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victory, and caused unpleasant surprise to cer
tain worthy persons in the North who had
firmly believed that those " cowardly rebels " would
never look a Union army in the face. Sherman,
who there received his real baptism of fire, tells us,

1 Bowman and Irwin, " Sherman and His Campaigns. " It must
not be forgotten, too, that the public pressure was increased by
the cries of some enterprising newspaper editors, each of whom
had a certain plan for ending the war.


some years later, that this was one of the best-
planned battles of the Civil War, but one of the
worst-fought. The men were not yet nerved up to
the frightful sights and sounds of war ; it was too
much like bringing a lot of kindergartners, willing
but inexperienced, into the fray. i i We had good
organization, good men, but no cohesion, no real
discipline, no respect for authority, no real knowl
edge of war. Both armies were fairly defeated and,
whichever had stood fast, the other would have run.
Though the North was overwhelmed with mortifica
tion and shame, the South really had not much to
boast of, for in the three or four hours of fighting
their organization was so broken up that they did
not and could not follow our army when it was
known to be in a state of disgraceful and causeless

It may be true, theoretically, that "both armies
were fairly defeated, 7 but the fact remains that for
all practical purposes the Confederates were the
victors, and that the moral effect of the battle was
prodigious. The South was naturally jubilant at
the result, and doubtless became over- confident ; the
North was shocked, shamed, dazed and was taught
a useful lesson. Henceforth there would be no
vaporings about "cowardly rebels."

As commander of his brigade, Sherman behaved
throughout his first battle with a fine combination
of gallantry and discretion, doing all that he per
sonally could, however useless, to stem the tide of
flight. He seems to have handled his brigade in a


masterly manner, as he put his regiments success
ively into action ; but at last his forces, after valiant
advances against a storm of shot and shell, went to
pieces. This was about half-past three o clock in
the afternoon. Up to that time all had kept their
places, and seemed perfectly cool, but the exposure
to an intense fire of small arms, at short range,
finally produced disorder. "Men fell away from
their ranks, talking and in great confusion," offi
cially reported Sherman. Many of his officers were
supposed to be dead or missing, and many wounded
were being assisted to the rear. " We succeeded in
partially reforming the regiments, but it was mani
fest that they would not stand, and I directed
Colonel Corcoran [of the Sixty -ninth New York] to
move along the ridge to the rear, near the position
where we had first formed the brigade. General
McDowell was there in person, and used all possi
ble efforts to reassure the men. By the active ex
ertions of Colonel Corcoran we formed an irregular
square against the cavalry which were then seen to
issue from the position from which we had been
driven, and we began our retreat toward the same
ford of Bull Eun by which we had approached the
field of battle." On reaching Centreville Sherman
found McDowell, who then hoped to rally the army
and make a final stand. " But about nine o clock
at night I received from General Tyler, in person,
the order to continue the retreat to the Potomac.
This retreat was by night, and disorderly in the ex
treme. The men of different regiments mingled to-


gether, and some reached the river at Arlington,
some at Long Bridge, and the greater part returned
to their former camp, at or near Fort Corcoran. I
reached this point at noon the next day, and found
a miscellaneous crowd crossing over the aqueduct
and ferries. Conceiving this to be demoralizing I
at once commanded the guard to be increased, and
all persons attempting to pass over to be stopped.
. . . Comparative order was restored, and all
were posted to the best advantage."

It was gloomy and drizzling when Sherman
reached Fort Corcoran, but the day was no gloomier
than the military outlook. Every one seemed to be
demoralized ; the nation, or the northern part of it,
had gone into sudden mourning. But there was a
quick reaction, as the people girded their loins anew
for better results. It was now understood, as General
Force truly says, that " men who would carry on
war must learn the business of war, as a man must
learn any business if he would succeed in it."

