Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman

Text to Speech

the two former in immediate command, the force as large as they

want or can subsist, from twenty-five to thirty thousand. Bowling

Green strongly fortified. Our forces too small to do good, and too

large to sacrifice.

W. T. SHERMAN, Brigadier-General.


Kentucky, November 6, 1861

General L. THOMAS, Adjutant-General.

Sir: General McClellan telegraphs me to report to him daily the

situation of affairs here. The country is so large that it is

impossible to give clear and definite views. Our enemies have a

terrible advantage in the fact that in our midst, in our camps, and

along our avenues of travel, they have active partisans, farmers

and business-men, who seemingly pursue their usual calling, but are

in fact spies. They report all our movements and strength, while

we can procure information only by circuitous and unreliable means.

I inclose you the copy of an intercepted letter, which is but the

type of others. Many men from every part of the State are now

enrolled under Buckner--have gone to him--while ours have to be

raised in neighborhoods, and cannot be called together except at

long notice. These volunteers are being organized under the laws

of the State, and the 10th of November is fixed for the time of

consolidating them into companies and regiments. Many of them are

armed by the United States as home guards, and many by General

Anderson and myself, because of the necessity of being armed to

guard their camps against internal enemies. Should we be

overwhelmed, they would scatter, and their arms and clothing will

go to the enemy, furnishing the very material they so much need.

We should have here a very large force, sufficient to give

confidence to the Union men of the ability to do what should be

done--possess ourselves of all the State. But all see and feel we

are brought to a stand-still, and this produces doubt and alarm.

With our present force it would be simple madness to cross Green

River, and yet hesitation may be as fatal. In like manner the

other columns are in peril, not so much in front as rear, the

railroads over which our stores must pass being much exposed. I

have the Nashville Railroad guarded by three regiments, yet it is

far from being safe; and, the moment actual hostilities commence,

these roads will be interrupted, and we will be in a dilemma. To

meet this in part I have put a cargo of provisions at the mouth of

Salt River, guarded by two regiments. All these detachments weaken

the main force, and endanger the whole. Do not conclude, as

before, that I exaggerate the facts. They are as stated, and the

future looks as dark as possible. It would be better if some man

of sanguine mind were here, for I am forced to order according to

my convictions.

Yours truly,

W. T. SHERMAN, Brigadier-General commanding.

After the war was over, General Thomas J. Wood, then in command of

the district of Vicksburg, prepared a statement addressed to the

public, describing the interview with the Secretary of War, which

he calls a "Council of War." I did not then deem it necessary to

renew a matter which had been swept into oblivion by the war

itself; but, as it is evidence by an eyewitness, it is worthy of

insertion here.


On the 11th of October, 1861, the writer, who had been personally

on mustering duty in Indiana, was appointed a brigadier-general of

volunteers, and ordered to report to General Sherman, then in

command of the Department of the Cumberland, with his headquarters

at Louisville, having succeeded General Robert Anderson. When the

writer was about leaving Indianapolis to proceed to Louisville, Mr.

Cameron, returning from his famous visit of inspection to General

Fremont's department, at St. Louis, Missouri, arrived at

Indianapolis, and announced his intention to visit General Sherman.

The writer was invited to accompany the party to Louisville.

Taking the early morning train from Indianapolis to Louisville on

the 16th of October, 1861, the party arrived in Jeffersonville

shortly after mid-day. General Sherman met the party in

Jeffersonville, and accompanied it to the Galt House, in

Louisville, the hotel at which he was stopping.

During the afternoon General Sherman informed the writer that a

council of war was to be held immediately in his private room in

the hotel, and desired him to be present at the council. General

Sherman and the writer proceeded directly to the room. The writer

entered the room first, and observed in it Mr. Cameron, Adjutant-

General L. Thomas, and some other persons, all of whose names he

did not know, but whom he recognized as being of Mr. Cameron's

party. The name of one of the party the writer had learned, which

he remembers as Wilkinson, or Wilkerson, and who he understood was

a writer for the New York Tribune newspaper. The Hon. James

Guthrie was also in the room, having been invited, on account of

his eminent position as a citizen of Kentucky, his high civic

reputation, and his well-known devotion to the Union, to meet the

Secretary of War in the council. When General Sherman entered the

room he closed the door, and turned the key in the lock.

