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William T. Sherman online

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enough for a while, but soon surfeits with its flip-


pancy, mingling with people in whom you feel no
permanent interest, smirks and smiles when you
feel savage, tight boots when you fancy you would
prefer slippers. "

But the lieutenant did something more than at
tend to social duties. He visited his old home in
Lancaster, O., on furlough, and became engaged
to Miss Ellen Boyle Ewing, the daughter of his
patron, Senator Ewing ; he made a trip down the
Mississippi to New Orleans ; he visited a number
of Southern cities, thereby unconsciously gaining a
knowledge of the South and her people which was
to stand him in good stead during the Civil War ;
and he served on a board appointed by the War
Department to investigate certain militia claims.
He even read Blackstone and filled himself with
other legal lore, not with the idea of adopting the
law as a profession, but simply that he might prove
more serviceable as a member of army boards or

In the meantime war with Mexico that war
which General Grant long afterward characterized
as " unholy 7 on the part of the United States be
gan to loom upon the national horizon. Politics
became heated, and politicians began to discourse
freely. They ever do before a conflict, which they
thus help to bring on.

No one watched this horizon with more anxiety
than Sherman. He longed for active service with
all the zest of a young soldier : if there were to be
war over the possible acquisition of Texas, he wished


to be a participant. But for the politicians then, as
ever, he cherished in his rugged heart the most pro
found contempt. When he learned that his brother
John had entered into politics out in Ohio, albeit
in a modest way, he hardly knew what to think.

" My dear brother, 7 he wrote from Fort Moultrie,
"what in the devil are you doing? Stump speak
ing ? I really thought you were too decent, or at
least had sufficient pride not to humble and cringe
to beg party or popular favor. However, the com
ing election will sufficiently prove the intelligence
and patriotic spirit of the American people, and
may deter you from committing a like sin again.
. . . For my part I wish Henry Clay to be
elected, and should rejoice in his success for various
reasons, but I do not permit myself to indulge in
sanguine feelings when dependence has to be placed
on the pitch and toss game of party elections."

John Sherman, like a good Whig, had been mak
ing speeches in favor of Henry Clay, but his elo
quence could not save his hero from defeat at the
polls. As to his brother William s letter, one must
read between the lines to find in it a certain fraternal
pride in the sudden prominence of the stump
speaker. Whatever the soldier might have to say,
in the future, about politics and politicians, he
always delighted in John Sherman s success.

It seemed like the irony of fate that Lieutenant
Sherman, with all his anxiety for the most active
kind of service, should have been obliged to pass in
California the period of the Mexican War. During


the spring of 1846 he was assigned to recruiting
duty at Pittsburg. In addition to his work there, he
opened a sub-recruiting rendezvous at Zanesville, O.,
and it was while returning from the latter place that
he heard the first account of the battles of Palo Alto
and Eesaca de la Palma. It was glorious news to
our ambitious officer. No more dull recruiting for
him ! Some of his colleagues might be very glad to
take his berth at Pittsburg, and thus save them
selves from the dangers and annoyances of an active
campaign, but he would gain fame fighting against
the enemy ! So he straightway wrote to the Adju
tant-General of the army at Washington, asking to
be considered as an applicant for active service.
He goes on to relate : l i Impatient to approach the
scene of active operations, without authority (and,
I suppose, wrongfully) I left my corporal in charge
of the rendezvous, and took all the recruits I had
made, about twenty-five, in a steamboat to Cincin
nati, and turned them over to Major N. C. McCrea,
commanding at Newport Barracks. I then reported
in Cincinnati, to the superintendent of the Western
recruiting service, Colonel Fanning, an old officer
with one arm, who inquired by what authority I
had come away from my post." Whereupon Sher
man argued that he had supposed Colonel Fanning
would want all the recruits that he could get to for
ward to the army at Brownsville, Texas, "and I
didn t know," he naively added, u but that you
might want me to go along with them."

Fanning did not see things exactly in this light.


Instead of appreciating the " volunteer zeal " of the
young man, he t i cursed and swore at him for
leaving his post without orders, and told him to go
back at once to Pittsburg.