Sherman worked hard to bring his brigade into
form, and with good results. The Sixty-ninth
(Irish) Eegiment, however, was rather tired of the
war ; some of the men were very anxious to see
their homes again. One morning after reveille one
of its officers remarked nonchalantly to Sherman :
" Colonel, I m going to New York to-day ; what
can I do for you? "

"How can you go to New York?" demanded
Sherman. "I don t remember to have signed a
leave for you ! "


The officer explained that he did not need a leave
of absence. He had engaged to serve his country
for three months only, he said, and had already ex
ceeded that time. He was a lawyer : he had neg
lected his business long enough, and proposed to go
home. Some of the soldiers of his regiment listened
eagerly as he spoke. Sherman saw that now was
the time for discipline, very much needed. So he
replied sharply : " Captain, this question of your
term of service has been submitted to the rightful
authority, and the decision has been published in
orders. You re a soldier, and must submit to or
ders until you are properly discharged. If you
attempt to leave without orders it will be mutiny,
and I will shoot you like a dog ! Go back into the
fort now, instantly, and don t dare to leave without
my consent !

Sherman had on his overcoat, and may, as he
naively admits, "have had his hand about the
breast." Be that as it may, the captain, after a
brief pause, walked back sullenly into the fort.

This incident had a sequel that proved character
istic of the peculiar humor and shrewdness of Abra
ham Lincoln. The very same day Colonel Sherman
(he was still a colonel in the regular service al
though commanding a brigade of volunteers) met
the President and Mr. Seward, driving in an open
hack toward Fort Corcoran. He eagerly inquired
if they were on their way to his camps. "Yes,"
replied Lincoln ; "we heard that you had got over
the big scare, and we thought we would come over


and see the boys. 77 By invitation of the President,
Sherman jumped into the hack, and the party was
driven into camp. On their way Lincoln hinted
that he would like to speak to the soldiers of the
brigade, to cheer them up and inspire them with
confidence. Whereupon Sherman, with good, hard,
unemotional sense, suggested that Lincoln should
discourage all cheering or hysterical noise of any
kind. "We had enough of that before Bull linn
to ruin any set of men," he explained in effect,
"and what we need now are cool, thoughtful, hard-
fighting soldiers no more hurrahing ; no more

Lincoln took the advice in the best of heart, and
was evidently pleased at the practical qualities of
the colonel. In fine, they got along much better
than at their meeting in the White House, when
the President had announced his intention "to
keep house." When he reached the first camp
of the brigade, Lincoln made an admirable ad
dress to the men, full of hope, and well seasoned, no
doubt, with those moral platitudes which he knew
so well how to deliver as if they were not platitudes.
Once, when the men began to cheer, he promptly
checked them with the quizzical warning : " Don t

Sherman was one of the very few generals who seldom
grieved Lincoln. ... He had learned to cherish the most
profound respect for Lincoln. . . . There is no doubt that
Lincoln s earliest impressions of Sherman were quite as un
favorable to Sherman as were Sherman s early impressions of
Lincoln. Alexander K. McClure, in "Lincoln and Men of
War Times."


cheer, boys. I confess I rather like it myself, but
Colonel Sherman here says it s not military, and I
guess we had better defer to his opinion."

Thus they passed through all the camps of the
brigade, the cleanliness of which drew forth many
compliments from Mr. Lincoln, who admitted that
this was the first bright moment he had experienced
since he had heard the mortifying news from Bull
Eun. At length, when they reached the men of the
Sixty -ninth Eegirnent, the mutinous captain forced
his way through the crowd to Lincoln s carriage
(wherein was Sherman, on the front seat) and said :

"Mr. President, I have a cause of grievance.
This morning I went to speak to Colonel Sherman,
and he threatened to shoot me ! "

"He threatened to shoot you, did you say?"
echoed Mr. Lincoln, who was standing up in the
hack, facing the soldiers. He had told all the men
not to hesitate to appeal to him personally in case
they felt themselves aggrieved. Here was the cap
tain s opportunity.

"Yes, sir, Colonel Sherman threatened to shoot
me," he reiterated.

The President stooped his gaunt form toward the
officer, as he said, in a loud stage whisper : " Well,
if I were you, and he threatened to shoot, I would
not trust him, for I believe he would do it."

The soldiers laughed, and the captain, unable to
stand the ridicule, disappeared from the crowd, as
he does from history.

After the carriage had been driven on, and Sher-


man had explained the nature of the grievance,
Lincoln said : " Of course I didn t know anything
about it, but I thought you knew your own busi
ness best."