Before entering on the business of the meeting, General Sherman

remarked substantially: "Mr. Cameron, we have met here to discuss

matters and interchange views which should be known only by persons

high in the confidence of the Government. There are persons

present whom I do not know, and I desire to know, before opening

the business of the council, whether they are persons who may be

properly allowed to hear the views which I have to submit to you."

Mr. Cameron replied, with some little testiness of manner, that the

persons referred to belonged to his party, and there was no

objection to their knowing whatever might be communicated to him.

Certainly the legitimate and natural conclusion from this remark of

Mr. Cameron's was that whatever views might be submitted by General

Sherman would be considered under the protection of the seal of

secrecy, and would not be divulged to the public till all

apprehension of injurious consequences from such disclosure had

passed. And it may be remarked, further, that justice to General

Sherman required that if, at any future time, his conclusions as to

the amount of force necessary to conduct the operations committed

to his charge should be made public, the grounds on which his

conclusions were based should be made public at the same time.

Mr. Cameron then asked General Sherman what his plans were. To

this General Sherman replied that he had no plans; that no

sufficient force had been placed at his disposition with which to

devise any plan of operations; that, before a commanding general

could project a plan of campaign, he must know what amount of force

he would have to operate with.

The general added that he had views which he would be happy to

submit for the consideration of the Secretary. Mr. Cameron desired

to hear General Sherman's views.

General Sherman began by giving his opinion of the people of

Kentucky, and the then condition of the State. He remarked that he

believed a very large majority of the people of Kentucky were

thoroughly devoted to the Union, and loyal to the Government, and

that the Unionists embraced almost all the older and more

substantial men in the State; but, unfortunately, there was no

organization nor arms among the Union men; that the rebel minority,

thoroughly vindictive in its sentiments, was organized and armed

(this having been done in advance by their leaders), and, beyond

the reach of the Federal forces, overawed and prevented the Union

men from organizing; that, in his opinion, if Federal protection

were extended throughout the State to the Union men, a large force

could be raised for the service of the Government.

General Sherman next presented a resume of the information in his

possession as to the number of the rebel troops in Kentucky.

Commencing with the force at Columbus, Kentucky, the reports

varied, giving the strength from ten to twenty thousand. It was

commanded by Lieutenant-General Polk. General Sherman fixed it at

the lowest estimate; say, ten thousand. The force at Bowling

Green, commanded by General. A. S. Johnston, supported by Hardee,

Buckner, and others, was variously estimated at from eighteen to

thirty thousand. General Sherman estimated this force at the

lowest figures given to it by his information--eighteen thousand.

He explained that, for purposes of defense, these two forces ought,

owing to the facility with which troops might be transported from

one to the other, by the net-work of railroads in Middle and West

Tennessee, to be considered almost as one. General Sherman

remarked, also, on the facility with which reinforcements could be

transported by railroad to Bowling Green, from the other rebellions


The third organized body of rebel troops was in Eastern Kentucky,

under General Zollicoffer, estimated, according to the most

reliable information, at six thousand men. This force threatened a

descent, if unrestrained, on the blue-grass region of Kentucky,

including the cities of Lexington, and Frankfort, the capital of

the State; and if successful in its primary movements, as it would

gather head as it advanced, might endanger the safety of


General Sherman said that the information in his possession

indicated an intention, on the part of the rebels, of a general and

grand advance toward the Ohio River. He further expressed the

opinion that, if such advance should be made, and not checked, the

rebel force would be swollen by at least twenty thousand recruits

from the disloyalists in Kentucky. His low computation of the

organized rebel soldiers then in Kentucky fixed the strength at

about thirty-five thousand. Add twenty thousand for reenforcements

gained in Kentucky, to say nothing of troops drawn from other rebel

States, and the effective rebel force in the State, at a low

estimate, would be fifty-five thousand men.

General Sherman explained forcibly how largely the difficulties of

suppressing the rebellion would be enhanced, if the rebels should

be allowed to plant themselves firmly, with strong fortifications,

at commanding points on the Ohio River. It would be facile for

them to carry the war thence into the loyal States north of the


To resist an advance of the rebels, General Sherman stated that he

did not have at that time in Kentucky more than some twelve to

fourteen thousand effective men. The bulk of this force was posted

at camp Nolin, on the Louisville & Nashville Railway, fifty miles

south of Louisville. A part of it was in Eastern Kentucky, under

General George H. Thomas, and a very small force was in the lower

valley of Green River.

