Edward Robins.

William T. Sherman online

. (page 4 of 22)
Online LibraryEdward RobinsWilliam T. Sherman → online text (page 4 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

year. Twenty-five hundred dollars was a much
larger income before the war than it is in this lux
urious decade ; Sherman resolved to accept the
position. But first he would visit John Sherman,
as requested, and talk over the national situation
with him.

He reached Washington just after the inaugura
tion of Abraham Lincoln. The capital presented a
curious spectacle of unrest ; the people there acted
as if they were living on the edge of a volcano, and
knew not at what minute an eruption might occur.
The Southerners alone seemed confident, as their
representatives and senators were publicly with
drawing from Congress to join the new congress of
the Confederacy.

John Sherman, now a senator from Ohio, soon
took his brother to call on the new President. The
interview was not an altogether satisfactory one to


the visitors. Perhaps Lincoln was not in a good
humor, owing to the cares of his position, or the
importunity of those office-seekers who besieged
him during the early mouths of his administration.

" Mr. President," said the senator, introducing
the visitor, "this is my brother, who is just up
from Louisiana ; he may give you some information
you want."

"Ah!" said Lincoln, carelessly, "how are you
getting along down there?"

" They think they are getting along swimmingly,"
answered Sherman, in a sarcastic vein ; "they are
preparing for war ! "

"Oh, well, I guess we ll manage to keep house,"
said the President, laconically.

Sherman, as it may be imagined, was c i sadly dis
appointed at what seemed to be the singular in
difference of Lincoln to the condition of affairs
in the South. John Sherman, in his "Recol
lections," says, apropos of this interview, that
while Lincoln did say, "I guess we ll manage to
keep house," he also expressed a hope, which Will
iam T. Sherman knew to be delusive, that the dan
ger would pass by, " and that the Union would be
restored by a peaceful compromise." According
to the senator, this was undoubtedly the idea then
uppermost in the minds of both the President and
Mr. Seward. "At this time the public mind in
the North was decidedly in favor of concessions to
the South."

When the two brothers were on their way back


from the White House, William Tecumseh burst
forth into abuse of the politicians. " You have all

got things in a of a fix !" he growled, using

an expression more forcible than complimentary.
i i and you may get them out as you best can. As
for me, I am going to St. Louis to take care of my
family, and will have no more to do with it."

John Sherman begged his brother to be more
patient, but the latter only answered that he would
not be patient j he "had no time to wait" ; he was
"off for St. Louis." And off to St. Louis he went
forthwith, after making a stop at Lancaster for his
family. On the first of April he was installed presi
dent of the Fifth Street Passenger Eailway. He
tried hard to settle down to his prosaic duties, with
out thought of the storm that was gathering over
the nation, but it was no easy work for a man of his
decided temperament to ignore facts. Events were
moving apace, for Major Anderson, at Fort Sumter,
was soon to be bombarded, and the torch of war
would then be aflame. The struggle was now on
for the possession of the border states. Missouri
had become uncertain ground ; in St. Louis, where
the excitement was at the highest pitch, the Confed
erate flag was publicly displayed from the " Eebel "
headquarters at Fifth and Pine Streets. In LindelP s
Grove, at the end of Olive Street, there was a t state
camp of instruction" which was, beyond doubt, in
the interests of the Southern cause, and " designed
to be used against the national authority in the
event of the general government s attempting to


coerce the Southern Confederacy." In the arsenal
were several companies of regulars, under the com
mand of Captain Lyon. Heated discussions took
place every night at the hotels and taverns ; neigh
bors of long-time intimacy began to quarrel ; the
newspapers grew hysterical ; threats of violence
against either "Rebels" or " Abolitionists " were
heard on the respective sides.

At this stage of the turmoil Sherman received the
following telegram, under date of April 6th :

11 Will you accept the chief clerkship of the War
Department ? We will make you Assistant Secre
tary of War when Congress meets.


i i Postmaster- General. >

To this communication Sherman briefly replied
by telegraph: "I cannot accept." He supple
mented the refusal by a letter to the postmaster-
general, in which he explained that he had just ac
cepted a position as president of a street railway
company ; that he had rented a house and incurred
other obligations, and did not feel at liberty to
make any change. He added that he wished the
new administration "all success in its almost im
possible task of governing this distracted and an
archical people."

