Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman

Text to Speech

strategical points that will give us an advantage in the future

military movements, and we should treat the idea of civil

government as one in which we as a nation have a minor or

subordinate interest. The opportunity is good to impress on the

population the truth that they are more interested in civil

government than we are; and that, to enjoy the protection of laws,

they most not be passive observers of events, but must aid and

sustain the constituted authorities in enforcing the laws; they

must not only submit themselves, but should pay their share of

taxes, and render personal services when called on.

It seems to me, in contemplating the history of the past two years,

that all the people of our country, North, South, East, and West,

have been undergoing a salutary political schooling, learning

lessons which might have been acquired from the experience of other

people; but we had all become so wise in our own conceit that we

would only learn by actual experience of our own. The people even

of small and unimportant localities, North as well as South, had

reasoned themselves into the belief that their opinions were

superior to the aggregated interest of the whole nation. Half our

territorial nation rebelled, on a doctrine of secession that they

themselves now scout; and a real numerical majority actually

believed that a little State was endowed with such sovereignty that

it could defeat the policy of the great whole. I think the present

war has exploded that notion, and were this war to cease now, the

experience gained, though dear, would be worth the expense.

Another great and important natural truth is still in contest, and

can only be solved by war. Numerical majorities by vote have been

our great arbiter. Heretofore all men have cheerfully submitted to

it in questions left open, but numerical majorities are not

necessarily physical majorities. The South, though numerically

inferior, contend they can whip the Northern superiority of

numbers, and therefore by natural law they contend that they are

not bound to submit. This issue is the only real one, and in my

judgment all else should be deferred to it. War alone can decide

it, and it is the only question now left for us as a people to

decide. Can we whip the South? If we can, our numerical majority

has both the natural and constitutional right to govern them. If

we cannot whip them, they contend for the natural right to select

their own government, and they have the argument. Our armies must

prevail over theirs; our officers, marshals, and courts, must

penetrate into the innermost recesses of their land, before we have

the natural right to demand their submission.

I would banish all minor questions, assert the broad doctrine that

as a nation the United States has the right, and also the physical

power, to penetrate to every part of our national domain, and that

we will do it--that we will do it in our own time and in our own

way; that it makes no difference whether it be in one year, or two,

or ten, or twenty; that we will remove and destroy every obstacle,

if need be, take every life, every acre of land, every particle of

property, every thing that to us seems proper; that we will not

cease till the end is attained; that all who do not aid us are

enemies, and that we will not account to them for our acts. If the

people of the South oppose, they do so at their peril; and if they

stand by, mere lookers-on in this domestic tragedy, they have no

right to immunity, protection, or share in the final results.

I even believe and contend further that, in the North, every member

of the nation is bound by both natural and constitutional law to

"maintain and defend the Government against all its enemies and

opposers whomsoever." If they fail to do it they are derelict, and

can be punished, or deprived of all advantages arising from the

labors of those who do. If any man, North or South, withholds his

share of taxes, or his physical assistance in this, the crisis of

our history, he should be deprived of all voice in the future

elections of this country, and might be banished, or reduced to the

condition of a mere denizen of the land.

War is upon us, none can deny it. It is not the choice of the

Government of the United States, but of a faction; the Government

was forced to accept the issue, or to submit to a degradation fatal

and disgraceful to all the inhabitants. In accepting war, it

should be "pure and simple" as applied to the belligerents. I

would keep it so, till all traces of the war are effaced; till

those who appealed to it are sick and tired of it, and come to the

emblem of our nation, and sue for peace. I would not coax them, or

even meet them half-way, but make them so sick of war that

generations would pass away before they would again appeal to it.

