Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman

Text to Speech

direct our physical and mental labor to repair the waste of war,

and to engage in the greater task of continuing our hitherto

wonderful national development.

What I now propose to do is merely to group some of my personal

recollections about the historic persons and events of the day,

prepared not with any view to their publication, but rather for

preservation till I am gone; and then to be allowed to follow into

oblivion the cords of similar papers, or to be used by some

historian who may need them by way of illustration.

I have heretofore recorded how I again came into the military

service of the United States as a colonel of the Thirteenth Regular

Infantry, a regiment that had no existence at the time, and that,

instead of being allowed to enlist the men and instruct them, as

expected, I was assigned in Washington City, by an order of

Lieutenant-General Winfield Scott, to inspection duty near him on

the 20th of June, 1861.

At that time Lieutenant-General Scott commanded the army in chief,

with Colonel E. D. Townsend as his adjutant-general,

Major G. W. Cullum, United States Engineers, and Major Schuyler

Hamilton, as aides.-de-camp. The general had an office up stairs

on Seventeenth Street, opposite the War Department, and resided in

a house close by, on Pennsylvania Avenue. All fears for the

immediate safety of the capital had ceased, and quite a large force

of regulars and volunteers had been collected in and about

Washington. Brigadier-General J. K. Mansfield commanded in the

city, and Brigadier-General Irvin McDowell on the other side of the

Potomac, with his headquarters at Arlington House. His troops

extended in a semicircle from Alexandria to above Georgetown.

Several forts and redoubts were either built or in progress, and

the people were already clamorous for a general forward movement.

Another considerable army had also been collected in Pennsylvania

under General Patterson, and, at the time I speak of, had moved

forward to Hagerstown and Williamsport, on the Potomac River. My

brother, John Sherman, was a volunteer aide-de-camp to General

Patterson, and, toward the end of June, I went up to Hagerstown to

see him. I found that army in the very act of moving, and we rode

down to Williamsport in a buggy, and were present when the leading

division crossed the Potomac River by fording it waist-deep. My

friend and classmate, George H. Thomas, was there, in command of a

brigade in the leading division. I talked with him a good deal,

also with General Cadwalader, and with the staff-officers of

General Patterson, viz., Fitz-John Porter, Belger, Beckwith, and

others, all of whom seemed encouraged to think that the war was to

be short and decisive, and that, as soon as it was demonstrated

that the General Government meant in earnest to defend its rights

and property, some general compromise would result.

Patterson's army crossed the Potomac River on the 1st or 2d of

July, and, as John Sherman was to take his seat as a Senator in the

called session of Congress, to meet July 4th, he resigned his place

as aide-de-camp, presented me his two horses and equipment, and we

returned to Washington together.

The Congress assembled punctually on the 4th of July, and the

message of Mr. Lincoln was strong and good: it recognized the fact

that civil war was upon us, that compromise of any kind was at an

end; and he asked for four hundred thousand men, and four hundred

million dollars, wherewith to vindicate the national authority, and

to regain possession of the captured forts and other property of

the United States.

It was also immediately demonstrated that the tone and temper of

Congress had changed since the Southern Senators and members had

withdrawn, and that we, the military, could now go to work with

some definite plans and ideas.

The appearance of the troops about Washington was good, but it was

manifest they were far from being soldiers. Their uniforms were as

various as the States and cities from which they came; their arms

were also of every pattern and calibre; and they were so loaded

down with overcoats, haversacks, knapsacks, tents, and baggage,

that it took from twenty-five to fifty wagons to move the camp of a

regiment from one place to another, and some of the camps had

bakeries and cooking establishments that would have done credit to


While I was on duty with General Scott, viz., from June 20th to

about June 30th, the general frequently communicated to those about

him his opinions and proposed plans. He seemed vexed with the

clamors of the press for immediate action, and the continued

interference in details by the President, Secretary of War, and

Congress. He spoke of organizing a grand army of invasion, of

which the regulars were to constitute the "iron column," and seemed

to intimate that he himself would take the field in person, though

he was at the time very old, very heavy, and very unwieldy. His

age must have been about seventy-five years.