Sherman s experience upon his visit to Lincoln
may not have been conducive to an enthusiastic re
ception of Blair s offer, but Mrs. Thorndike is right
when she says that "in writing to explain his re-


fusal lie does not state the real reason, which was
undoubtedly that he preferred active service," in
the field. 1

John Sherman thoroughly approved of his broth
er s determination not to take a civilian position
under the government, for he had great faith in
William s ability as a soldier. " You ought to hold
yourself in reserve, 77 the senator quickly writes
from Washington. " If troops are called for, as
they surely will be in a few days, organize a regi
ment or brigade, either in St. Louis or Ohio, and
you will then get into the army in such a way as to
ensure promotion. By all means take advantage of
the present disturbances to get into the army, where
you will at once put yourself in a high position for
life. I know that promotion and every facility for
advancement will be cordially extended by the au
thorities." The writer adds what, in view of the
gloomy outlook, was a wonderful and daring
prophecy : t Whatever you may think of the signs
of the times, the government will rise from this
strife greater, stronger, and more prosperous than
ever. It will display energy and military power."

It was this courageous faith in the future, really
sublime in its way, that filled at least a few North
ern hearts when the nation s life seemed most in
jeopardy, and that brought about, in the end, the
restoration of the Union. It was this same sublime
courage that inspired the Southerners, no less Ameri
can than ourselves, to fight valiantly until they had
1 Vide "The Sherman Letters," p. 109.


hardly the clothes to shield their nakedness nor
food to put in their starving bodies.

Two days after the deliverance of this prophecy
Fort Sumter surrendered the great four years
struggle had begun. John Sherman wrote his
brother at once : We are on the eve of a terrible
war. Every man will have to choose his position.
You, fortunately, have the military education,
prominence, and character, that will enable you to
play a high part in the tragedy. You can t avoid
taking such a part. Neutrality and indifference
are impossible. . . . The administration in
tends to stand or fall by the Union, the entire
Union, and the enforcement of the laws. I look for
preliminary defeats, for the rebels have arms, or
ganization, unity ; but this advantage will not last

There was no need to urge William Tecumseh
Sherman, once he saw any chance of real fighting.
He only wanted the actual thing, not a burial
among the archives of a Washington department.
He was soon writing to Simon Cameron, the new
Secretary of War :

DEAR SIR : I hold myself now, as always, pre
pared to serve my country in the capacity for which
I was trained. I did not and will not volunteer for
three months, because I cannot throw my family on
the cold charity of the world. But for the three
years call, made by the President, an officer can
prepare his command and do good service.

"I will not volunteer as a soldier, because right-


fully or wrongfully I feel unwilling to take a mere
private s place, and having for many years lived in
California and Louisiana, the men are not well
enough acquainted with me to elect me to my ap
propriate place.

"Should my services be needed, the records of
the War Department will enable you to designate
the station in which I can render most service. 7

Sherman showed his keen common sense in send
ing this letter to Cameron. For some of his best
friends, not to mention several officials in Washing
ton, had begun to doubt his loyalty. He was a
frank and voluble talker, when in the mood, never
fearing to call a spade a spade ; and it is more than
possible that his perpetual damning of the poli
ticians, whom he held responsible for the crisis of
affairs, may have tended to make the more radical
Northerners look upon him with distrust. Further
more, he had no inclination to think that a man was
in danger of the eternal fires simply because he
owned slaves and we know that some pious people
looked upon a slave- owner as on a moral par with
Satan. We can easily imagine Sherman anath
ematizing an Abolitionist as a "mischievous fel
low, 7 and having one of his hearers run away to
spread the news that the speaker was " wobbling "
in his allegiance.

