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William T. Sherman online

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whether he was with Johnston (Hood), or Lee,
winding up with kissing the baby. . . . The
1 bummer was a wily diplomat, and having estab
lished t an era of good feeling ? between himself and
his unsuspecting victim, he cross-examined her in
an innocent and insinuating way, managing to ac
quire a great deal of valuable information. . . .
He learned all that was to be known of the neigh
bors farther down the road, whom he expected to
i raid the next day the quantity and description
of supplies, and where they were to be found. In
formation under this head was usually yielded more
willingly than upon any other subject ; for it is a
curious trait of human nature that a man (or woman)
who has been robbed, or swindled in a trade, takes
a keen enjoyment, perhaps disguised, in seeing his
fellows made fully as miserable as himself."

The a bummer" usually confined his stealings to
the country on each side of the road traveled by
his own column. As the whole army marched in
four columns, the various corps pursuing parallel
roads, the " bummers" would sometimes sweep
over a breadth of country covering sixty or eighty
miles. And when they sneaked into camp with
their plunder they were met with joyous welcome
and watering mouths.

The "bummers" were, in short, independent
raiders the Bohemians or free-lances of the moving
camp. Sometimes they would desert their com-


mands for days ; sometimes they became nothing
more or less than thieves on their own account.
Colonel Nichols has left us a picture of such a party
of " bummers " when discovered by some regimental
officer, in the woods enjoying their spoil.

" To what command do you belong? asks the

" Well, we don t answer for anybody in par
ticular, replies one of the men ; bout every corps
in the army ; eh, Bill, ain t that so ?

" Bill says, Reckon! and thinks it a huge
joke, and everybody except the interlocutor laughs.

" How long have you been away from your

" At this question the bummer rises to his feet,
and replies, rather more respectfully :

" A week, or ten days, cap n.

" Have you any authority for foraging I

"No, sir!

" What use or benefit are you to the service, to
say nothing of the criminality of your absence with
out leave ? Now, you belong to a class which has
brought discredit upon your comrades. You ought
to be ashamed of yourselves, all of you !

"The dozen muscular fellows who heard this
little moral speech seemed to fail to see the point
of it. One of them replied :

"See hyar, cap n; we ain t so bad, after all.
We keep ahead of the skirmish line allers. We
lets em know when an enemy s a-comin ; and
then we ain t allers away from the regiment. We


turns over all we don t want ourselves, and we can
lick five times as many " Rebs" as we are any day.
Ain t that so, boys?

" Lick em ! D - em, yes ! Why of course !
were the instant replies of the boys.

" Rather shoot "Rebs" than hogs any day!
roared the other bummer.

After a little scene like this the officer would
conclude that high moral precepts might be quite
lost upon the party and would quickly take his
leave." l

The official foraging was a necessity on this march
to the sea ; the illicit foraging of the bummers
became a great scandal, because it inflicted untold
hardship, even ruin, on thousands of poor Southern
farmers. Sherman deplored the existence of the
"bummers," but did not lie awake at night think
ing over their thefts. He was not throwing away
any of his sympathy upon the Georgians "war
was war " and he probably realized, too, that even
he could not easily stamp out the bumming. He
could not, or would not, draw the reins too tight.
As a result, he soon became the most sworn -at man
south of Virginia ; his name was made a synonym
for cruelty, and a Georgia child who heard the aw
ful words, " Sherman is coming ! " fairly shook with

Jefferson Davis refers to the march as if it*were
one continuous round of pillage. "The arson of
the dwelling-houses of non-combatants, and the
1 " The Story of the Great March.


robbery of their property, extending even to the
trinkets worn by women, made the devastation as
relentless as savage instincts could suggest."

The author of "Richmond During the War," ex
claims : " We hardly dare to refer to the sufferings
endured by the people of that section of the South
over which General Sherman drew the trail of war.
Enough to say that desolation was written on almost
every foot of ground, misery on almost every human
heart. Let a pen more eloquent describe all except
the fierce spirit of revenge that reared its hydra-
head in every bosom, and quenched effectually the
latent fires of love that once glowed in devotion to
the Union. . . . Over these things we would
fain throw the mantle of oblivion ; but the wounds
are too deep for the friendly covering to hide from
view the ugly scars left by them."