At that date, July 4, 1861, the rebels had two armies in front of

Washington; the one at Manassas Junction, commanded by General

Beauregard, with his advance guard at Fairfax Court House, and

indeed almost in sight of Washington. The other, commanded by

General Joe Johnston, was at Winchester, with its advance at

Martinsburg and Harper's Ferry; but the advance had fallen back

before Patterson, who then occupied Martinsburg and the line of the

Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.

The temper of Congress and the people would not permit the slow and

methodical preparation desired by General Scott; and the cry of "On

to Richmond!" which was shared by the volunteers, most of whom had

only engaged for ninety days, forced General Scott to hasten his

preparations, and to order a general advance about the middle of

July. McDowell was to move from the defenses of Washington, and

Patterson from Martinsburg. In the organization of McDowell's army

into divisions and brigades, Colonel David Hunter was assigned to

command the Second Division, and I was ordered to take command of

his former brigade, which was composed of five regiments in

position in and about Fort Corcoran, and on the ground opposite

Georgetown. I assumed command on the 30th of June, and proceeded

at once to prepare it for the general advance. My command

constituted the Third Brigade of the First Division, which division

was commanded by Brigadier-General Daniel Tyler, a graduate of West

Point, but who had seen little or no actual service. I applied to

General McDowell for home staff-officers, and he gave me, as

adjutant-general, Lieutenant Piper, of the Third Artillery, and, as

aide-de-camp, Lieutenant McQuesten, a fine young cavalry-officer,

fresh from West Point.

I selected for the field the Thirteenth New York, Colonel Quinby;

the Sixty-ninth New York, Colonel Corcoran; the Seventy-ninth New

York, Colonel Cameron; and the Second Wisconsin, Lieutenant--

Colonel Peck. These were all good, strong, volunteer regiments,

pretty well commanded; and I had reason to believe that I had one

of the best brigades in the whole army. Captain Ayres's battery of

the Third Regular Artillery was also attached to my brigade. The

other regiment, the Twenty-ninth New York, Colonel Bennett, was

destined to be left behind in charge of the forts and camps during

our absence, which was expected to be short. Soon after I had

assumed the command, a difficulty arose in the Sixty-ninth, an

Irish regiment. This regiment had volunteered in New York, early

in April, for ninety days; but, by reason of the difficulty of

passing through Baltimore, they had come via Annapolis, had been

held for duty on the railroad as a guard for nearly a month before

they actually reached Washington, and were then mustered in about a

month after enrollment. Some of the men claimed that they were

entitled to their discharge in ninety days from the time of

enrollment, whereas the muster-roll read ninety days from the date

of muster-in. One day, Colonel Corcoran explained this matter to

me. I advised him to reduce the facts to writing, and that I would

submit it to the War Department for an authoritative decision. He

did so, and the War Department decided that the muster-roll was the

only contract of service, that it would be construed literally; and

that the regiment would be held till the expiration of three months

from the date of muster-in, viz., to about August 1, 1861. General

Scott at the same time wrote one of his characteristic letters to

Corcoran, telling him that we were about to engage in battle, and

he knew his Irish friends would not leave him in such a crisis.

Corcoran and the officers generally wanted to go to the expected

battle, but a good many of the men were not so anxious. In the

Second Wisconsin, also, was developed a personal difficulty. The

actual colonel was S. P. Coon, a good-hearted gentleman, who knew

no more of the military art than a child; whereas his lieutenant-

colonel, Peck, had been to West Point, and knew the drill.

Preferring that the latter should remain in command of the

regiment, I put Colonel Coon on my personal staff, which reconciled

the difficulty.

In due season, about July 15th, our division moved forward

leaving our camps standing; Keyes's brigade in the lead, then

Schenck's, then mine, and Richardson's last. We marched via

Vienna, Germantown, and Centreville, where all the army, composed

of five divisions, seemed to converge. The march demonstrated

little save the general laxity of discipline; for with all my

personal efforts I could not prevent the men from straggling for

water, blackberries, or any thing on the way they fancied.

