Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman

Text to Speech

companies of United States troops in the arsenal, commanded by

Captain N. Lyon; throughout the city, there had been organized,

almost exclusively out of the German part of the population, four

or five regiments of "Home Guards," with which movement Frank

Blair, B. Gratz Brown, John M. Schofield, Clinton B. Fisk, and

others, were most active on the part of the national authorities.

Frank Blair's brother Montgomery was in the cabinet of Mr. Lincoln

at Washington, and to him seemed committed the general management

of affairs in Missouri.

The newspapers fanned the public excitement to the highest pitch,

and threats of attacking the arsenal on the one hand, and the mob

of d--d rebels in Camp Jackson on the other, were bandied about. I

tried my best to keep out of the current, and only talked freely

with a few men; among them Colonel John O'Fallon, a wealthy

gentleman who resided above St. Louis. He daily came down to my

office in Bremen, and we walked up and down the pavement by the

hour, deploring the sad condition of our country, and the seeming

drift toward dissolution and anarchy. I used also to go down to

the arsenal occasionally to see Lyon, Totten, and other of my army

acquaintance, and was glad to see them making preparations to

defend their post, if not to assume the offensive.

The bombardment of Fort Sumter, which was announced by telegraph,

began April 12th, and ended on the 14th. We then knew that the war

was actually begun, and though the South was openly, manifestly the

aggressor, yet her friends and apologists insisted that she was

simply acting on a justifiable defensive, and that in the forcible

seizure of, the public forts within her limits the people were

acting with reasonable prudence and foresight. Yet neither party

seemed willing to invade, or cross the border. Davis, who ordered

the bombardment of Sumter, knew the temper of his people well, and

foresaw that it would precipitate the action of the border States;

for almost immediately Virginia, North Carolina, Arkansas, and

Tennessee, followed the lead of the cotton States, and conventions

were deliberating in Kentucky and Missouri.

On the night of Saturday, April 6th, I received the following,


Washington, April 6,1861.

Major W. T. Sherman:

Will you accept the chief clerkship of the War Department? We will

make you assistant Secretary of War when Congress meets.

M. Blair, Postmaster-General.

To which I replied by telegraph, Monday morning; "I cannot accept;"

and by mail as follows:

Monday, Apil 8, 1861.

Office of the St. Louis Railroad Company

Hon. M. Blair, Washington, D. C.

I received, about nine o'clock Saturday night, your telegraph

dispatch, which I have this moment answered, "I cannot accept."

I have quite a large family, and when I resigned my place in

Louisiana, on account of secession, I had no time to lose; and,

therefore, after my hasty visit to Washington, where I saw no

chance of employment, I came to St. Louis, have accepted a place in

this company, have rented a house, and incurred other obligations,

so that I am not at liberty to change.

I thank you for the compliment contained in your offer, and assure

you that I wish the Administration all success in its almost

impossible task of governing this distracted and anarchical people.

Yours truly,


I was afterward told that this letter gave offense, and that some

of Mr. Lincoln's cabinet concluded that I too would prove false to

the country.

Later in that month, after the capture of Fort Sumter by the

Confederate authorities, a Dr. Cornyn came to our house on Locust

Street, one night after I had gone to bed, and told me he had been

sent by Frank Blair, who was not well, and wanted to see me that

night at his house. I dressed and walked over to his house on

Washington Avenue, near Fourteenth, and found there, in the

front-room, several gentlemen, among whom I recall Henry T. Blow.

Blair was in the back-room, closeted with some gentleman, who soon

left, and I was called in. He there told me that the Government

was mistrustful of General Harvey, that a change in the command of

the department was to be made; that he held it in his power to

appoint a brigadier-general, and put him in command of the

department, and he offered me the place. I told him I had once

offered my services, and they were declined; that I had made

business engagements in St. Louis, which I could not throw off at

pleasure; that I had long deliberated on my course of action, and

must decline his offer, however tempting and complimentary. He

reasoned with me, but I persisted. He told me, in that event, he

should appoint Lyon, and he did so.