The crestfallen lieutenant obeyed the order. Soon
thereafter he was assigned to Company F, Third
Artillery, and sailed for California, via the lengthy
route of Cape Horn, in July, 1846. There was no
attractive Pullman- car route to the Pacific in
those days. This assignment ended all his hopes
of winning glory in the contest with Mexico. When
he arrived in California he was, in reality, far away
from the actual theatre of war, so that he must be
content with making a reputation for himself in ad
ministrative ability, as acting adjutant-general un
der General Persifor F. Smith and in other duties.

But those were the days of the "gold fever" in
California, when a visit to the territory in any ca
pacity meant a liberal education. In the western
slope of the Sierra Nevadas one was almost appalled
by the ease with which the miners secured gold.
"Many men," Sherman wrote home, "are already
become rich, and others are growing so fast. All
have their pockets full of gold, and everybody gets
more than ten dollars daily for his personal labor,
save those in the employ of Government we are the
sufferers. All prices have so advanced that we can
not possibly exist on our pay. . . . The sudden
development of so much wealth has played the devil
with the country. Everybody has gone there [to the
mines], save women and officers. Our soldiers are


deserting and we can t stop it. A tailor won t
work a day, nor a shoemaker, nor any other trades
man all have gone to the mines.

In January, 1850, Sherman returned to the east,
bearing despatches to the War Department from
General Smith. When in New York, on his way to
Washington, he had the honor of dining with
General Winfield Scott, the hero of the Mexican
War, who was then looked upon as a species of
American Napoleon. Scott related various anec
dotes connected with the lieutenant s old army com
rades in the battles around the City of Mexico, but
the recital was not without bitterness for the hearer.
44 Of course," he records, u I thought it the last and
only chance in my day, and that my career as a
soldier was at an end." He could not then see that
the Mexican War, with the addition of Texas to the
Union, and the question, now become a burning one,
of the increase of slave territory in the United
States, was the prelude to a far fiercer, more tragic
contest. General Scott, however, was more pro
phetic. "Our country is on the eve of a terrible
civil war," he asserted to his guest. Sherman was
startled ; the idea had never occurred to him.

No doubt he dismissed the subject from his
mind, nor had he reason to recur to it for several
months. He hurried on to Washington, presented
his despatches to the Secretary of War, had a
pleasant interview with Zachary Taylor, then
President, and found that his old guardian, Thomas
Ewing, was now Secretary of the Interior. Then,


for a time, all thoughts of war were forgotten, as in
May of this year (1850) Lieutenant Sherman married
Miss Ewing. The ceremony, which took place in
Secretary Swing s home on Pennsylvania Avenue,
had one feature which was enough to make the
officer s heart beat with pride. President Taylor,
Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, Thomas H. Benton
and many other distinguished Americans were
present. A marriage at which Taylor, Webster
and Clay were among the eye-witnesses now seems
historic. Tradition has it that more than one
Washingtonian deplored the fact that so charming
and accomplished a girl as Ellen Ewing should
have wasted her brilliant matrimonial chances by
throwing herself away upon an " unknown lieuten
ant." The " unknown lieutenant," however, had
that supreme faith in himself which we call egotism
or inspiration, according as a man becomes a fail
ure or a success ; and it does not appear that he
developed any conscientious qualms when he bore
his bride away, defeating the expectations of more
eligible suitors.

After a wedding trip, which included a visit to
the Shermans in Ohio, the couple returned to
Washington (July 1, 1850). A few days later saw
the death of President Taylor. The country was
stunned. The passing of the chief magistrate was
more than the personal loss to the nation of a fine
soldier and an honest man. The question of the
extension of slavery, growing out of the new terri
tories acquired from Mexico, was slowly bringing a


crisis upon North and South, and politicians on each
side of Mason and Dixon s line nervously asked
themselves how the great issues would be affected
by a change of administration. Congress was in
session ; the alarm of many of its members was

" I was present in the Senate gallery," says Sher
man, "and saw the oath of office administered to
the Vice- President, Mr. Fillrnore, a man of splendid
physical proportions and commanding appearance ;
but on the faces of senators and people could easily
be read the feelings of doubt and uncertainty that
prevailed. ... It was supposed that Mr. Fill-
more, whose home was in Buffalo, would be less
liberal than General Taylor to the politicians of the
South, who feared, or pretended to fear, a crusade
against slavery ; or, as was the political cry of the
day, that slavery would be prohibited in the terri
tories and in the places exclusively under the juris
diction of the United States. Events, however,
proved the contrary."