Lincoln s answer to the captain had an immediate
effect in restoring order. The mere narration of
this episode serves to show more clearly than a
hundred chapters, how much the raw army stood
in need of discipline in those early days of the
struggle, when soldiers were too prone to think
that, as members of a great democracy, they were
"as good as, 7 if not better than, their superior

But now that illusions were over now that others
saw, as did Sherman, that "hurrahing" and
"spread-eagleism" should be replaced by solid,
hard work on the part of both soldiers and govern
ment, things underwent a marvelous change.
George Brinton McClellan, who had made a reputa
tion for himself in western Virginia, was summoned
to Washington, and organized the Army of the
Potomac in masterly fashion. In organization was
his strength ; only as an aggressor was he lacking.
Troops began to pour in from all quarters ; the pa
pers were full of the wonderful executive ability of
the "young Napoleon."

In the meantime Sherman was appointed a briga
dier-general of volunteers (August, 1861), and or
dered to the new Department of the Cumberland,
embracing Kentucky, Tennessee, etc., as second in
command to Brigadier-General Robert Anderson.


Sherman was glad of the assignment, and none the
less so because he did not wish to be placed at the
head of an army. He was more modest than some
of the commanders. When he mentioned to Lin
coln his desire to serve under another general, the
President said "yes" with alacrity. His chief
trouble, observed Lincoln with a twinkle in his in
scrutable eyes, was to find places for " the too many
generals who wanted to be at the head of affairs."

The new brigadier -general soon found that his
responsibilities were greater than he had expected.
Hardly had he reached Kentucky, to confront the
peculiar military and political situation in that state
he found i the young men were generally inclined
to the cause of the South," while the older men of
property desired to be neutral than General An
derson relinquished his command, owing to broken
health (October 8th). " I must go away, or it will
kill me," said Anderson, pathetically. General
Sherman himself was now forced to assume the
leadership. He found the position a thankless one.
Indeed, he was soon to be heralded throughout the
North as a mad man simply because he had more
sanity than some of the civil authorities in Washing
ton. He would be classed in many of the newspa
pers as mentally unbalanced ; more than one official
would consider him a mental and physical wreck ;
the Assistant Secretary of War, Colonel Thomas A.
Scott, would say to Colonel McClure, "Sherman s
gone in the head ! " Truth is not always welcome ;
the teller of it is occasionally doomed to martyrdom.



THE situation in Kentucky was a peculiarly try
ing one, from a military standpoint, owing to the
mixed political conditions which hemmed in the
commander of the Department of the Cumberland.
Sherman was glad to hear that Brigadier-General
Buell would soon arrive from California to relieve
him. While he was waiting, trying as best he could
to cope with impossibilities, Secretary of War Cam
eron, who had in his train several war correspond
ents, honored him with a visit at Louisville. On
inquiring as to the condition of affairs in the De
partment, Cameron was surprised at Sherman s an
swer that they were "as bad as bad could be. 7
Later, when the party were at the Gait House, the
secretary said : "Now, General Sherman, tell us of
your troubles."

The general looked suspiciously at the corre
spondents. * * They are all friends, explained Cam
eron ; "you may speak freely." Thereupon Sher
man poured forth his woes, complaining, among
other things, of the insufficient number of troops
allowed him, and the scarcity of arms. He be
lieved that there was throughout the state a large
number of Union men of the more substantial kind,


who, overawed by the Confederates and beyond
the reach of the Federal forces, were therefore
obliged to remain neutral. At his lowest computa
tion there were then 35,000 organized insurgent sol
diers in Kentucky, who contemplated a grand ad
vance toward the Ohio Eiver. To expel the enemy
from the state, he went on, he needed at least 60,000
men, instead of the much smaller number say,
15,000 to 18,000 allotted to him. Sherman added
that to carry the whole war to the Gulf of Mexico,
and crush all opposition to the Union in the entire
Mississippi Valley, at least 200,000 troops would be
requisite for the use of the government.