Finding that even my best friends were uneasy as to my political

status, on the 8th of May I addressed the following official letter

to the Secretary of War:

Office of the St. Louis Railroad Company,

May 8,1881.

Hon. S. Cameron, Secretary of War, Washington, D. C.

Dear Sir: I hold myself now, as always, prepared to serve my

country in the capacity for which I was trained. I did not and

will not volunteer for three months, because I cannot throw my

family on the cold charity of the world. But for the three-years

call, made by the President, an officer can prepare his command and

do good service.

I will not volunteer as a soldier, because rightfully or wrongfully

I feel unwilling to take a mere private's place, and, having for

many years lived in California and Louisiana, the men are not well

enough acquainted with me to elect me to my appropriate place.

Should my services be needed, the records of the War Department

will enable you to designate the station in which I can render most


Yours truly, W. T. SHERMAN.

To this I do not think I received a direct answer; but, on the 10th

of the same month, I was appointed colonel of the Thirteenth

Regular Infantry.

I remember going to the arsenal on the 9th of May, taking my

children with me in the street-cars. Within the arsenal wall were

drawn up in parallel lines four regiments of the "Home Guards," and

I saw men distributing cartridges to the boxes. I also saw General

Lyon running about with his hair in the wind, his pockets full of

papers, wild and irregular, but I knew him to be a man of vehement

purpose and of determined action. I saw of course that it meant

business, but whether for defense or offense I did not know. The

next morning I went up to the railroad-office in Bremen, as usual,

and heard at every corner of the streets that the "Dutch" were

moving on Camp Jackson. People were barricading their houses, and

men were running in that direction. I hurried through my business

as quickly as I could, and got back to my house on Locust Street by

twelve o'clock. Charles Ewing and Hunter were there, and insisted

on going out to the camp to see "the fun." I tried to dissuade

them, saying that in case of conflict the bystanders were more

likely to be killed than the men engaged, but they would go. I

felt as much interest as anybody else, but staid at home, took my

little son Willie, who was about seven years old, and walked up and

down the pavement in front of our house, listening for the sound of

musketry or cannon in the direction of Camp Jackson. While so

engaged Miss Eliza Dean, who lived opposite us, called me across

the street, told me that her brother-in-law, Dr. Scott, was a

surgeon in Frost's camp, and she was dreadfully afraid he would be

killed. I reasoned with her that General Lyon was a regular

officer; that if he had gone out, as reported, to Camp Jackson, he

would take with him such a force as would make resistance

impossible; but she would not be comforted, saying that the camp

was made up of the young men from the first and best families of

St. Louis, and that they were proud, and would fight. I explained

that young men of the best families did not like to be killed

better than ordinary people. Edging gradually up the street, I was

in Olive Street just about Twelfth, when I saw a man running from

the direction of Camp Jackson at full speed, calling, as he went,

"They've surrendered, they've surrendered!" So I turned back and

rang the bell at Mrs. Dean's. Eliza came to the door, and I

explained what I had heard; but she angrily slammed the door in my

face! Evidently she was disappointed to find she was mistaken in

her estimate of the rash courage of the best families.

I again turned in the direction of Camp Jackson, my boy Willie with

me still. At the head of Olive Street, abreast of Lindell's Grove,

I found Frank Blair's regiment in the street, with ranks opened,

and the Camp Jackson prisoners inside. A crowd of people was

gathered around, calling to the prisoners by name, some hurrahing

for Jeff Davis, and others encouraging the troops. Men, women, and

children, were in the crowd. I passed along till I found myself

inside the grove, where I met Charles Ewing and John Hunter, and we

stood looking at the troops on the road, heading toward the city.

A band of music was playing at the head, and the column made one or

two ineffectual starts, but for some reason was halted. The

battalion of regulars was abreast of me, of which Major Rufus

Saxton was in command, and I gave him an evening paper, which I had

bought of the newsboy on my way out. He was reading from it some

piece of news, sitting on his horse, when the column again began to

move forward, and he resumed his place at the head of his command.

