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William T. Sherman online

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not through any lack of personal valor on the part
of Stoneman or his cavalrymen. He succeeded in
destroying a good deal of railroad rolling-stock and
supplies, but at Clinton, Georgia, he found himself


surrounded, as he supposed, by a superior force.
He promptly arranged for the escape of all his
cavalry excepting a detachment of 700 men ; and
after occupying the attention of the enemy while
his brigade commanders were cutting their way
out, surrendered himself and his remaining forces
to the Confederates (July 31st). It was some weeks
before he was exchanged, and could return to serv
ice. He afterward did active work until the close
of the war. Thus ended a scheme which, had it
been crowned with success, would have made the
name of George Stoneman memorable in the annals
of our national history. 1

It was early in August that Sherman had a seri
ous disagreement with General John M. Palmer,
of the Fourteenth Corps, who denied the right of
the Commander-in-chief to place him under the
orders of Schofield. in connection with certain
operations along the railroad below Atlanta.
Palmer asserted that he ranked Schofield in the date
of his commission as a major-general ; Sherman de
cided in favor of Schofield, and Palmer, considering
himself unjustly treated, sent in his resignation as
commander of the Fourteenth Corps, at the same
time securing permission to go home. Palmer, at
a later date, said that he had offered to waive
all question of rank in view of the fact that he was
before the enemy, but that afterward, acting upon
an unfriendly suggestion from Sherman, and con-

1 General Stoneman, in future years, served as governor of


vinced that lie could be of 110 further service at
Atlanta, under the circumstances of the friction,
had been forced into resigning. It is impossible to
decide the merits of this quarrel. But Sherman
was thoroughly justified in the confidence he re
posed in Schofield, and it does not appear that he
lost anything by his decision.

Just at this time Sherman telegraphed to General
Halleck, at Washington: "We keep hammering
away all the time, and there is no peace, inside or
outside of Atlanta. ... I do not think it
prudent to extend any more to the right, but will
push forward daily by parallels, and make the in
side of Atlanta too hot to be endured. One thing
is certain, whether we get inside of Atlanta or not,
it will be a used-up community when we are done
with it."

At the North the coming autumn elections were
giving the politicians much food for thought, and
the question of the soldier-vote was, of course, an
important one. To Schuyler Colfax, who was de
sirous that nine regiments of Indiana troops should
be ordered where they could be furloughed so as to
vote, Sherman wrote, in his curt, forcible manner,
that the thing was impossible. l I have not now
troops enough to do what the case admits of with
out extra hazard, and to send away a single man
would be an act of injustice to the remainder. I
think you need not be concerned about the soldiers
vote. They will vote it may not be in the coming
election but you may rest assured the day will


come when the soldiers will vote, and the only
doubt is, if they will permit the stay-at-homes to
vote at all." 1

Ever the same contempt for the " statesmen " and
the uou-conibatants ! Sherman was prone to forget
that if all the males up North had gone to war the
business of the North, and therefore the war itself,
would have fared very ill.

It was on the day he wrote thus contemptu
ously, though naturally, to Colfax that he heard
two interesting pieces of news. One was that
Admiral Farragut had successfully entered Mobile
Bay ; the other, that he himself had just been
appointed a major-general in the regular army.
He was not overjoyed at the second announcement ;
he wished the President had waited until he was
safely ensconced in Atlanta. When that would be
he could not determine, although he kept busily
" hammering " away with his artillery, besides try
ing to decoy the enemy outside their trenches, and
moving his troops here and there, to make a circle
of desolation " around the city. He did not pro
pose, now, to assault the works, which were far too
strong. A conviction was forced upon him that the
Confederates would hold fast, even though his ar
tillery should batter down every house.