In this connection John Cannon wrote of Sherman
several years later, at the close of the war, that " he
was not reticent, like Grant, but could dispute or
make speeches by the hour. His oratory was robust


and forcible iii the highest degree, and, wheii
moved, the workings of his features attested the
vehemence of his feelings. . . . His nature was
so fervent, his manner at times so eccentric, that
many persons set him down as insane. But his sol
diers did not think so. His daring courage was of
itself sufficient to give him popularity among
them." l

It is Cannon, likewise, who gives us so graphic a
picture of Sherman s personality that we may well
quote it here. He was nearly six feet high, his
frame muscular, though somewhat lean ; his consti
tution one of iron. His face was of l the true North
American type, showing the English descent, yet
with every feature modified." His complexion was
"blonde, though sufficiently weather-beaten; his
hair light ; his eyes light blue, bright and quick,
aud gleaming very fiercely in his fits of anger. He
was a great smoker, and in mentioning this fact
some observers say that his was just the tempera
ment on which the use of tobacco has a bad effect-
whence some of the excitement in his nature. He
was by no means averse to spirituous refreshment
either, but in that never to excess. He was, like
Grant, careless of his personal attire ; wore a dingy
uniform on campaign, and never buttoned up his
tunic to the chin." His prominent forehead, it is
added, was the feature that most impressed observ
ers. It might have been said, too, that this face,

1 " Grant s Campaign for the Capture of Richmond" ; a most
interesting narrative.


beaming with intelligence, was undeniably harsh,
or at least serious, in repose, but could soften won
derfully when in animated conversation with con
genial associates. Indeed, it was the face of a man
who could wage war most relentlessly and who yet
had, withal, a softer side to his nature, which was
by no means impervious to what the writers of the
eighteenth century floridly called "sentiment."

One biographer, Captain David P. Conyngham,
speaks of Sherman s face as "sharp and angular,"
covered with a short, grizzly beard, of a sandy
color. " His eyes are piercing, with something of a
harsh, cruel expression about them. His manner
of speaking is rapid, and rather sarcastic."

The general, as the writer of the present memoir
recalls him, many years after the war, was an inter
esting, although by no means a handsome man, to
gaze upon. His features, strongly marked and fur
rowed, proclaimed that their possessor had helped
to make history ; his eyes were of the kind to kin
dle alternately with the varied lights of anger and
pleasure ; his nose was pugnacious ; his mouth, its
expression softened by age, must once have been
terribly unyielding ; his -manner was nervous but
sincere ; and his whole bearing that of a man who
thoroughly believed in himself and his opinions.

Some men achieve success by diplomatic means,
by pliancy to the views of those above them, and,
in short, through infinite pains to find out which
l way the wind blows. Others achieve the same re
sults through an indomitable energy of character


that commands respect because of its utter indiffer
ence to consequences. The face of Sherman was the
face of the latter class. He was bound to make an
impress on the world in some form. Had he not
succeeded he would surely have gone down into his
tory as a brilliant failure a defiant, censorious,
uncomfortable martyr to his honest egotism.

So much for Sherman s personal attri butes. They
had a sort of rugged charm of their own, and formed
a correct barometer of the rugged soul within.

Sherman s letter of explanation to Simon Cam
eron was written on May 8, 1861. This was a little
more than three weeks after Lincoln, stirred into
action by the bombardment and fall of Sumter, had
issued his call for 75,000 volunteers with whom to
put down the Eebellion. It will be noted that in
his letter Sherman offers to enlist for three years a
proposition which many persons considered start
ling, not to say, absurd, at that time. It was now
the fashion in certain quarters in the North, to
think that, if the seceding states were coerced back
into the Union, the process would take only a few
months. But Sherman, once so hopeful of compro
mise, had made up his mind that the South, now
very much in earnest, would fight to the bitter end
for what she chose to call her freedom. He knew
that the Southerners were a brave people. Were
they not, when all was said, Americans, just as the
inhabitants of Massachusetts, or New York, or
Pennsylvania, were Americans ? He criticised, too,
Lincoln s call because the "best of men could be


made only indifferent soldiers in three months,"
and the best of soldiers could accomplish nothing
in three months in such a country as ours.