I know what I say when I repeat that the insurgents of the South

sneer at all overtures looking to their interests. They scorn the

alliance with the Copperheads; they tell me to my face that they

respect Grant, McPherson, and our brave associates who fight

manfully and well for a principle, but despise the Copperheads and

sneaks at the North, who profess friendship for the South and

opposition to the war, as mere covers for their knavery and


God knows that I deplore this fratricidal war as much as any man

living, but it is upon us, a physical fact; and there is only one

honorable issue from it. We must fight it out, army against army,

and man against man; and I know, and you know, and civilians begin

to realize the fact, that reconciliation and reconstruction will be

easier through and by means of strong, well-equipped, and organized

armies than through any species of conventions that can be framed.

The issues are made, and all discussion is out of place and

ridiculous. The section of thirty-pounder Parrott rifles now

drilling before my tent is a more convincing argument than the

largest Democratic meeting the State of New York can possibly

assemble at Albany; and a simple order of the War Department to

draft enough men to fill our skeleton regiments would be more

convincing as to our national perpetuity than an humble pardon to

Jeff. Davis and all his misled host.

The only government needed or deserved by the States of Louisiana,

Arkansas, and Mississippi, now exists in Grant's army. This needs,

simply, enough privates to fill its ranks; all else will follow in

due season. This army has its well-defined code of laws and

practice, and can adapt itself to the wants and necessities of a

city, the country, the rivers, the sea, indeed to all parts of this

land. It better subserves the interest and policy of the General

Government, and the people here prefer it to any weak or servile

combination that would at once, from force of habit, revive sad

perpetuate local prejudices and passions. The people of this

country have forfeited all right to a voice in the councils of the

nation. They know it and feel it, and in after-years they will be

the better citizens from the dear bought experience of the present

crisis. Let them learn now, and learn it well, that good citizens

must obey as well as command. Obedience to law, absolute--yea,

even abject--is the lesson that this war, under Providence, will

teach the free and enlightened American citizen. As a nation, we

shall be the better for it.

I never have apprehended foreign interference in our family

quarrel. Of coarse, governments founded on a different and it may

be an antagonistic principle with ours naturally feel a pleasure at

our complications, and, it may be, wish our downfall; but in the

end England and France will join with us in jubilation at the

triumph of constitutional government over faction. Even now the

English manifest this. I do not profess to understand Napoleon's

design in Mexico, and I do not, see that his taking military

possession of Mexico concerns us. We have as much territory now as

we want. The Mexicans have failed in self-government, and it was a

question as to what nation she should fall a prey. That is now

solved, and I don't see that we are damaged. We have the finest

part of the North American Continent, all we can people and can

take care of; and, if we can suppress rebellion in our own land,

and compose the strife generated by it, we shall have enough

people, resources, and wealth, if well combined, to defy

interference from any and every quarter.

I therefore hope the Government of the United States will continue,

as heretofore, to collect, in well-organized armies, the physical

strength of the nation; applying it, as heretofore, in asserting

the national authority; and in persevering, without relaxation, to

the end. This, whether near or far off, is not for us to say; but,

fortunately, we have no choice. We must succeed--no other choice

is left us except degradation. The South must be ruled by us, or

she will rule us. We must conquer them, or ourselves be conquered.

There is no middle course. They ask, and will have, nothing else,

and talk of compromise is bosh; for we know they would even scorn

the offer.

I wish the war could have been deferred for twenty years, till the

superabundant population of the North could flow in and replace the

losses sustained by war; but this could not be, and we are forced

to take things as they are.

All therefore I can now venture to advise is to raise the draft to

its maximum, fill the present regiments to as large a standard as

possible, and push the war, pure and simple. Great attention

should be paid to the discipline of our armies, for on them may be

founded the future stability of the Government.

The cost of the war is, of course, to be considered, but finances

will adjust themselves to the actual state of affairs; and, even if

we would, we could not change the cost. Indeed, the larger the

cost now, the less will it be in the end; for the end must be

attained somehow, regardless of loss of life and treasure, and is

merely a question of time.

Excuse so long a letter. With great respect, etc.,

W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General.

General Halleck, on receipt of this letter, telegraphed me that Mr.