At Centreville, on the 18th, Richardson's brigade was sent by

General Tyler to reconnoitre Blackburn's Ford across Bull Run, and

he found it strongly guarded. From our camp, at Centreville, we

heard the cannonading, and then a sharp musketry-fire. I received

orders from General Tyler to send forward Ayres's battery, and very

soon after another order came for me to advance with my whole

brigade. We marched the three miles at the double-quick, arrived

in time to relieve Richardson's brigade, which was just drawing

back from the ford, worsted, and stood for half an hour or so under

a fire of artillery, which killed four or five of my men. General

Tyler was there in person, giving directions, and soon after he

ordered us all back to our camp in Centreville. This

reconnoissance had developed a strong force, and had been made

without the orders of General McDowell; however, it satisfied us

that the enemy was in force on the other side of Bull Run, and had

no intention to leave without a serious battle. We lay in camp at

Centreville all of the 19th and 20th, and during that night began

the movement which resulted in the battle of Bull Run, on July

21st. Of this so much has been written that more would be

superfluous; and the reports of the opposing commanders, McDowell

and Johnston, are fair and correct. It is now generally admitted

that it was one of the best-planned battles of the war, but one of

the worst-fought. Our men had been told so often at home that all

they had to do was to make a bold appearance, and the rebels would

run; and nearly all of us for the first time then heard the sound

of cannon and muskets in anger, and saw the bloody scenes common to

all battles, with which we were soon to be familiar. We had good

organization, good men, but no cohesion, no real discipline, no

respect for authority, no real knowledge of war. Both armies were

fairly defeated, and, whichever had stood fast, the other would

have run. Though the North was overwhelmed with mortification and

shame, the South really had not much to boast of, for in the three

or four hours of fighting their organization was so broken up that

they did not and could not follow our army, when it was known to be

in a state of disgraceful and causeless flight. It is easy to

criticise a battle after it is over, but all now admit that none

others, equally raw in war, could have done better than we did at

Bull Run; and the lesson of that battle should not be lost on a

people like ours.

I insert my official report, as a condensed statement of my share

in the battle:


FORT CORCORAN, July 25, 1861

To Captain A. BAIRD, Assistant Adjutant-General, First Division

(General Tyler's).

Sir: I have the honor to submit this my report of the operations of

my brigade during the action of the 21st instant. The brigade is

composed of the Thirteenth New York Volunteers, Colonel Quinby's

Sixty-ninth New York, Colonel Corcoran; Seventy-ninth New York,

Colonel Cameron; Second Wisconsin, Lieutenant-Colonel Peck; and

Company E, Third Artillery, under command of Captain R. B. Ayres,

Fifth Artillery.

We left our camp near Centreville, pursuant to orders, at half-past

2 A. M., taking place in your column, next to the brigade of

General Schenck, and proceeded as far as the halt, before the

enemy's position, near the stone bridge across Bull Run. Here the

brigade was deployed in line along the skirt of timber to the right

of the Warrenton road, and remained quietly in position till after

10 a.m. The enemy remained very quiet, but about that time we saw

a rebel regiment leave its cover in our front, and proceed in

double-quick time on the road toward Sudley Springs, by which we

knew the columns of Colonels Hunter and Heintzelman were

approaching. About the same time we observed in motion a large

mass of the enemy, below and on the other side of the stone bridge.

I directed Captain Ayres to take position with his battery near our

right, and to open fire on this mass; but you had previously

detached the two rifle-guns belonging to this battery, and, finding

that the smooth-bore guns did not reach the enemy's position, we

ceased firing, and I sent a request that you would send to me the

thirty-pounder rifle-gun attached to Captain Carlisle's battery.

At the same time I shifted the New York Sixty-ninth to the extreme

right of the brigade. Thus we remained till we heard the musketry-

fire across Ball Run, showing that the head of Colonel Hunter's

column was engaged. This firing was brisk, and showed that Hunter

was driving before him the enemy, till about noon, when it became

certain the enemy had come to a stand, and that our forces on the

other side of Ball Run were all engaged, artillery and infantry.

Here you sent me the order to cross over with the whole brigade, to

the assistance of Colonel Hunter. Early in the day, when

reconnoitring the ground, I had seen a horseman descend from a

bluff in our front, cross the stream, and show himself in the open

field on this aide; and, inferring that we could cross over at the

same point, I sent forward a company as skirmishers, and followed

with the whole brigade, the New York Sixty-ninth leading.

We found no difficulty in crossing over, and met with no opposition

in ascending the steep bluff opposite with our infantry, but it was

impassable to the artillery, and I sent word back to Captain Ayres

to follow if possible, otherwise to use his discretion. Captain

Ayres did not cross Bull Run, but remained on that side, with the

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