Simon Cameron asked, not without irritation :
i Where do you suppose, General Sherman, all this
force is to come from ? " l

Sherman replied that he did not know ; that it
was not his duty to raise and place the necessary
military force in the field ; that such a duty apper
tained to the War Department. There is a tradi
tion, characteristic enough if true, that he also
bluntly said to the secretary : t i You can at least
stop playing politics, and let the young men who
want to come forward and enlist, keep coming.
Instead of that the politicians at Washington are
discouraging them, and trying to make the country
believe that this war is going to blow over in a lit
tle while! 77

Cameron promised to do what he could to relieve

1 See the report of the interview, written August 24, 1866, by
General Thomas J. Wood, who was present.


Sherman s embarrassment, but it is evident that he,
like many others, failed to realize the gravity of
the general situation. And now Sherman, who had
underestimated rather than exaggerated that situa
tion, was to be rewarded for his candor by being
declared " insane" a u visionary lunatic" a
4 military imbecile." The interview at the Gait
House became public property, and the newspapers,
or some of them at least, were soon jeering at the
general. It was said that he had asked for 200,000
men for service in Kentucky ; that he was suffering
from nervous fear and took a frightened view of
things ; that he had made the most absurd demands
upon the secretary of war. And the secretary, so
said Dame Eumor, looked upon Sherman as an
officer whose mind had become unbalanced through
great responsibilities and poor health. So the story
went, increasing in sensationalism as it progressed,
while it proved a toothsome morsel for the kind
public, which is not averse, usually, to reading dis
agreeable things of others.

About the middle of November Sherman was re
lieved of his command by Buell, as he had expected,
and was transferred for duty to the Department
of the Missouri. A few days later he was sent to
Sedalia, to inspect the camp there. After he had
concluded his work and given certain instructions
as to the disposition of troops, he was ordered back
to St. Louis, where he made his report to Major-
General Halleck, then commanding the Department
of the Missouri.


The public interpreted the arrival of Buell, and
Sherman 7 s recall from Sedalia, as a sign that the
latter had lost the confidence of the authorities, and
was looked upon as dangerous. The clamor
against him was kept up with such vigor that he
went home to Lancaster on a twenty days leave of
absence, that time might be allowed for the storm
to blow over.

One can imagine the feelings of Sherman when,
early in December, during his Lancaster furlough,
he read the following editorial in the Cincinnati
Commercial :

" The painful intelligence reaches us in such form
that we are not at liberty to discredit it, that Gen
eral W. T. Sherman, late commander of the Depart
ment Df the Cumberland, is insane ! It appears that
he was at times, when commanding in Kentucky,
stark mad. We learn that he at one time tele
graphed to the War Department three times in one
day for permission to evacuate Kentucky and retreat
into Indiana. He also, on several occasions,
frightened the leading Union men of Louisville al
most out of their wits by the most astounding rep
resentations of the overwhelming force of Buckner,
and the assertion that Louisville could not be

It should be remembered that General Buckner
(who was destined, as a sign of national reunion, to
be one of the pallbearers at General Grant s
funeral) had been making things very unpleasant
for Kentucky " loyalists."


The editorial continued : " When relieved from
the command in Kentucky he [Sherman] was sent
to Missouri, and placed at the head of a brigade at
Sedalia, where the shocking fact that he was a mad
man was developed by orders that his subordinates
knew to be preposterous and refused to obey. He
has, of course, been relieved altogether from com
mand. The harsh criticisms which have been lav
ished upon this gentleman, provoked by his strange
conduct, will now give way to feelings of the deep
est sympathy for him in his great calamity. It
seems providential that the country has not to
mourn the loss of an army through the loss of the
mind of a general into whose hands were committed
the vast responsibilities of the command in Ken
tucky. 7

Sherman threw down the paper in disgust.
" Well, now, I shouldn t be surprised if they would
fasten that on me," he cried. "It s the hardest
thing in the world for a man to prove himself sane,
especially when many people think his ideas wild ! "
He at once wrote a letter to General Halleck
wherein he complained of the Commercial s attack,
and explained that he had imprisoned a reporter
of this very paper in Louisville for visiting certain
camps without his leave, and, indeed, against the
general s positive orders. l These newspapers have
us in their power," he added, "and can destroy us
as they please, and this one can destroy my useful
ness by depriving me of the confidence of officers
and men."