Edward A. Pollard, the author of a Southern war
history, which is still interesting though filled with
contemporary bitterness, evidently regarded Sher
man as little better than a wild beast or perhaps, be
cause he was supposed to have a soul, as worse than a
beast. Other Southerners have been no less condem
natory, and although there is now little left of the
rancor of war, it is certain that Sherman s name will
ever be regarded askance by many people of Georgia
and the Carolinas. There may come a time when
our Southern brothers will weave garlands around a
statue of Grant ; there may come a time when by

u Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government," Vol. II,
p. 570.


permission of the North Robert E. Lee will have a
statue erected in his honor at Gettysburg, but there
never will come a time, however remote, when
William Tecumseh Sherman will find enthusiastic
admirers in the country traversed by his " bum
mers. That fact does not imply anything against
Sherman himself, but it does mean that in warfare
he gave "no quarter."

To quote an unprejudiced Northern opinion, we
may add that John C. Ropes, in his article on our
general in the Atlantic Monthly (August, 1891),
makes a number of pertinent citations to prove that
Sherman thought he was justified in causing loss
and damage to private and public property as a
punishment for political conduct. "It can hardly
be pretended that the devastation spoken of is that
which follows naturally and inevitably in the wake
of an invading army. . . . It is true that the
orders issued to his army for its conduct on the
great march are, though by no means strict, yet not
in principle objectionable. 7 But, to judge from his
citations, Mr. Ropes thinks that Sherman did enun
ciate the principle that the infliction of devastation
for the sake of punishment was within the rights of
a general commanding, and sanctioned by the laws
of modern civilized warfare. If this view can be
correctly imputed to Sherman, he says, then the
authorities are against him. "Military operations
are not carried on for the purpose of inflicting pun
ishment for political offenses. . . . Whatever
the Georgians and South Carolinians suffered by


having to supply provisions, forage, fuel, horses, or
military stores of any kind to Sherman s invading
army, whether more or less in amount, was a mere
incident of a state of war, for which neither General
Sherman nor his army was to blame. But if Sher
man purposely destroyed, or connived at the destruc
tion of property which was not needed for the supply
of his army or of the enemy s army, he violated one
of the fundamental canons of modern warfare ; and
just so far as he directed or permitted this, he con
ducted war on obsolete and barbarous principles."
This is an axiom that no one can deny. Of course
it is hard to say how far Sherman did, or did not,
go out of his way to destroy property which was
not needed either by him or the enemy ; and it is,
therefore, impossible to give a definite verdict as to
his moral responsibility in this phase of the cam
paign. One thing is certain ; Sherman believed
that the more sternly war was waged, the sooner it
would be over ; he may have thought that present
relentlessness meant future kindness. And yet, as
we review his correspondence during this period,
and try to understand his mood, we are compelled
to admit that a spirit of revenge seems to mar the
otherwise admirable poise of this great general. We
cannot grow enthusiastic when he writes to General
Halleck : " We are not only fighting hostile armies,
but a hostile people, and must make old and young,
rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war, as well as
their organized armies."

1 December 24, 1864. The italics are ours.


Let us, however, continue on the march, of which
Sherman himself gives us many striking pen pic
tures. On the 22d of November, as he pushed for
ward toward his goal, he found himself on the plan
tation of General Howell Cobb, a former secretary
of the United States treasury, and now a zealous
Confederate. "Of course," relates Sherman, "we
confiscated his property, and found it rich in corn,
beans, peanuts, and sorghum-molasses." He gave
instructions to spare nothing ; soon huge bon
fires were consuming the fence-rails, and the soldiers
were reveling in the immense quantity of provisions
on the estate.