But Sherman was nearer to victory than he knew.
On the night of the 1st of September, after a heavy

1 "The Sherman Letters," p. 238. Lincoln also wrote
to Sherman as to the voting of troops in Indiana, but explained
that his letter was " in no sense an order."


engagement between Union troops and Hardee s
corps of Hood s army, mysterious explosions
sounded from Atlanta. Hood, finding his position
entirely too precarious for comfort for the Federal
army was now interposed between him and Hardee
and considering the city at last untenable, was
blowing up his ammunition trains and magazines.
By daybreak of the 2d, he had stolen away from
Atlanta and was moving toward Macon. Later in
the morning blue-coated soldiers began to march
into the city and Sherman had sent ringing over the
wires to Washington his famous announcement :
" Atlanta is ours, and fairly won! 7 Next to the
capture of Eichmond, which Grant had not yet ac
complished, that of Atlanta was all-important.
Sherman was delighted, in a grim but none the less
decided way ; General Thomas, the imperturbable,
" snapped his fingers, whistled, and almost
danced " ; men went fairly wild at the news, as they
shouted, and laughed, and hugged each other. As
Sherman heard this " glorious laughter," as he
calls it, he felt that for the toils and hardships of
the previous three months they were now amply

When the explosions caused by order of General
Hood were occurring, Sherman, who was bivouacked
twenty miles from Atlanta, woke up a neighboring
farmer to inquire of him what he thought the
sounds meant. The farmer said, "it sounded just
like a battle." Some generals would have con
sulted their staff- officers on such a subject, but Sher-


man, who liked nothing better than to fraternize
with "natives" and the country people, preferred
to ask the opinion of a farmer inexperienced in the
arts of war.

There are many persons still living who can re
call how the North bubbled over with enthusiasm
when the glad tidings flashed over the wires from
the telegraph -station at Chattahoochee bridge,
Atlanta is ours and fairly won ! ? Lincoln, who
had passed an anxious summer awaiting good news
from somewhere, who feared Grant was checkmated
anent Richmond and Petersburg, and who was
afraid Sherman had ll run up against an impassable
barrier," knew how opportune this triumph was.
Success to the nation s arms was absolutely essential
if the Eepublican party were to win in the coming
November and here was a success which filled the
requirements, and probably made his own re-elec
tion certain.

The President, always only too glad to honor
those of his generals who did something decisive, at
once wrote the following " thanksgiving" letter :

" Washington, D. <7., September 8, 1864.
"The national thanks are rendered by the Presi
dent to Major-General W. T. Sherman and the
gallant officers and soldiers of his command before
Atlanta, for the distinguished ability and persever
ance displayed in the campaign in Georgia, which,
under Divine favor, has resulted in the capture of
Atlanta. The marches, battles, sieges, and other


military operations, that have signalized the cam
paign must render it famous in the annals of war,
and have entitled those who have participated
therein to the applause and thanks of the nation.

"President of the United States."

Grant, no less appreciative, and delighted at the
news, both for public and personal reasons, tele
graphed Sherman from City Point, Virginia: "I
have just received your despatch announcing the
capture of Atlanta. In honor of your great victory,
I have ordered a salute to be fired with shotted
guns from every battery bearing upon the enemy.
The salute will be fired within an hour, amid great

Grant was just as quick as Lincoln to recognize
the value, from a party point of view, of Atlanta s
fall. It was, he says, the first great political cam
paign for the Eepublicans in their canvass of 1864.
It was followed later by Sheridan s campaign in the
Shenandoah Valley ; and these two campaigns prob
ably had more effect in settling the election of the
following November than all the speeches, all the
bonfires, and all the parading, with banners and
bands of music, in the North."

Throughout September the North was fairly aglow
with pleasure and excitement. The press was
exultant, while the " Copperheads " and the cynics
who had predicted that no successful war could be
waged against the South while McClellan was in re
tirement, suddenly became tongue-tied. " The fall


of Atlaiita," wrote Horace Greeley in the New York
Tribune, "is truly, and in fall military sense, the
loss of Georgia ; and it is not too much to say that
this crowning triumph of General Sherman s cam
paign does, in effect, enclose the Rebellion within
the narrow limits of the Caroliuas and of southern
Virginia. It destroys beyond all hope of recovery
the unity of the Confederacy, and all probability
of its retaining a permanent hold on the continent.
Not New Orleans, not Vicksburg, not Chattanooga,
not Gettysburg, was such a victory as this. It
conies at an opportune moment. Let the loyal
North take heart. Devoutly thankful for the great
mercy which is granted us, let us grow stronger in
resolve, more unalterable in purpose, more re
ligiously confirmed in faith, that the Rebellion
shall be utterly crushed and the Free Union of these
States be re-established forever." l

And three days later, in warmly urging Lincoln s
re-election, Greeley said : "Let the country shake
off its apathy ; let us realize what is the price of
defeat a price neither we nor the world can afford
let it be understood how near we are to the end of
the Rebellion, and that no choice is left us now but
the instrument put into our hands, and that with
that we can and must finish it."

