Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman

Text to Speech


MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE, August 26,1862

Major-General GRANT, Corinth, Mississippi.

Sir: In pursuance of your request that I should keep you advised of

matters of interest here, in addition to the purely official

matters, I now write.

I dispatched promptly the thirteen companies of cavalry, nine of

Fourth Illinois, and four of Eleventh Illinois, to their respective

destinations, punctually on the 23d instant, although the order was

only received on the 22d. I received at the same time, from

Colonel Dickey, the notice that the bridge over Hatchie was burned,

and therefore I prescribed their order of march via Bolivar. They

started at 12 m. of the 23d, and I have no news of them since.

None of the cavalry ordered to me is yet heard from.

The guerrillas have destroyed several bridges over Wolf Creek; one

at Raleigh, on the road by which I had prescribed trade and travel

to and from the city. I have a strong guard at the lower bridge

over Wolf River, by which we can reach the country to the north of

that stream; but, as the Confederates have burned their own

bridges, I will hold them to my order, and allow no trade over any

other road than the one prescribed, using the lower or Randolph

road for our own convenience. I am still satisfied there is no

large force of rebels anywhere in the neighborhood. All the navy

gunboats are below except the St. Louis, which lies off the city.

When Commodore Davis passes down from Cairo, I will try to see him,

and get him to exchange the St. Louis for a fleeter boat not

iron-clad; one that can move up and down the river, to break up

ferry-boats and canoes, and to prevent all passing across the

river. Of course, in spite of all our efforts, smuggling is

carried on. We occasionally make hauls of clothing, gold-lace,

buttons, etc., but I am satisfied that salt and arms are got to the

interior somehow. I have addressed the Board of Trade a letter on

this point, which will enable us to control it better.

You may have been troubled at hearing reports of drunkenness here.

There was some after pay-day, but generally all is as quiet and

orderly as possible. I traverse the city every day and night, and

assert that Memphis is and has been as orderly a city as St. Louis,

Cincinnati, or New York.

Before the city authorities undertook to license saloons, there was

as much whiskey here as now, and it would take all my command as

customhouse inspectors, to break open all the parcels and packages

containing liquor. I can destroy all groggeries and shops where

soldiers get liquor just as we would in St. Louis.

The newspapers are accusing me of cruelty to the sick; as base a

charge as was ever made. I would not let the Sanitary Committee

carry off a boat-load of sick, because I have no right to. We have

good hospitals here, and plenty of them. Our regimental hospitals

are in the camps of the men, and the sick do much better there than

in the general hospitals; so say my division surgeon and the

regimental surgeons. The civilian doctors would, if permitted,

take away our entire command. General Curtis sends his sick up

here, but usually no nurses; and it is not right that nurses should

be taken from my command for his sick. I think that, when we are

endeavoring to raise soldiers and to instruct them, it is bad

policy to keep them at hospitals as attendants and nurses.

I send you Dr. Derby's acknowledgment that he gave the leave of

absence of which he was charged. I have placed him in arrest, in

obedience to General Halleck's orders, but he remains in charge of

the Overton Hospital, which is not full of patients.

The State Hospital also is not full, and I cannot imagine what Dr.

Derby wants with the Female Academy on Vance Street. I will see

him again, and now that he is the chief at Overton Hospital, I

think he will not want the academy. Still, if he does, under your

orders I will cause it to be vacated by the children and Sisters of

Mercy. They have just advertised for more scholars, and will be

sadly disappointed. If, however, this building or any other be

needed for a hospital, it must be taken; but really, in my heart, I

do not see what possible chance there is, under present

circumstances, of filling with patients the two large hospitals now

in use, besides the one asked for. I may, however, be mistaken in

the particular building asked for by Dr. Derby, and will go myself

to see.

The fort is progressing well, Captain Jenney having arrived.

Sixteen heavy guns are received, with a large amount of shot and

shell, but the platforms are not yet ready; still, if occasion

should arise for dispatch, I can put a larger force to work.

Captain Prime, when here, advised that the work should proceed

regularly under the proper engineer officers and laborers.

I am, etc.,

W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General commanding.


MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE, September 4, 1862

Colonel J. C, KELTON, Assistant Adjutant-General, Headquarters of

the army, Washington, D. C.

DEAR COLONEL: Please acknowledge to the major-general commanding

the receipt by me of his letter, and convey to him my assurances

that I have promptly modified my first instructions about cotton,

so as to conform to his orders. Trade in cotton is now free, but

in all else I endeavor so to control it that the enemy shall

receive no contraband goods, or any aid or comfort; still I feel

sure that the officers of steamboats are sadly tempted by high

prices to land salt and other prohibited articles at waypoints

along the river. This, too, in time will be checked. All seems

well here and hereabout; no large body of the enemy within striking

distance. A force of about two thousand, cavalry passed through

Grand Junction north last Friday, and fell on a detachment of the

Bolivar army at Middleburg, the result of which is doubtless

reported to you. As soon as I heard of the movement, I dispatched

a force to the southeast by way of diversion, and am satisfied that

the enemy's infantry and artillery fell back in consequence behind

the Tallahatchie. The weather is very hot, country very dry, and

dust as bad as possible. I hold my two divisions ready, with their

original complement of transportation, for field service. Of

course all things most now depend on events in front of Washington

and in Kentucky. The gunboat Eastport and four transports loaded

with prisoners of war destined for Vicksburg have been lying before

Memphis for two days, but are now steaming up to resume their

voyage. Our fort progresses well, but our guns are not yet

mounted. The engineers are now shaping the banquette to receive

platforms. I expect Captain Prime from Corinth in two or three


I am, with great respect, yours,

W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General commanding.


MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE, September 21, 1862

Editor Bulletin.

SIR: Your comments on the recent orders of Generals Halleck and

McClellan afford the occasion appropriate for me to make public the

fact that there is a law of Congress, as old as our Government

itself, but reenacted on the 10th of April, 1806, and in force ever

since. That law reads:

"All officers and soldiers are to behave themselves orderly in

quarters and on the march; and whoever shall commit any waste or

spoil, either in walks of trees, parks, warrens, fish-ponds, houses

and gardens, cornfields, inclosures or meadows, or shall

maliciously destroy any property whatever belonging to the

inhabitants of the United States, unless by order of the

commander-in-chief of the armies of said United States, shall

(besides such penalties as they are liable to by law) be punished

according to the nature and degree of the offense, by the judgment

of a general or regimental court-martial."

Such is the law of Congress; and the orders of the commander-in-

chief are, that officers or soldiers convicted of straggling and

pillaging shall be punished with death. These orders have not come

to me officially, but I have seen them in newspapers, and am

satisfied that they express the determination of the commander-in-

chief. Straggling and pillaging have ever been great military

crimes; and every officer and soldier in my command knows what

stress I have laid upon them, and that, so far as in my power lies,

I will punish them to the full extent of the law and orders.

The law is one thing, the execution of the law another. God

himself has commanded: "Thou shalt not kill," "thou shalt not

steal," "thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's goods," etc. Will

any one say these things are not done now as well as before these

laws were announced at Sinai. I admit the law to be that "no officer

or soldier of the United States shall commit waste or destruction

of cornfields, orchards, potato-patches, or any kind of pillage on

the property of friend or foe near Memphis," and that I stand

prepared to execute the law as far as possible.

No officer or soldier should enter the house or premises of any

peaceable citizen, no matter what his politics, unless on business;

and no such officer or soldier can force an entrance unless he have

a written order from a commanding officer or provost-marshal, which

written authority must be exhibited if demanded. When property

such as forage, building or other materials are needed by the

United States, a receipt will be given by the officer taking them,

which receipt should be presented to the quartermaster, who will

substitute therefor a regular voucher, to be paid-according to the

circumstances of the case. If the officer refuse to give such

receipt, the citizen may fairly infer that the property is

wrongfully taken, and he should, for his own protection, ascertain

the name, rank, and regiment of the officer, and report him in

writing. If any soldier commits waste or destruction, the person

whose property is thus wasted must find out the name, company, and

regiment of the actual transgressor. In order to punish there must

be a trial, and there must be testimony. It is not sufficient that

a general accusation be made, that soldiers are doing this or that.