Lieutenant Sherman attended the funeral of the
President as an aide-de-camp, by request of the
Adjutant-General of the army. After the burial,
the political caldron began to seethe, and all inter
est centred around the general compromise measures
known as Henry Clay s " Omnibus Bill." l

When it became known that Webster would
enter Fillmore s cabinet as his Secretary of State,

See Rogers "Thomas H. Benton "in the American Crisis


and that before leaving the Senate he was to
make "one last great speech" on this bill, Lieu
tenant Sherman resolved to hear it. On the ap
pointed day he went to the Capitol, only to find the
galleries of the old Senate Chamber (afterward used
by the Supreme Court) filled to overflowing, with a
crowd about the door struggling to reach the stairs.
Sherman was therefore in danger of missing the
speech. In this predicament he sent in his card to
Senator Corwin, of Ohio, who had been a great
friend of his father s. The senator came out into
the lobby from the Senate Chamber, no doubt look
ing very important, for he was "slated" to be
come Fillmore s Secretary of the Treasury. The
lieutenant modestly explained that he wished to
hear Mr. Webster s "last great speech."

"Well," snapped Corwin, "why don t you go
into the gallery?"

The soldier said that the gallery was already

"Well, what do you want of me?" asked the
Senator, still not very encouragingly.

Sherman said he would like to be taken on the
floor of the Senate ; for he had often seen there,
from a coigne of vantage in the gallery, persons no
better entitled than himself to the privilege.

" Are you a foreign ambassador ? " asked Corwin,
with a quizzical expression on his shrewd face.


" Or a governor of a state? "



" Are you a member of the House of Representa
tives! "

" Certainly not," answered the lieutenant, em

u Have you ever had a vote of thanks by name ! "


"Well, these are the only persons privileged to
go on the floor of the Senate," said Corwiii.

Nothing daunted, Sherman replied : i You know
well enough who I am, Senator, and, if you choose,
you can take me in."

The senator hesitated for a moment. Then he
asked : u Have you any impudence ! "

"A reasonable amount, if occasion calls for it,"
was the ready response.

i Do you think you could become so interested in
my conversation as not to notice the doorkeeper f ?
Here Corwin pointed to the official who kept guard
at the Senate door.

Sherman replied diplomatically, and it was not
often, be it said, that he was guilty of the gentle art
of diplomacy that he thought he would have no
trouble on that score, if the senator would only tell
him one of his funny stories.

Corwin took the lieutenant by the arm, led him
up and down the vestibule, talking all the time
about some indifferent matter, and thus approached
the doorkeeper. The latter, espying a stranger, be
gan to question Sherman with : " Are you a foreigu
minister? The governor of a state 1 ? Are you a
member of Congress, sir ? "


But Sherman was so much engrossed in the sena
tor s conversation that he neglected to hear the
queries, and so the two men passed, arm-in-arm,
into the Senate Chamber.

When Sherman had entered the room, Corwin
said: " Now you can take care of yourself. 77 The
young officer, acting on the hint, took a seat close
behind that of Daniel Webster, near General Scott,
and heard the famous speech. He was greatly dis
appointed. This much-heralded effort of the New
Englander sounded to his expectant ears l * heavy in
the extreme," not to say, tiresome. The fire and
intensity of a Henry Clay seemed to be sadly miss

The great slavery question was again compro
mised and thus it was that Lieutenant Sherman had
no reason to believe he would ever see active mili
tary service. It seemed as if the nation were to ex
ist, as Lincoln a little later said it could not, l c half
slave, and half free. 77 and many conscientious men,
among them not a few who loathed the institution
of slavery, hoped that this might be the case.