The next morning Sherman rode into Milledge-
ville, then the capital of Georgia. His left wing
united around this place during the day, while the
light wing was at Gordon, only twelve miles away.
The first stage of the march seaward had been
triumphantly successful, and without dangerous
opposition. It was here that Sherman, upon read
ing some of the Southern papers, found he was
accused of being on an inglorious retreat to the sea-
coast, in the hope of finding safety there with a
Union fleet. The people of Georgia were urged to
encompass and destroy his army, and there was
published a stirring appeal from General Beau-
regard in which he said: "Obstruct and destroy
all the roads in Sherman s front, flank, and rear,
and his army will soon starve in your midst. Be
confident! Be resolute! Trust in an overruling
Providence, and success will crown your efforts. I


hasten to join you in the defense of your homes and

On the same day Senator Hill had written from
Richmond, urging his fellow Georgians to "act
promptly and fear not." "Put everything at the
disposal of our generals ; remove all provisions
from the path of the invader ; and put all obstruc
tions in his path. . . . You can destroy the
enemy by retarding his march ! Georgians, be
firm ! Act promptly, and fear not !

Sherman in view of the feeble opposition offered
to his progress, merely laughed, gave orders for the
destruction of certain public buildings in the state
capital, and resumed the march. But the Southern
idea of the march became known in the North and
caused much uneasiness. General Grant assured
Lincoln that Sherman was in no danger; that he
might possibly be prevented from reaching the
point for which he had started out, but he would
"get through somewhere," and w ould finally ar
rive at his chosen destination. " If the worst came
to the worst he could return North." So the Presi
dent assured anxious inquirers that Sherman and
his men were in no peril. l i Grant says they are safe
with such a general, and that if they cannot get
out where they want to, they can crawl back by the
hole they went in at."

But what was Hood doing all this time? In
stead of following Sherman, that general determined
upon an invasion of middle Tennessee. He had the
Mobile and Ohio Railroad repaired and occupied


Corinth, at which point he might secure supplies
from Selma and Montgomery. General Thomas, in
Nashville, was at first uncertain whether he ought
to pursue Hood, if the latter followed Sherman, or
defend Tennessee against the advance of the other
Confederate leaders ; but his doubts were soon set
at rest. On the 19th of November Hood began his
march toward Waynesboro. The forces under
command of General Schofield, which had been in
front of Hood, were ordered to retreat gradually
from before the enemy, but to hold him as long as
possible so that Thomas might get himself ready
for the defense of the state. Schofield carried out
this plan, in pursuance of which he finally retired
to Franklin. Here a drawn battle was fought, in
which Hood s soldiers made a wonderfully gallant
charge, and sustained a heavy loss in consequence.
The action resulted in no particular advantage for
either side, but Schofield was now ordered back to
Nashville, and, with the quiet deliberation for
which he was remarkable, Thomas prepared to
repulse Hood. The "Bock of Chickamauga "
always liked to take his time before striking
so much so, indeed, that the authorities at Wash
ington more than once became painfully impatient.
Indeed, Thomas was now ordered either to move
on Hood immediately, or else turn over his com
mand to the quicker Schofield.

"The country was alarmed," says Grant, "the
administration was alarmed, and I was alarmed
lest . . . Hood would get north." Grant


made the wires warm with appeals to Thomas
to attack at once, but the "Rock" would only
reply that he was doing the best he could,
etc., and would move as soon as possible. At
length the exasperated lieutenant-general or
dered General Logan to proceed to Nashville to
relieve Thomas. He told Logan not to deliver the
order until he reached Nashville, and, if he found
that Thomas had actually moved, not to deliver it
at all. l After Logan started, adds General Grant,
"I became restless, and concluded to go myself.
I went as far as Washington city, when a despatch
was received from General Thomas announcing his
readiness at last to move, and designating the time
of his movement. I concluded to wait until that
time. He did move and was successful from the

General Logan did not assume command ; Thomas
splendidly vindicated himself at the battle of
Nashville (December 15th and 16th). Hood and his
army were overwhelmingly defeated, and the Con
federate general was glad to escape beyond the
Tennessee with the remnants of his forces. It was
one of the grandest Union victories of the war.
"With, the exception of his rear-guard," wrote
Thomas, "his army had become a disheartened
and disorganized rabble of half-armed and bare
footed men, who sought every opportunity to fall
out by the wayside and desert their cause, to put
an end to their sufferings."

