Edward Robins.

William T. Sherman online

. (page 7 of 22)
Online LibraryEdward RobinsWilliam T. Sherman → online text (page 7 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

ians, Lincoln s hirelings, etc. People who use
such language must seek redress through some one
else, for I will not tolerate insults to our country or
cause. ... I will punish the soldiers for tres
pass or waste, if adjudged by a court-martial, be
cause they disobey orders ; but soldiers are men and
citizens as well as soldiers, and should promptly
resent any insult to their country, come from what
quarter it may. . . . Insult to a soldier does
not justify pillage, but it takes from the officer the
disposition he would otherwise feel to follow up the
inquiry and punish the wrong-doers."

About the same time the general is writing, in a
sarcastic vein, to John Sherman that the people
are always right. Of course, in the long run, be
cause this year they are one thing, next year another.
Do you say the people were right last year, in say
ing, acting and believing that 30,000 [men] were
enough to hold Kentucky and carry on an offensive


war against the South ? The people is a vague ex

These are not very spectacular glimpses of war,
perhaps, but they show the trials that beset Sher
man, and the problems with which he grappled,
when his way was not illumined by the glamour of a
soldier on the field of battle. If they show him in
some testiness of temper, it must yet be admitted
that any general in the heart of a hostile people
does not find life a bed of roses. If the imperturba
ble Lee had not been stopped at Gettysburg and had
captured Philadelphia, he would doubtless have
found the inhabitants of the "City of Brotherly
Love equally hard to bear with, and might have
lost not a little of that philosophic calmness which
suggests so closely the character of General Wash

And in spite of his acerbity, and his hatred of the
taunts of certain citizens of Memphis, Sherman
could descend, or ascend, to a bit of courtesy toward
the enemy that indicated the gentleman "to the
manner born," rather than the uncompromising
soldier. For instance, when Van Dorn, the Con
federate general, had his headquarters in Holly
Springs, and tried, by means of spies, to secure sup
plies from Memphis, Sherman prevented him from
obtaining things of any importance, but "con
nived," as he frankly states, at the Confederate s
receiving, for his own personal use, cigars, liquors,
boots and gloves. This was a courtesy that the lat
ter should have appreciated, and Sherman, who


knew the value of good whiskey and fine cigars,
would doubtless have expected equal consideration
under similar circumstances. But when it came to
smuggling through medicines and provisions for
Van Dorn s camp, the Union general was again the
stern soldier.

Once one of his officers found in a barn, on a farm
outside of Memphis, a handsome city hearse, gor
geously decorated with plumes. The farmer ex
plained that "they had had a big funeral out of
Memphis," but investigation proved that the coffin
in the hearse contained a fine assortment of medi
cines for the use of Van Dora s army.

It need hardly be chronicled that the hearse got
no farther toward the enemy. Sherman observes,
with a twinkle in his eye no doubt, as he wrote, that
thus, "under the pretense of a first-class funeral,
they had carried through our guards the very things
we had tried to prevent. It was a good trick, but
diminished our respect for such pageants after

But events are hastening, if a trifle slowly.
Festina lente was the motto at this stage of the game
of war. Let us follow Sherman on to Vicksburg.



THE complete opening of the Mississippi, from
source to mouth, had now become the ultima thule
of the Union campaigns in the west. Shortly after
the battle of Corinth (where the Confederates were
severely repulsed, on October 3 and 4, 1862, they
having recruited their strength for a struggle to re
take the place), General Grant proposed to Halleck
a movement having for its end the capture of Vicks-
burg. Vicksburg was of great importance to the
enemy, in that it occupied, as Grant pointed out,
the first high ground coming close to the river be
low Memphis. From Vicksburg, too, a railroad
ran eastward, connecting with other roads leading
into Southern territory ; while on the opposite side
of the Mississippi was a second line which ran to
Shreveport, Louisiana. At this particular time
Vicksburg was the only channel connecting the
parts of the Confederacy divided by the river. So
long as it was held by the enemy the free navigation
of the river was prevented. Hence its importance.

Early in November Grant began this new cam
paign from Jackson, Tennessee, by a movement on
Grand Junction, on the Mississippi Central Bail-
road, which the Confederate general, Pemberton,


then occupied. Grant s moving force comprised
about 30,000 men ; he estimated that Pemberton
had about the same number of effectives. McPher-
son commanded Grant s left wing ; C. S. Hamilton
had the centre ; while Sherman was still at Memphis
with the right wing. The movement resulted in the
capture of Grand Junction and La Grange (Novem
ber 8th). A few days later Grant s cavalry was in
Holly Springs, and Pemberton fell back south of
the Tallahatchie River. Thereupon Grant sent
Sherman the following laconic despatch :

u Meet me at Columbus, Kentucky, on Thursday
next. If you have a good map of the country south
of you take it up with you."