McClellan, now the Democratic nominee for the
Presidency, was certainly doomed, so far as his ever
occupying the White House might be concerned.

The joy in the North was reflected, in the ob-
1 New York Tribune, September 3d, 1864.


verse way, by the gloom in the South. The latter
did not abandon hope, being full of American pluck,
but it was inevitably depressed and chagrined.
J. B. Jones, a clerk in the Confederate War Depart
ment records in his diary, under the date of Sep
tember 4th: " Atlanta has fallen, and our army
has retreated some thirty miles ; such is Hood s
despatch, received last night. . . . We have
not had sufficient generalship and enterprise to
destroy Sherman s communications. Some 40,000
landowners, and the owners of slaves, are at their
comfortable homes, or in comfortable offices, while
the poor and ignorant are relied upon to achieve
independence ! And these, very naturally, disap
point the President s [Davis] expectations on mo
mentous occasions. . . . The loss of Atlanta
is a stunning blow."

Another Southern view of Sherman s victory is
worthy of quotation. It is from the pen of a lady
who tells of her own experiences and observations in
" Eichmond During the War." " At midsummer
[1864] we beheld both campaigns of the enemy es
sentially failures," she writes, referring to Sherman
and Grant. " Could the military situation which
then existed have been preserved, the election of
McClellan to the Presidency of the United States
would have been secured, and a peace negotiation,
that would have placed the South in a different
status, might have been effected. But these bright

1 JODCS, " Rebel War Clerk s Diary at the Confederate States
Capital," Vol. II, p. 277.


prospects were changed in a day. Whether from a
desire to gratify popular clamor, or other causes
at best imperfectly understood, General Johnston,
who was then executing the masterpiece of strategy
of the war, with a perfection of design and detail
which delighted his own troops and challenged the
admiration of his enemy, who had performed the
prodigy of conducting an army in retreat over three
hundred miles of intricate country . . . was
removed. . . . The fall of Atlanta was a severe
blow to the Confederacy, and was received in Eich-
mond with unconcealed distress. Mr. Davis was
sensibly affected by this misfortune. Toward the
close of September he made a visit to Georgia, and
delivered a remarkable speech at Macon. He told
the people that it grieved him to meet them in ad
versity, but that he considered the cause not lost
that sooner or later Sherman must retreat, and then
would he meet the fate that befell Napoleon in his
retreat from Moscow. " 1

General Hood, in the volume of his reminiscences,
published some years after the war, says, at its very
close, that "no man is justly entitled to be con
sidered a great general, unless he has won his spurs.
Had General Johnston possessed the requisite spirit
and boldness to seize the various chances for victory
which were offered him, he never would have al
lowed General Sherman to push him back one
hundred miles in sixty-six days, from one mountain

1 Richmond During the War ; Four Years of Personal Ob
servation," by "A Richmond Lady."


stronghold to another, down in the very heart of the
Confederacy. 7

The grievances of Hood, and the contrary griev
ances of Johnston, seem plausible enough in their
diiferent ways but all their grievances put together
only show that Sherman was a greater general than
either of these two Confederate officers.