It may be noted, in passing, that this experience
with the Commercial did not tend to make Sherman
any more cordial toward war correspondents a
class of men, for whom, with some exceptions, he
manifested a mixture of hatred and contempt. He
believed that in their zeal for their respective jour
nals, they were too ready to give to the public mili
tary information which proved useful news for the
enemy. There is no doubt that war requires the
most rigorous sort of telegraphic and postal censor
ship, no matter what truthful platitudes may be
uttered as to the " freedom of the press."

Halleck did what he could to soothe the wounded
feelings of Sherman and his relatives ; but there is
no doubt that for a time he had lost confidence in
the judgment of his angry subordinate. For he had
written to General McClellan just before the publi
cation of the article in the Commercial, that General
Sherman s movement of troops around Sedalia
(where he was authorized to assume command in
case of possible danger of attack) had not been satis
factory. " I am satisfied," Halleck went on, "that
General Sherman s physical and mental system is so
completely broken by labor and care as to render
him for the present entirely unfit for duty. Per
haps a few weeks rest may restore him. I am satis
fied that in his present condition it would be dan
gerous to give him a command here."

It is certain that Sherman, for a time, was looked
upon askance by the military Solons and by the
foolish optimists at Washington. His nervousness


of manner, which may then have amounted to
irascibility, probably increased the impression that
he was suffering from hallucination due to over
work. A physician of to-day would have advised
a hospital and the "rest cure." Time, however,
avenged him nobly. At no distant day Sherman
would live down these calumnies, and by his bril
liant conduct be restored to public favor. As
Colonel McClure observes, he was the only military
man of that particular period of the war who
thoroughly and accurately appreciated the situ
ation in the southwest, and his estimate of the
requisite forces was proved to be substantially cor
rect. "Buell, who succeeded Sherman in com
mand, had nearly 60,000 men when he was ordered
to Grant at Shiloh, and fully 200,000 men were
reapers in the harvest of death before the re
bellion was conquered in the southwest and the
Father of Waters again went unvexed to the
sea. 7 "

On returning from his leave of absence Sherman
found that Halleck was beginning to move his
troops. One part, under General Grant, was
ordered up the Tennessee River ; another part,
under Curtis, in the direction of Springfield,
Missouri. Sherman was now assigned to Curtis s
place in command of the camp of instruction at
Benton Barracks, back of North St. Louis (De
cember 23d). To understand his future move
ments we must see what was happening in the


In January, 1862, the Union armies everywhere
numbered over 600,000 men, backed by a fleet, at
various points, of more than 200 vessels. McClellan
had been resting all winter on the Potomac, organiz
ing his great army. In his front was General
Joseph E. Johnston, disciplining his own soldiers
and preparing for the spring campaigns. In the
west affairs were being conducted on a more ac
tive scale. General Halleck had a command of su
preme importance, which embraced two distinct
fields of military operations, extending from the line
of the Cumberland Eiver westward toward Kansas,
and divided by the Mississippi River. Of these the
most important was that east of the Mississippi.
The Confederates held Columbus, on that river ;
Fort Henry, on the Tennessee ; Fort Donelson, on
the Cumberland ; and Bowling Green, in the De
partment of the Cumberland positions which gave
the key-note to the control of western and central
Kentucky. It was Halleck s duty to penetrate the
Confederate line of defense. This was to be done
by breaking its centre, or, in other words, by a
movement up the Tennessee River. This move
ment resulted in General Grant s capture of Fort
Henry (February 6, 1862). l

Just a week later Sherman was ordered to Padu-
cah, Kentucky, to look after the work of forward
ing supplies and men to General Grant. The latter
marched across to Fort Donelson, on the Cumber -

1 See Dodge s "Bird s Eye View of Our Civil War," and
Bowman and Irwin s "Sherman and His Campaigns."


land, a distance of ten miles, and with the assist
ance of the naval flotilla, captured its garrison of
12,000 men under Buckner (February 16th). It was
here that Grant sent his celebrated message to
Buckner, "I propose to move immediately upon
your works." The North now resounded with the
name of Ulysses S. Grant. Poor Sherman, faith

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Online LibraryEdward RobinsWilliam T. Sherman → online text (page 5 of 22)