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.
HEADQUARTERS THE DEPARTMENT OF THE CUMBERLAND, Louisville,
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
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
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
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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