The answer to the letter came indirectly but
none the less surely. On the 14th of May Sher
man received a dispatch from Washington announc
ing his appointment as colonel of the Thirteenth
Eegular Infantry. It was high time for the new
colonel to be off to action. St. Louis was in a tur
moil : the Southern sympathizers in Camp Jackson,
in LindelPs Grove the u state camp of instruction "
before mentioned were captured by United States
troops ; there had been firing on the crowd of specta
tors, and some fatalities.

Sherman, like Eichard, was himself again.
Once more in the regular army, he sniffed the
battle from afar like a young warhorse ; he was
ready for the fray, slavery or no slavery, politicians
or no politicians. Whatever his opinions as to past
issues might be, and however much he might have
hoped for compromise, he was eager to fight for the
continuance of the republic. The sentiment in the
North was now crystallizing in favor of compelling
the slave states to stay within the national union
whether they would or not. The bombardment of
Sumter by Beauregard had given a fatal blow to the
old theory of allowing the " erring sisters 7 to de
part in peace. They must be brought once again
under the paternal roof-tree, even if it were neces
sary to apply the lash.


Sherman resigned his presidency of the Fifth
Street Eailway, instructed Mrs. Sherman to pack
up and take her family to Lancaster, and hurried
on himself to Washington, where he reported in
person to General Scott. He there found that the
government was trying to rise to a level with the
occasion." He thought that Lincoln s plan to raise
ten new regiments of regulars (one of which was
the Thirteenth Infantry) and his call for 75,000
volunteers, was totally "inadequate," but he re
marks, " Still, it was none of my business." In
stead of being allowed to recruit his new regiment,
the colonel was detailed by Scott to remain in
Washington for inspection duty (June 20th).

At that time Winfield Scott, as the lieutenant-
general of the army, was looked upon as the
elderly but efficient Moses who was to lead the
children of America out of the dangerous wilds of
war into an epoch of peace and reunion. No one
knew exactly how this was to be accomplished,
for the officials in Washington were all more or less
at sea, or at cross purposes as to methods, and only
the Confederates seemed inspired with real confi
dence and enthusiasm. Eegulars and militia were
gathering in and about Washington, with General
Mansfield commanding in the city, and Irwiii
McDowell in charge on the other side of the
Potomac, with headquarters at Arlington. The
militia was evidently composed of the right ma
terial, but it was pretty raw material thus far.
"Their uniforms," as Sherman noticed, "were as


various as the states and cities from which they
came ; their arms were also of every pattern and
calibre j and they were so loaded down with over
coats, haversacks, knapsacks, tents and baggage,
that it took from twenty-five to fifty wagons to
move the camp of a regiment from one place to
another, and some of the camps had bakeries and
cooking establishments that would have done
credit toDelmonico."

In Pennsylvania another force under General
Eobert Patterson had been collected and moved
forward to Williamsport, Maryland, on the Poto
mac Eiver. Colonel Sherman paid a visit to this
army, where he talked with his old classmate,
General George H. Thomas and other officers, who
were of the opinion that the war would be short
and decisive. And all the time the public was
calling for speed in ending the conflict and giving
vent to the cry " On to Richmond ! " 1

" While I was on duty with General Scott, 77 says
Sherman, "he frequently communicated to those
about him his opinions and proposed plans. He
seemed vexed with the clamor of the press for
immediate action, and the continued interference in
details by the President, Secretary of War and Con
gress. He spoke of organizing a grand army of
invasion, of which the regulars were to constitute
the iron column/ and seemed to intimate that he

1 Richmond, Virginia, had now been made the capital of the
Confederacy, and became, of course, the objective point of the
principal military operations of the Union armies in the east.


himself would take the field in person, although he
was at the time very old, very heavy, and very
unwieldy. "

The public at this time was impressed with the
idea that one great blow against the Confederate
stronghold of Eichniond would end the war. Scott
could not resist the pressure, and none the less so
because the Confederates now had two armies in
front of Washington : one at Manassas Junction,
commanded by Beauregard, with its advance guard
at Fairfax Court House ; and the other, under com
mand of General Joseph E. Johnston, at Win
chester. The lieutenant-general gave orders for
a general advance against the enemy by the middle
of July. General McDowell was to move from
Washington and Patterson from Martinsburg.
Colonel David Hunter was assigned to command
the Second Division of McDowell s forces, and
Sherman was ordered to take charge of Hunter s
old brigade, consisting of five regiments, and form
ing part of the First Division, under General Daniel