FOR several years after the death of President
Taylor the career of Sherman offered little that was
picturesque or of absorbing interest. In the autumn
of 1850 he was appointed a commissary of subsist
ence, with the rank of captain, and assigned to duty
at St. Louis ; in March of the following year he re
ceived a commission as captain by brevet u for
meritorious services in California during the war
with Mexico." In September of 1852 the captain
was transferred to New Orleans. All this work was
helpful, healthy, and experience-giving, but hardly
exciting. The compensation was not large, pecu
niarily, and Sherman now had a wife and two chil
dren to support-. That he finally tired of the dull
routine and small pay of the army is shown by the
following letter to John Sherman :

"New Orleans, La., March 4, 1853.

" I suppose you have heard of my proposed de
parture for California. It is proper you should have
distinct information on this head. . . . I go as
a member of the banking house of Lucas and Turner,
a branch of that of Lucas and Simouds, of St. Louis.
Turner is a particular friend of mine, and is already


in California ; he is quite wealthy. Lucas is de
cidedly the richest property holder in St. Louis and
has credit unlimited. Now I, of course, could not
have better associates in business, if I am ever to
quit the army, and in these prosperous times salaried
men suffer. Nevertheless, I was unwilling to resign,
and have procured leave of absence for six months,
at the end of which time I can best determine what
to do."

This letter tells its own story and shows why
Captain Sherman was soon back in California, this
time as a prosperous banker who had been promised
a tempting income and a solid interest in the new
firm of Lucas, Turner and Company of San Fran
cisco. The city was then on the top wave of specu
lative prosperity ; in short, it was enjoying what
would now be called a typical western " boom."

"This is the most extraordinary place on earth,"
Sherman wrote home. " Large brick and granite
houses fill the site where stood the poor, contempti
ble village ; wharves extend a mile out, along which
lie ships and steamers of the largest class. . . .
My business here is the best going, provided we
have plenty of money. Without it, I stick to Uncle
Sam most emphatically."

But the writer did not "stick to Uncle Sam."
The house of Lucas, Turner and Company promised
to transact a large business, at good profits, while
life in the army apparently held out nothing more
seductive than sleepy garrison duty and poor pay.
So Sherman returned to the east in the midsummer


of 1853, promptly resigned from the army, and then
went back to California, accompanied by his wife
and children. The ex-captain now settled down to
the life of a financier : he fondly believed that his
military career, honorable but uneventful, had come
to a commonplace end. From now on, he thought,
he would devote himself to winning the much needed
income for his family.

Events, however, were leading up to different re
sults : politics had grown heated once more ; shrewd
observers began to see that the " Compromises of
1850" would not save the country from further agi
tation of the slavery question. In the South the
leaders were fast growing angry ; in the North, more
particularly in New England, the Abolitionists were
doing all they could, by their violence of speech, to
hasten dreaded times.

Sherman watched the course of events with con
suming interest. One reads his trenchant views of
affairs in the letters to his brother, John. Let us
make several brief quotations :

" As a young member [of Congress] I hope you
will not be too forward, especially on the question
of slavery, which, it seems, is rising more and more
every year into a question of real danger, notwith
standing the compromises. Having lived a good
deal in the South I know practically more of slavery
than you do. If it were a new question no one
now would contend for introducing it ; but it is an
old and historical fact that you must take as you
find it. ... Negroes free won t work tasks, of


course, and rice, sugar, and certain kinds of cotton
cannot be produced except by forced negro labor.
Slavery being a fact is chargeable upon the past ; it
cannot by our system, be abolished except by force
and consequent breaking up of our present Govern
ment. As to restraining its further growth, the
North have a perfect right to their full vote, and
should, as a matter of course, use it. . . . Let
slavery extend along the shores of the Gulf of
Mexico, but not in the high salubrious prairies of
the West. It was a mistake to make Missouri a
slave state ; but it was done long ago, and now
there is no remedy except in the state itself.
Slavery can never exist here, or north of us, so
the North now has the power, and can exercise it
in prudence and moderation. ? (November 30, 1854.
The italics are ours.)