This disposition of the force had been made for the double purpose

of watching and checking the rebels, and protecting the raising and

organization of troops among the Union men of Kentucky.

Having explained the situation from the defensive point of view,

General Sherman proceeded to consider it from the offensive

stand-point. The Government had undertaken to suppress the

rebellion; the onus faciendi, therefore, rested on the Government.

The rebellion could never be put down, the authority of the

paramount Government asserted, and the union of the States declared

perpetual, by force of arms, by maintaining the defensive; to

accomplish these grand desiderata, it was absolutely necessary the

Government should adopt, and maintain until the rebellion was

crushed, the offensive.

For the purpose of expelling the rebels from Kentucky, General

Sherman said that at least sixty thousand soldiers were necessary.

Considering that the means of accomplishment must always be

proportioned to the end to be achieved, and bearing in mind the

array of rebel force then in Kentucky, every sensible man must

admit that the estimate of the force given by General Sherman, for

driving the rebels out of the State, and reestablishing and

maintaining the authority of the Government, was a very low one.

The truth is that, before the rebels were driven from Kentucky,

many more than sixty thousand soldiers were sent into the State.

Ascending from the consideration of the narrow question of the

political and military situation in Kentucky, and the extent of

force necessary to redeem the State from rebel thraldom,

forecasting in his sagacious intellect the grand and daring

operations which, three years afterward, he realized in a campaign,

taken in its entirety, without a parallel in modern times, General

Sherman expressed the opinion that, to carry the war to the Gulf of

Mexico, and destroy all armed opposition to the Goverment, in the

entire Mississippi Valley, at least two hundred thousand troops

were absolutely requisite.

So soon as General Sherman had concluded the expression of his

views, Mr. Cameron asked, with much warmth and apparent irritation,

"Where do you suppose, General Sherman, all this force is to come

from." General Sherman replied that he did not know; that it was

not his duty to raise, organize, and put the necessary military

force into the field; that duty pertained to the War Department.

His duty was to organize campaigns and command the troops after

they had been put into the field.

At this point of the proceedings, General Sherman suggested that it

might be agreeable to the Secretary to hear the views of Mr.

Guthrie. Thus appealed to, Mr. Guthrie said he did not consider

himself, being a civilian, competent to give an opinion as to the

extent of force necessary to parry the war to the Gulf of Mexico;

but, being well informed of the condition of things in Kentucky, he

indorsed fully General Sherman'e opinion of the force required to

drive the rebels out of the State.

The foregoing is a circumstantial account of the deliberations of

the council that were of any importance.

A good deal of desultory conversation followed, on immaterial

matters; and some orders were issued by telegraph, by the Secretary

of War, for some small reenforcements to be sent to Kentucky

immediately, from Pennsylvania and Indiana.

A short time after the council was held--the exact time is not now

remembered by the writer--an imperfect narrative of it appeared in

the New York Tribune. This account announced to the public the

conclusions uttered by General Sherman in the council, without

giving the reasons on which his conclusions were based. The

unfairness of this course to General Sherman needs no comment. All

military men were shocked by the gross breach of faith which had

been committed

TH. J. WOOD, Major-General Volunteeers

Vicksburg, Mississippi, August 24, 1886.

Brigadier-General Don Carlos Buell arrived at Louisville about the

middle of November, with orders to relieve me, and I was

transferred for duty to the Department of the Missouri, and ordered

to report in person to Major-General H. W. Halleck at St. Louis. I

accompanied General Buell to the camp at Nolin, where he reviewed

and inspected the camp and troops under the command of General A.

McD. McCook, and on our way back General Buell inspected the

regiment of Hazzard at Elizabethtown. I then turned over my

command to him, and took my departure for St. Louis.

At the time I was so relieved I thought, of course, it was done in

fulfillment of Mr. Lincoln's promise to me, and as a necessary

result of my repeated demand for the fulfillment of that promise;

but I saw and felt, and was of course deeply moved to observe, the

manifest belief that there was more or less of truth in the rumor

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