Lincoln had read it carefully, and had instructed him to obtain my

consent to have it published. At the time, I preferred not to be

drawn into any newspaper controversy, and so wrote to General

Halleck; and the above letter has never been, to my knowledge,

published; though Mr. Lincoln more than once referred to it with

marks of approval.


CAMP ON BIG BLACK, September 17, 1863

Brigadier-General J. A. RAWLINS,

Acting Assistant Adjutant-General, Vicksburg.

DEAR GENERAL: I inclose for your perusal, and for you to read to

General Grant such parts as you deem interesting, letters received

by me from Prof. Mahan and General Halleck, with my answers. After

you have read my answer to General Halleck, I beg you to inclose it

to its address, and return me the others.

I think Prof. Mahan's very marked encomium upon the campaign of

Vicksburg is so flattering to General Grant, that you may offer to

let him keep the letter, if he values such a testimonial. I have

never written a word to General Halleck since my report of last

December, after the affair at Chickasaw, except a short letter a

few days ago, thanking him for the kind manner of his transmitting

to me the appointment of brigadier-general. I know that in

Washington I am incomprehensible, because at the outset of the war

I would not go it blind and rush headlong into a war unprepared and

with an utter ignorance of its extent and purpose. I was then

construed unsound; and now that I insist on war pure and simple,

with no admixture of civil compromises, I am supposed vindictive.

You remember what Polonius said to his son Laertes: "Beware of

entrance to a quarrel; but, being in, bear it, that the opposed may

beware of thee." What is true of the single man, is equally true

of a nation. Our leaders seemed at first to thirst for the

quarrel, willing, even anxious, to array against us all possible

elements of opposition; and now, being in, they would hasten to

quit long before the "opposed" has received that lesson which he

needs. I would make this war as severe as possible, and show no

symptoms of tiring till the South begs for mercy; indeed, I know,

and you know, that the end would be reached quicker by such a

course than by any seeming yielding on our part. I don't want our

Government to be bothered by patching up local governments, or by

trying to reconcile any class of men. The South has done her

worst, and now is the time for us to pile on our blows thick and


Instead of postponing the draft till after the elections, we ought

now to have our ranks full of drafted men; and, at best, if they

come at all, they will reach us when we should be in motion.

I think General Halleck would like to have the honest, candid

opinions of all of us, viz., Grant, McPherson, and Sherman. I have

given mine, and would prefer, of course, that it should coincide

with the others. Still, no matter what my opinion may be, I can

easily adapt my conduct to the plane of others, and am only too

happy when I find theirs better, than mine.

If no trouble, please show Halleck's letter to McPherson, and ask

him to write also. I know his regiments are like mine (mere

squads), and need filling up. Yours truly,

W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General.




After the fall of Vicksburg, and its corollary, Port Hudson, the

Mississippi River was wholly in the possession of the Union forces,

and formed a perfect line of separation in the territories of our

opponents. Thenceforth, they could not cross it save by stealth,

and the military affairs on its west bank became unimportant.

Grant's army had seemingly completed its share of the work of war,

and lay, as it were, idle for a time. In person General Grant went

to New Orleans to confer with General Banks, and his victorious

army was somewhat dispersed. Parke's corps (Ninth) returned to

Kentucky, and afterward formed part of the Army of the Ohio, under

General Burnside; Ord's corps (Thirteenth) was sent down to

Natchez, and gradually drifted to New Orleans and Texas; McPhersons

(Seventeenth) remained in and near Vicksburg; Hurlbut's (Sixteenth)

was at Memphis; and mine (Fifteenth) was encamped along the Big

Black, about twenty miles east of Vicksburg. This corps was

composed of four divisions: Steele's (the First) was posted at and

near the railroad-bridge; Blair's (the Second), next in order, near

Parson Fox's; the Third Division (Tuttle's) was on the ridge about

the head of Bear Creek; and the Fourth (Ewing's) was at Messinger's

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