General H. W. Slocuni, who now commanded
the Twentieth Corps, north of Atlanta, had been
the first to enter the city. Sherman himself then
moved back with the other troops, occupying a
line extending from Decatur on the left to Atlanta
in the centre, with commands reaching out of the
town for some distance to the right. It was found
that the place had been badly damaged by the
" hammering" of Sherman s artillery. Almost
every garden and yard had its cave, for the protec
tion of the citizens. Some of these bomb-proofs
were fifteen feet deep, and well covered. " All
along the railroad, around the intrenchments and
the bluff near the city," relates Captain Conyng-
ham, "were gopher holes, where soldiers and
citizens concealed themselves." The Union troops
now settled down for a brief rest ; officers and men
looked happy ; the regimental bands, which had
been almost silent for so many weeks, played joy
ous airs. " Even the bray of the half-starved gov
ernment mule seemed mellow and melodious, as it
added to the din."

1 "Hood s Advance and Retreat ; Personal Experiences in the
United States and Confederate States Armies."


Sherman now resolved upon a measure, due to
military necessity, which earned for him in the
South the reputation of being a tyrant and a
monster of cruelty. He not only denied to "all
civilians from the rear" (meaning principally
sutlers and traders waiting at Nashville and
Chattanooga like hungry vultures) the privilege
of "the expected profits of civil trade" (i. e.,
the chance to swindle the army by selling poor
supplies at high prices), but furthermore, he
ordered that all citizens and families of Atlanta
should temporarily leave the place, with the option
of going either North or South, " as their interests
or feelings dictated." "I was resolved," says
Sherman, "to make Atlanta a pure military gar
rison or depot, with no civil population to influ
ence military measures. I had seen Memphis,
Vicksburg, Natchez, and New Orleans, all cap
tured from the enemy, and each at once was
garrisoned by a full division of troops, if not more ;
so that success was actually crippling our armies
in the field by detachments to guard and protect
the interests of a hostile population."

The general realized what a storm of invective
this order would bring down upon him from the
enemy. And he wrote to Halleck, only two days
after the evacuation of Atlanta by Hood, that "if
the people raise a howl against my barbarity and
cruelty, I will answer that war is war, and not
popularity seeking. If they want peace, they and
their relatives must stop the war." He tells us,


too, that he knew this measure would convince the
South that the North was in earnest, and that, if
the former were sincere in its expressed desire to
" die in the last ditch," the opportunity would soon

Jefferson Davis characterized the order as a piece
of barbarity only comparable to " Alva s atrocious
cruelties to the non-combatant population of the
Low Countries." He says, in his "Bise and Fall
of the Confederate Government," that it involved
the immediate expulsion from their homes, t i and
only means of subsistence, of thousands of un
offending women and children, whose husbands
and fathers were either in the army, in Northern
prisons, or had died in battle." And he adds, with
bitterness: "At the time appointed the women
and children were expelled from their houses,
and, before they were passed within our lines,
complaint was generally made that the Federal
officers and men who were sent to guard them had
robbed them of the few articles of value they had
been permitted to take from their homes. The
cowardly dishonesty of its executioners was in
perfect harmony with the temper and spirit of the

While Sherman was computing the losses of
his campaign, 1 and debating the plans of another

1 The respective losses of the Northern and Southern armies
during the campaign, from May to September inclusive, have
been summarized as follows :


which should take him out of Georgia as success
fully as he had got into it (for he was certainly not
unmindful that he was in the heart of a hostile
country, with a Confederate army near him) he was
engaged in an angry, but not uncongenial, corre
spondence with General Hood. The latter pro
tested, in most vigorous language, against Sher
man s order for the depopulation of Atlanta. l i Per
mit me to say," he wrote, " that the unprecedented
measure you propose, transcends, in studied and
ingenious cruelty, all acts ever before brought to
my attention in the dark history of war. In the
name of God, and humanity, I protest, believing
that you will find that you are expelling from their
homes and firesides the wives and children of a
brave people."