At that part of the road, or street, was an embankment about eight

feet high, and a drunken fellow tried to pass over it to the people


One of the regular sergeant file-closers ordered him back, but he

attempted to pass through the ranks, when the sergeant barred his

progress with his musket "a-port." The drunken man seized his

musket, when the sergeant threw him off with violence, and he

rolled over and over down the bank. By the time this man had

picked himself up and got his hat, which had fallen off, and had

again mounted the embankment, the regulars had passed, and the head

of Osterhaus's regiment of Home Guards had come up. The man had in

his hand a small pistol, which he fired off, and I heard that the

ball had struck the leg of one of Osterhaus's staff; the regiment

stopped; there was a moment of confusion, when the soldiers of that

regiment began to fire over our heads in the grove. I heard the

balls cutting the leaves above our heads, and saw several men and

women running in all directions, some of whom were wounded. Of

course there was a general stampede. Charles Ewing threw Willie on

the ground and covered him with his body. Hunter ran behind the

hill, and I also threw myself on the ground. The fire ran back

from the head of the regiment toward its rear, and as I saw the men

reloading their pieces, I jerked Willie up, ran back with him into

a gully which covered us, lay there until I saw that the fire had

ceased, and that the column was again moving on, when I took up

Willie and started back for home round by way of Market Street. A

woman and child were killed outright; two or three men were also

killed, and several others were wounded. The great mass of the

people on that occasion were simply curious spectators, though men

were sprinkled through the crowd calling out, "Hurrah for Jeff

Davis!" and others were particularly abusive of the "damned Dutch"

Lyon posted a guard in charge of the vacant camp, and marched his

prisoners down to the arsenal; some were paroled, and others held,

till afterward they were regularly exchanged.

A very few days after this event, May 14th, I received a dispatch

from my brother Charles in Washington, telling me to come on at

once; that I had been appointed a colonel of the Thirteenth Regular

Infantry, and that I was wanted at Washington immediately.

Of course I could no longer defer action. I saw Mr. Lucas, Major

Turner, and other friends and parties connected with the road, who

agreed that I should go on. I left my family, because I was under

the impression that I would be allowed to enlist my own regiment,

which would take some time, and I expected to raise the regiment

and organize it at Jefferson Barracks. I repaired to Washington,

and there found that the Government was trying to rise to a level

with the occasion. Mr. Lincoln had, without the sanction of law,

authorized the raising of ten new regiments of regulars, each

infantry regiment to be composed of three battalions of eight

companies each; and had called for seventy-five thousand State

volunteers. Even this call seemed to me utterly inadequate; still

it was none of my business. I took the oath of office, and was

furnished with a list of officers, appointed to my regiment, which

was still, incomplete. I reported in person to General Scott, at

his office on Seventeenth Street, opposite the War Department, and

applied for authority to return West, and raise my regiment at

Jefferson Barracks, but the general said my lieutenant-colonel,

Burbank, was fully qualified to superintend the enlistment, and

that he wanted me there; and he at once dictated an order for me to

report to him in person for inspection duty.

Satisfied that I would not be permitted to return to St. Louis, I

instructed Mrs. Sherman to pack up, return to Lancaster, and trust

to the fate of war.

I also resigned my place as president of the Fifth Street Railroad,

to take effect at the end of May, so that in fact I received pay

from that road for only two months' service, and then began my new

army career.




And now that, in these notes, I have fairly reached the period of

the civil war, which ravaged our country from 1861 to 1865--an

event involving a conflict of passion, of prejudice, and of arms,

that has developed results which, for better or worse, have left

their mark on the world's history--I feel that I tread on delicate


I have again and again been invited to write a history of the war,

or to record for publication my personal recollections of it, with

large offers of money therefor; all of which I have heretofore

declined, because the truth is not always palatable, and should not

always be told. Many of the actors in the grand drama still live,

and they and their friends are quick to controversy, which should

be avoided. The great end of peace has been attained, with little

or no change in our form of government, and the duty of all good

men is to allow the passions of that period to subside, that we may

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