Thus ended, for all practical purposes, the


military usefulness of Hood. Thomas s delibera
tion was no longer to be thrown into his face. He
had admirably played into the hands of General

The latter, in the meantime, had been pursuing
his march toward Savannah, without suffering
much inconvenience from the sporadic opposition
of cavalry or detached infantry. The people of
Georgia were in no position to offer any defense
against the invaders. The frantic appeals from
Eichmond were without avail. How could it have
been otherwise f

The cavalrymen of General Wheeler, one of the
most dashing and capable of Confederate officers,
were making demonstrations on Sherman s left front,
while General Kilpatrick and the Union cavalry
were kept active by way of opposition. But at no
time was Sherman seriously impeded. After leav
ing Milledgeville he marched on Milieu, where he
paused one day to communicate with all parts of
his army. Of course the destruction of railroad
tracks went on gayly, and foraging was prosecuted
with undiminished zest. The army was in good
condition and position ; the wagons were laden
down with provisions ; the men looked upon the
whole expedition as a frolic ; and Sherman, much
pleased at results, now pushed on toward Savannah,
which was strongly defended by General Hardee.
The latter had been detached from Hood s army,
in order to oppose the invaders.

One incident of the march (December 8th)


deserves record. Sherman, in riding through the
fields, not many miles from Savannah, found a
young Union officer whose foot had been blown to
pieces by a torpedo planted in the road. He was
waiting for a surgeon to amputate his leg. " There
had been no resistance at that point, " narrates
Sherman j " nothing to give warning of danger, and
the rebels had planted eight-inch shells in the road,
with friction matches to explode them by being
trodden on. This was not war, but murder, and it
made me very angry. So angry, indeed, was the
general that he ordered a lot of Confederate prison
ers to be armed with picks and shovels, and made
them march in advance along the road, so that they
might either explode or discover their own torpedoes.
" They begged hard, but I reiterated the order, and
could hardly help laughing at their stepping so
gingerly along the road, where it was supposed
sunken torpedoes might explode at each step."
But no more were found until Savannah was
nearly reached. Such an incident gives a keen
glimpse of the cruelties that sometimes disgraced the
war on both sides. In this instance the cruelty of
Sherman was justified, as a sort of ironic retribu
tion ; the cruelty of the dastard who devised the tor
pedo scheme threw a black shadow on the cause of
the South.

By the 10th of December the several corps of
Sherman s army had reached the defenses of Savan
nah. He found that the city was protected by a
large garrison, and, as he once more caught sight of


a familiar parapet, together with deep ditches and
canals full of water, it looked as if another siege
were inevitable. He saw at once that his first step
was to open communication with Admiral Dahl-
gren s fleet, hovering in the offing, and to do this it
was necessary to capture Fort McAllister, a Con
federate stronghold to the south of Savannah.
General Hazen s division of the Fifteenth Corps
marched down the right bank of the Ogeechee Eiver
and gallantly carried the fort by storm (Decem
ber 13th). Sherman now established communi
cation with the fleet, and thus sent off a note to
Secretary of War Stanton in which he said, among
other things : l i The quick work made with Fort
McAllister, the opening of communication with our
fleet, and our consequent independence as to sup
plies, dissipate all their [the enemy s] boasted
threats to head us off and starve the army. I re
gard Savannah as already gained."

A little later mails arrived from the STorth.
There was great relief over the news of the army s
safety. In one of two letters from General Grant
(dated City Point, December 6th) he said that the
most important operation toward ending the war
would be to " close out" Lee and his army. u You
have now destroyed the roads of the South," he
went on, 1 1 so that it will probably take them three
months without interruption to re-establish a
through line from east to west. In that time I
think the job here will be effectually completed.


My idea now is that you establish a base on the
seacoast, fortify and leave in it all your artillery
and cavalry, and enough infantry to protect them,
and at the same time so threaten the interior that
the militia of the South will have to be kept
at home. With the balance of your command
come here by water with all dispatch. Select your
self the officer to leave in command, but you I want
in person. Unless you see objections to this plan
which I cannot see, use every vessel going to you
for purposes of transportation."