Sherman at once answered this protest with the
zest of the willing letter- writer. "You style the
measure proposed," he wrote back, " unprece-

Union Army ;

Killed 4,423

Wounded 22,822

Missing 4,442

Total Northern loss 31,687

Southern Army :

Killed (Johnston) 1,221

" (Hood) 1,823

Wonnded (Johnston) 8,229

(Hood) 10,723

Prisoners captured by Sherman s 1 19 qft
army, and officially reported to him j ^ yo

Total Southern loss 34,979


dented, and appeal to the i dark history of war for
a parallel, as an act of studied and ingenious
cruelty. It is not unprecedented ; for General
Johnston himself very wisely and properly removed
the families all the way from Dalton down, and I
see no reason why Atlanta should be excepted.
Nor is it necessary to appeal to the dark history of
war, when recent and modern examples are so
handy. You yourself burned dwelling houses
along your parapet, and I have seen to-day fifty
houses that you have rendered uninhabitable be
cause they stood in the way of your forts and men.
You defended Atlanta on a line so close to town
that every cannon-shot, and many musket-shots
from our line of investment, that overshot their
mark, went into the habitations of women and
children. ... I say that it is kindness to
these families of Atlanta to remove them now, at
once, from a scene that women and children should
not be exposed to, and the l brave people > should
scorn to commit their wives and children to the
rude barbarians, who thus, as you say, violate the
laws of war as illustrated in the pages of its dark

" In the name of common sense, I ask you not to
appeal to a just God in such a sacrilegious manner.
. . . Talk thus to the marines, but not to me,
who have seen these things, and who will this day
make as much sacrifice for the peace and honor of
the South as the best-born Southerner among you !
If we must be enemies, let us be men, and fight it


out as we propose to do, and not deal iii such hypo
critical appeals to God and humanity. God will
judge us in due time, and He will pronounce
whether it be more humane to fight with a town
full of women and the families of a i brave people
at our back, or to remove them in time to places of
safety among their own friends and people."

Of course this very pungent defense brought
forth a long and acrimonious counter-argument
from General Hood. He ended by saying : "We
will fight you to the death ! Better die a thousand
deaths than submit to live under you or your gov
ernment and your negro allies ! Both generals
had by this time thoroughly lost their respective
tempers not of the best, in either case, in times
of stress and were becoming childishly grandilo
quent. At the same time Mayor Calhoun, of At
lanta, and several members of the city council, were
writing Sherman, picturing to him the "appall
ing and heartrending" loss and suffering which
the removal of the non-combatants was entailing.
1 i The woe, the horrors, and the suffering, cannot
be described by words ; imagination can only con
ceive of it, and we ask you to take these things
into consideration."

It was in answer to this that Sherman made use
of his famous expression, "War is cruelty," trans
lated into the more emphatic axiom, " War is hell ! "
Here are a few paragraphs from his reply ; they are
worth quoting :

"The use of Atlanta for warlike purposes is in-


consistent with its character as a home for families.
. . . Our military plans make it necessary for
the inhabitants to go away, and I can only renew
my offer of services to make their exodus in any
direction as easy and comfortable as possible. You
cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will.
War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it ; and those
who brought war into our country deserve all the
curses and maledictions a people can pour out. I
know I had no hand in making this war, and I
know I will make more sacrifices than any of you
to-day to secure peace. But you cannot have peace
and a division of our country. . . . You might
as well appeal against the thunder-storm as against
these terrible hardships of war. I want peace, and
I believe it can only be reached through union and
war, and I will ever conduct war with a view to
early and perfect success. . . . Now you must
go, and take with you the old and feeble, feed and
nurse them, and build for them, in more quiet
places, proper habitations to shield them against
the weather until the mad passions of men cool
down, and allow the Union and peace once more to
settle over your old homes at Atlanta."

Doubtless the mayor and city council were not
convinced. Argument on either side did little good
in those days. In the meantime Sherman had writ
ten to General Halleck, stating why he had made
the much- contested order, and adding: u These
are my reasons ; and, if satisfactory to the govern
ment of the United States, it makes no difference


whether it pleases General Hood and his people or
not." To this letter Halleck had replied that his
course was fully approved by the War Department.
"The safety of our armies," he wrote, "and a
proper regard for the lives of our soldiers, require
that we apply to our inexorable foes the severe rules
of war. ... I have endeavored to impress these
views upon our commanders for the last two years.
You are almost the only one who has properly
applied them."

There is no doubt that the order of removal was
exceedingly harsh, and caused many hardships ;

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Online LibraryEdward RobinsWilliam T. Sherman → online text (page 13 of 22)