" Time and faets are accomplishing all you aim
at ; viz., the preponderance of the free over the slave
states. This is so manifest that the politicians
and people of the South feel it, and consequently
are tetchy and morose. . . . The repeal of
the [Missouri] Compromise was unfortunate, but be
ing done, to repeal it would only produce feeling
and no good. Kansas will be a free state, so will
Missouri and Kentucky in time ; but the way to
accomplish that is to let things go on as now, show
ing the eminent prosperity of the free states, whilst
the slave states get along slowly. Self-interest is
the great motor. . . . Therefore to accomplish
any political end, no provoking speeches are neces-


sary, but on the contrary defeat the object in view."
(March 20, 1856.)

u The Nebraska bill was a mistake on the part of
the South ; a vital mistake that will do them more
harm than all the violent Abolitionists in the
country. . . . My idea is to leave our present
limits alone until we have more population, and
then to make other adjacent territories pay for
coming in the Union."

"I see you are placed on the Committee of For
eign Relations, which is deemed a compliment.
Since you are embarked in politics I shall watch
your course with deep interest, and of all things I
shall expect you to avoid localism, and to act as a
representative of a great developing nation rather
than a mere emblem of the freaks and prejudices
of a small constituency."

" Since my resignation I have kept purposely
aloof from all parties, either one way or the other ;
being in a business where large interests are at stake,
I cannot act with that decision otherwise that would
suit me.

" Unless people, both North and South, learn
more moderation, we ll see sights in the way of
civil war. Of course the North have the strength
and must prevail, though the people of the South
could and would be desperate enough. I hope in
Congress you will resolve yourself into the fighting
branch and work off some of the surplus steam
that is threatening to blow up the Union."

These glimpses of Sherman s opinions on the


burning issues of the day, however brief, are
very interesting, in that they show the views of
many like him, who, while neither condoning nor
wishing to approve the system of slavery, yet hoped
that the question would be allowed to settle
itself peaceably, first, by compromise, and finally
by abolition through a process of gradual but sure
extinction. Nor was he at any time, then or later,
what the Southerners were wont to call a t negro
worshipper. 77 He desired to see the black men
free, as the years should run on, but he had no illu
sions about them. Had he not lived in the
South? Well-meaning but impracticable en
thusiasts for negro equality and other impossible
conditions are usually residents of sections where
the negro himself is little in evidence.

Time passed quickly, in California, for the rapid
life of the people, with its strange contrasts
fortunes made and lost in the twinkling of an
eye, honesty, rascality, shrewdness, recklessness,
wealth, penury, lawlessness, mob-violence, occa
sional lynchings, and what not? furnished a
landscape of variegated if somewhat dangerous
coloring. Some of this coloring or picturesque -
ness was to be found in what was perhaps the most
exciting incident of Sherman s civilian career,
nothing less, indeed, than a sensational "run" on
the bank of Lucas, Turner and Company. A rival
banking house, that of Page, Bacon and Company,
had been forced to suspend a day or two previ
ously, owing to a " run " of its own ; and the mer-


curial citizeus of San Francisco, their confidence in
financial institutions rudely shaken, nervously asked
themselves whether other banks, too, might not
collapse. Another bank did suspend at once, and
Sherman, who was now practically the head of his
own firm, coolly prepared for the onslaught which
he knew would be made by the depositors.

The "run" came, surely enough, the next morn
ing. Punctually to the minute the bank opened
its doors, and an hysterical crowd rushed in.
"As usual, the most noisy and clamorous were
men and women who held small certificates ; still,
others with larger accounts, were in the crowd,
pushing forward for their balances." All claims
were promptly met. Several friends of Sherman
merely asked his word of honor that their money
was safe, and, on receiving the necessary assur
ance, went away without drawing it out. Others
accepted gold bars in lieu of coin. Out in the street
charitable persons were making bets as to the hour
at which Lucas, Turner and Company would close
their doors; and all the time other firms were
reported to be in trouble.

Sherman remained cool and confident, showing
the same presence of mind and mental poise that he
afterward exhibited so nobly in military crises.
He even detected the humor of the situation. This
run on the bank," he relates in his "Memoirs,"

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Online LibraryEdward RobinsWilliam T. Sherman → online text (page 2 of 22)