow over, as had

so often occurred before, after similar threats. At our seminary

the order of exercises went along with the regularity of the

seasons. Once a week, I had the older cadets to practise reading,

reciting, and elocution, and noticed that their selections were

from Calhoun, Yancey, and other Southern speakers, all treating of

the defense of their slaves and their home institutions as the very

highest duty of the patriot. Among boys this was to be expected;

and among the members of our board, though most of them declaimed

against politicians generally, and especially abolitionists, as

pests, yet there was a growing feeling that danger was in the wind.

I recall the visit of a young gentleman who had been sent from

Jackson, by the Governor of Mississippi, to confer with Governor

Moore, then on his plantation at Bayou Robert, and who had come

over to see our college. He spoke to me openly of secession as a

fixed fact, and that its details were only left open for

discussion. I also recall the visit of some man who was said to be

a high officer in the order of "Knights of the Golden Circle," of

the existence of which order I was even ignorant, until explained

to me by Major Smith and Dr. Clark. But in November, 1860, no man

ever approached me offensively, to ascertain my views, or my

proposed course of action in case of secession, and no man in or

out of authority ever tried to induce me to take part in steps

designed to lead toward disunion. I think my general opinions were

well known and understood, viz., that "secession was treason, was

war;" and that in no event would the North and West permit the

Mississippi River to pass out of their control. But some men at

the South actually supposed at the time that the Northwestern

States, in case of a disruption of the General Government, would be

drawn in self-interest to an alliance with the South. What I now

write I do not offer as any thing like a history of the important

events of that time, but rather as my memory of them, the effect

they had on me personally, and to what extent they influenced my

personal conduct.

South Carolina seceded December 20, 1860, and Mississippi soon

after. Emissaries came to Louisiana to influence the Governor,

Legislature, and people, and it was the common assertion that, if

all the Cotton States would follow the lead of South Carolina, it

would diminish the chances of civil war, because a bold and

determined front would deter the General Government from any

measures of coercion. About this time also, viz., early in

December, we received Mr. Buchanan's annual message to Congress, in

which he publicly announced that the General Government had no

constitutional power to "coerce a State." I confess this staggered

me, and I feared that the prophecies and assertions of Alison and

other European commentators on our form of government were right,

and that our Constitution was a mere rope of sand, that would break

with the first pressure.

The Legislature of Louisiana met on the 10th of December, and

passed an act calling a convention of delegates from the people, to

meet at Baton Rouge, on the 8th of January, to take into

consideration the state of the Union; and, although it was

universally admitted that a large majority of the voters of the

State were opposed to secession, disunion, and all the steps of the

South Carolinians, yet we saw that they were powerless, and that

the politicians would sweep them along rapidly to the end,

prearranged by their leaders in Washington. Before the ordinance

of secession was passed, or the convention had assembled, on the

faith of a telegraphic dispatch sent by the two Senators, Benjamin

and Slidell, from their seats in the United States Senate at

Washington, Governor Moore ordered the seizure of all the United

States forts at the mouth of the Mississippi and Lake

Pontchartrain, and of the United States arsenal at Baton Rouge.

The forts had no garrisons, but the arsenal was held by a small

company of artillery, commanded by Major Haskins, a most worthy and

excellent officer, who had lost an arm in Mexico. I remember well

that I was strongly and bitterly impressed by the seizure of the

arsenal, which occurred on January 10, 1861.

When I went first to Baton Rouge, in 1859, en route to Alexandria,

I found Captain Rickett's company of artillery stationed in the

arsenal, but soon after there was somewhat of a clamor on the Texas

frontier about Brownsville, which induced the War Department to

order Rickett's company to that frontier. I remember that Governor

Moore remonstrated with the Secretary of War because so much

dangerous property, composed of muskets, powder, etc., had been

left by the United States unguarded, in a parish where the slave

population was as five or six to one of whites; and it was on his

official demand that the United States Government ordered Haskinss

company to replace Rickett's. This company did not number forty

men. In the night of January 9th, about five hundred New Orleans

militia, under command of a Colonel Wheat, went up from New Orleans

by boat, landed, surrounded the arsenal, and demanded its

surrender. Haskins was of course unprepared for such a step, yet

he at first resolved to defend the post as he best could with his

small force. But Bragg, who was an old army acquaintance of his,

had a parley with him, exhibited to him the vastly superior force

of his assailants, embracing two field-batteries, and offered to

procure for him honorable terms, to march out with drums and

colors, and to take unmolested passage in a boat up to St. Louis;

alleging, further, that the old Union was at an end, and that a

just settlement would be made between the two new fragments for all

the property stored in the arsenal. Of course it was Haskins's

duty to have defended his post to the death; but up to that time

the national authorities in Washington had shown such

pusillanimity, that the officers of the army knew not what to do.

The result, anyhow, was that Haskins surrendered his post, and at

once embarked for St. Louis. The arms and munitions stored in the

arsenal were scattered--some to Mississippi, some to New Orleans,

some to Shreveport; and to me, at the Central Arsenal, were

consigned two thousand muskets, three hundred Jager rifles, and a

large amount of cartridges and ammunition. The invoices were

signed by the former ordnance-sergeant, Olodowski, as a captain of

ordnance, and I think he continued such on General Bragg's staff

through the whole of the subsequent civil war. These arms, etc.,

came up to me at Alexandria, with orders from Governor Moore to

receipt for and account for them. Thus I was made the receiver of

stolen goods, and these goods the property of the United States.

This grated hard on my feelings as an ex-army-officer, and on

counting the arms I noticed that they were packed in the old

familiar boxes, with the "U. S." simply scratched off. General G.

Mason Graham had resigned as the chairman of the Executive

Committee, and Dr. S. A. Smith, of Alexandria, then a member of the

State Senate, had succeeded him as chairman, and acted as head of

the Board of Supervisors. At the time I was in most intimate

correspondence with all of these parties, and our letters must have

been full of politics, but I have only retained copies of a few of

the letters, which I will embody in this connection, as they will

show, better than by any thing I can now recall, the feelings of

parties at that critical period. The seizure of the arsenal at

Baton Rouge occurred January 10, 1861, and the secession ordinance

was not passed until about the 25th or 26th of the same month. At

all events, after the seizure of the arsenal, and before the

passage of the ordinance of secession, viz., on the 18th of

January, I wrote as follows:

Louisiana State Seminary of Learning and Military Academy

January 18, 1861

Governor THOMAS O. MOORE, Baton, Rouge, Louisiana.

Sir: As I occupy a quasi-military position under the laws of the

State, I deem it proper to acquaint you that I accepted such

position when Louisiana was a State in the Union, and when the

motto of this seminary was inserted in marble over the main door:

"By the liberality of the General Government of the United States.

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