I cannot punish my whole command, or a whole battalion, because one

or two bad soldiers do wrong. The punishment must reach the

perpetrators, and no one can identify them as well as the party who

is interested. The State of Tennessee does not hold itself

responsible for acts of larceny committed by her citizens, nor does

the United Staten or any other nation. These are individual acts

of wrong, and punishment can only be inflicted on the wrong-doer.

I know the difficulty of identifying particular soldiers, but

difficulties do not alter the importance of principles of justice.

They should stimulate the parties to increase their efforts to find

out the actual perpetrators of the crime.

Colonels of regiments and commanders of corps are liable to severe

punishment for permitting their men to leave their camps to commit

waste or destruction; but I know full well that many of the acts

attributed to soldiers are committed by citizens and negroes, and

are charged to soldiers because of a desire to find fault with

them; but this only reacts upon the community and increases the

mischief. While every officer would willingly follow up an

accusation against any one or more of his men whose names or

description were given immediately after the discovery of the act,

he would naturally resent any general charge against his good men,

for the criminal conduct of a few bad ones.

I have examined into many of the cases of complaint made in this

general way, and have felt mortified that our soldiers should do

acts which are nothing more or less than stealing, but I was

powerless without some clew whereby to reach the rightful party. I

know that the great mass of our soldiers would scorn to steal or

commit crime, and I will not therefore entertain vague and general

complaints, but stand, prepared always to follow up any reasonable

complaint when the charge is definite and the names of witnesses


I know, moreover, in some instances when our soldiers are

complained of, that they have been insulted by sneering remarks

about "Yankees," "Northern barbarians," "Lincoln's hirelings,"

etc. People who use such language must seek redress through some

one else, for I will not tolerate insults to our country or cause.

When people forget their obligations to a Government that made them

respected among the nations of the earth, and speak contemptuously

of the flag which is the silent emblem of that country, I will not

go out of my way to protect them or their property. I will punish

the soldiers for trespass or waste if adjudged by a court-martial,

because they disobey orders; but soldiers are men and citizens as

well as soldiers, and should promptly resent any insult to their

country, come from what quarter it may. I mention this phase

because it is too common. Insult to a soldier does not justify

pillage, but it takes from the officer the disposition he would

otherwise feel to follow up the inquiry and punish the wrong-doers.

Again, armies in motion or stationary must commit some waste.

Flankers must let down fences and cross fields; and, when an attack

is contemplated or apprehended, a command will naturally clear the

ground of houses, fences, and trees. This is waste, but is the

natural consequence of war, chargeable on those who caused the war.

So in fortifying a place, dwelling-houses must be taken, materials

used, even wasted, and great damage done, which in the end may

prove useless. This, too, is an expense not chargeable to us, but

to those who made the war; and generally war is destruction and

nothing else.

We must bear this in mind, that however peaceful things look, we

are really at war; and much that looks like waste or destruction is

only the removal of objects that obstruct our fire, or would afford

cover to an enemy.

This class of waste must be distinguished from the wanton waste

committed by army-stragglers, which is wrong, and can be punished

by the death-penalty if proper testimony can be produced.

Yours, etc.,

W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General commanding.

Satisfied that, in the progress of the war, Memphis would become an

important depot, I pushed forward the construction of Fort

Pickering, kept most of the troops in camps back of the city, and

my own headquarters remained in tents on the edge of the city, near

Mr. Moon's house, until, on the approach of winter, Mrs. Sherman

came down with the children to visit me, when I took a house nearer

the fort.

All this time battalion and brigade drills were enforced, so that,

when the season approached for active operations farther south, I

had my division in the best possible order, and about the 1st of

November it was composed as follows

First Brigade, Brigadier-General M. L. SMITH--Eighth Missouri,

Colonel G. A. Smith; Sixth Missouri, Colonel Peter E. Bland; One

Hundred and Thirteenth Illinois, Colonel George B. Hoge;

Fifty-fourth Ohio, Colonel T. Kilby Smith; One Hundred and

Twentieth Illinois, Colonel G. W. McKeaig.

Second Brigade, Colonel JOHN ADAIR McDOWELL.--Sixth Iowa,

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