Sherman, who had set his heart on the capture of
Savannah, was much concerned on reading this let
ter. The idea of going to Virginia by sea, instead
of land, came upon him as a thunder- clap. He
supposed that vessels to convey his troops to Vir
ginia would soon pour in, and like a good general,
he made ready to carry out Grant s orders but he
likewise determined to push operations u in hopes to
secure the city of Savannah before the necessary
fleet could be available." He wrote a long letter to
Grant, explaining his position, and ending with :
Our whole army is in fine condition as to health,
and the weather is splendid. For that reason alone
I feel a personal dislike to turning northward. I
will keep Lieutenant Dunn here [the aide-de-camp
sent to Sherman with Grant s letters] until I know
the result of my demand for the surrender of
Savannah, but, whether successful or not, shall not
delay my execution of your order of the 6th, which


will depend alone upon the time it will require to
obtain transportation by sea."

In brief. General Sherman was not anxious that
the " transportation " should be too quick in reach
ing him.



IN order to lose no time, General Sherman sent
a flag of truce into Savannah (December 17th)
within twenty-four hours of his writing to Grant,
with a formal demand that General Hardee should
surrender the city. After detailing the advantages
of his position the supplies now coming to him by
water, the heavy ordnance he could bring to bear
upon the enemy, the fact that he would soon be able
to starve out the garrison, etc., Sherman wrote :
" Should you entertain the proposition [to sur
render] I am prepared to grant liberal terms to the
inhabitants and garrison 5 but should I be forced to
resort to assault, or the slower and surer process of
starvation, I shall then feel justified in resorting to
the harshest measures, and shall make little effort
to restrain my army burning to avenge the national
wrong which they attach to Savannah and other
large cities which have been so prominent in drag
ging our country into civil war."

The writer of this volume is a great admirer of
General Sherman, but it is impossible for him to
justify the threats as to " harshest measures," and
an army "burning to avenge the national wrong."
They savored too much of mediaeval methods of


warfare, and were, moreover, going into the polit
ical ethics of the question rather than into the
purely military aspect. The Union general was be
fore Savannah as a soldier, and not as a statesman j
he was there to fight, which he always did nobly,
and not to discuss the rights and wrongs of the great
conflict a subject which he should have left to the
politicians he always anathematized so roundly.

It must be candidly admitted that at this period,
Sherman had worked himself into a revengeful
spirit quite unseemly and unnecessary, so that as we
look back at him, in these peaceful days, he appears
actually vindictive. Of course, a great many peo
ple on both sides of Mason and Dixon s line had
wrought themselves into frenzies of bad temper by
this time, yet we do not like to see so great a man
as the hero of our biography writing to Grant :
" With Savannah in our possession, at some future
time, if not now, we can punish South Carolina as
she deserves, and as thousands of the people in
Georgia hoped we would do. I do sincerely believe
that the whole United States, North and South,
would rejoice to have this army turned loose on
South Carolina, to devastate that state in the man
ner we have done in Georgia, and it would have a
direct and immediate bearing on your campaign in

Hardee was in hard straits in Savannah. But he
refused to surrender in a letter he wrote to Sherman,
wherein he added, respecting the latter s threats :
"I have hitherto conducted the military oper-


atioDS entrusted to my direction in accordance with
the rules of civilized warfare, and I should deeply
regret the adoption of any course by you that may
force me to deviate from them in future."

Nothing now remained for Sherman but assault.
11 1 concluded," he says, "to make one more effort
to completely surround Savannah on both sides, so
as further to excite Hardee s fears, and, in case of
success, to capture the whole of his army." His
forces had already invested the place on the north,
south, and west, but there remained to Hardee, on
the east, the use of an old plank road leading into
South Carolina. Sherman had an easier victory
than he hoped for : on the morning of December
21st, it was found that the city had been evacuated
and the stars and stripes were soon floating from
the government buildings. Hardee had wisely

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Online LibraryEdward RobinsWilliam T. Sherman → online text (page 15 of 22)