In the meantime Congress assembled in special
session (July 4th, 1861), and Lincoln sent it a
lengthy message wherein he recommended that
the means be given to make the approaching con
test " short and decisive." That is to say, he
called for at least 400,000 men and an appropria
tion of four hundred millions of dollars. " And
having thus chosen our course, without guile and
with pure purpose," he concluded, "let us renew


our trust in God, and go forward without fear and
with manly hearts." Mr. Lincoln was beginning,
after his slow but steady way, to feel his path and
measure up to the situation, even if he did look for
a " short and decisive " contest.

Sherman selected for his brigade in the field the
Thirteenth New York Kegiment, the Sixty-ninth
New York, the Seventy-ninth New York, and the
Second Wisconsin. A battery of regular artillery
was also attached to the brigade. The other regi
ment, the Twenty-ninth New York, was left be
hind to take charge of defenses and camps. The
Sixty-ninth was an Irish regiment and immediately
asserted the Celtic prerogative of " making trouble."
The men had volunteered in New York early in
April, for ninety days, but as they had come via
Annapolis, owing to the disturbances in Baltimore,
and had done guard duty on the railroad for several
weeks before they reached Washington, it was about
a month after their enrollment that they were mus
tered into the service. Some of the men asserted
that they were entitled to their discharge in ninety
days from the time of enrollment, instead of in
ninety days from the time of the muster-in.
Sherman submitted the question to the War De
partment, which promptly decided that the regi
ment would be held till the expiration of three
months from the date of muster-in; i. e. 7 until about
the first of August. This supposedly settled the
controversy. Corcoran, the colonel of the Sixty-
ninth, and his officers generally, desired to go to


war, Sherman tells us, but a good many of the men
were not so anxious. There were not a few recruits
at that time who enlisted for what they thought
was to be a dress parade, and who were quite ready
to go home when they found that war meant some
thing more than the waving of flags and the strident
music of brass bands.

Sherman was now in his element, and worked day
and night to prepare his raw troops for the advance.
There was surely enough work for every commander
in trying to bring order out of the general chaos and
confusion. The government of the United States
was finding it a great task to handle or direct the
forces which a loyal North was now sending in for
its defense. One felt in those early days of the
conflict that we were merely playing with war.
Uniforms were more in evidence around "Washing
ton than discipline ; there was more talk and bluster
than action ; and everything that was done, or about
to be done, was rushed into print forthwith, so that
the Confederates were able to keep thoroughly in
formed, in conjunction with the aid of their many
friends in the capital, anent the plans for their sub
jugation. But the public, " drunk with hope, 77
saw none of these things, or i i saw them double ; and
those who might have led the people ran after them.

It might be said, in defense of the delusions of
the hour (exactly as Colonel S. M. Bowman pointed
out) that the Union army was numerically stronger
than the Confederate forces, as well officered, better
equipped, and as well instructed. But the Confed-


erates had the advantage of being on the defensive.
On the other hand, " our troops would have to move
to find the enemy, and to attack him in his chosen
position, or sustain his fire delivered from behind
cover or from behind earthworks. But the salient
point of this question is, that the result of any move
ment, by either side, was left to chance ; no
man could have indicated the causes which would
determine the result. It was purely chance whether
any movement ordered from headquarters would be
made at all ; a rare chance whether it would be
made at the time designated in orders ; a miraculous
chance if it were made exactly as ordered. By
waiting a very little while, the result might have
been reasonably assured. We could not wait. In
the American character Hope crowds Patience to
the wall." 1

General McDowell began his advance on the 16th
of July, with a force estimated at some 28,000 men.
From this movement resulted the battle of Bull
Eun, about thirty miles southwest from Washing
ton, where Beauregard and Johnston (the lat
ter had eluded General Patterson) won their first

1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryEdward RobinsWilliam T. Sherman → online text (page 4 of 22)