When the meeting took place, Sherman was or
dered to join Grant with two divisions, and, if pos
sible, march them down the Mississippi Central
Railroad. It was not long before Sherman had ex
ecuted this order with a promptness that won praise
from his superior, but in the meantime the plan of
campaign against Yicksburg was changed. Sher
man was ordered to take charge of the new expedi
tion, with the co-operation of a gunboat flotilla un
der the command of Admiral Porter. Grant ex
plained that Sherman, with a force of nearly
40,000 men, was to transport the troops by boat
down the Mississippi, and try to capture Vicks-
burg from the rear by making a landing up the
Yazoo River, which empties into the Mississippi a
few miles above the city. The garrison at Vicks-
burg was then small j and Grant hoped so to lian-


die his troops that he might keep Pemberton away
from there.

A large fleet of steamboats, protected by Ad
miral Porter s gunboats, was soon bearing Sher
man s army down the Mississippi Eiver, making a
magnificent sight. "Some few guerrilla parties
infested the banks, but did not dare to molest so
strong a force."

It is plain that Sherman s heart beat high as he
surveyed the fleet steaming down the river 5 he al
ready saw Vicksburg within his grasp. But the
best-laid plans of generals sometimes have a way
of going awry, owing to the contemptuous refusal
of the enemy to do the things expected of them.
Pemberton managed to get into Vicksburg before
Sherman arrived on the scene. And this is the way
it happened. While Grant pushed forward to help
in the movement the two Confederate generals, Van
Dorn and Forrest, joined in an operation against
his line of communications. Van Dorn captured
Holly Springs (December 20th) with its valuable
stores of food and munitions of war, while several
important bridges in Grant s rear were destroyed
about the same time. The colonel who surrendered
the post was dismissed the service, but his disgrace
could not change the situation. The loss of Holly
Springs was a sad blow to Grant, whose base of sup
plies had thus been cut off. In order to re-establish
his base he was obliged to fall back, and Pemberton
was enabled to retire gracefully into Vicksburg.

Meanwhile Sherman, who was not overtaken with


the news of Grant s disaster, reached the mouth of
the Yazoo the day after Christinas. He ascended
the river to a point below Haines Bluff, some two
hundred feet high, landed his men, and made an
assault upon the enemy s strongly fortified position
at that place (December 29th). He hoped thus to
reach the rear of Vicksburg, cut the railroad, and
isolate Pernberton, whom he fondly supposed was
having trouble with Grant. He had no means of
knowing that Pemberton was then in the city,
coolly watching his every operation. The Union
general was repulsed, after a gallant attack, with a
loss of 175 killed, 930 wounded and over 700 miss
ing. He did not abandon hope, but the whole
movement resulted in a disheartening failure,
which, as Colonel Dodge truly says, " was not
caused by want of courageous effort or intelligent
action." Probably it is just as well that Sherman
did not effect a lodgment on the hills behind Vicks
burg, for his forces might have fallen into any trap
that Pemberton chose to lay for them.

The day after New Year s, 1863, Sherman heard
that General McClernand was at hand, having been
appointed to take command of the " expeditionary
force on the Mississippi River." When he was met
by McClernand, that general explained the misfor
tune which had overtaken Grant; and Sherman,
choking down his disappointment, was obliged to
admit that under these changed circumstances
the present movement was hopeless. But in the
North there were some critics "military experts"


of course who raised the cry that Sherman, al
though uo longer a lunatic, was a " bungler." His
tory has completely vindicated the general, and no
one was quicker to aid her in this connection than
Grant himself. "The rebel position," he says,
i i was impregnable against any force that could be
brought against its front." l

When General McClernand arrived to take com
mand he seems to have had no definite plan of
action for opening the navigation of the Mississippi
and, as he euphoniously expressed it, l i cutting his
way to the sea. The sea was there, of course, down
below New Orleans, but how was one to "cut" to
it ? It was finally decided that nothing could be
done against Yicksburg for the present, and Sher
man, no doubt hoping, with the eagerness of a very
human man, to reap some glory from the ill-fated
expedition, suggested that they return via the Ar
kansas Eiver, and attack Arkansas Post, or Fort
Hindman a place over forty miles above its mouth,
garrisoned by about 5,000 Confederates. General
McClernand consented, after some hesitation, and
soon the gunboats of Porter and the transports
bearing the troops were steaming up the Mississippi
once more. On the 6th of January Sherman is
writing to his brother :

"We are now en route for the Arkansas. Up
that river the enemy is entrenched. . . . Now

1 Sherman could not use one-fourth of his force. His efforts
to capture the city, or the high ground north of it, were neces
sarily unavailing. "Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant."


it is unwise to leave such a force iu our rear aud
flank, and inasmuch as General Grant is not pre
pared to march down to Vicksburg by land, we can
attack this Post of Arkansas, aud maybe reach Lit
tle Eock. Success in this quarter will have a good
effect on the main river. But in the end Vicksburg
must be reduced, and it is going to be a hard nut to

And he adds : " I suppose you are now fully con
vinced of the stupendous energy of the South and
their ability to prolong this war indefinitely, but I am
further satisfied that if it lasts thirty years we must
fight it out, for the moment the North relaxes its
energies the South will assume the offensive, and it
is wonderful how well disciplined and provided
they have their men."

The transports and gunboats finally came within
range of Fort Hindman. A bombardment by the
latter was followed by an assault from the troops
and marines, and the capture of the post, with the
taking of 4,800 prisoners and seventeen guns (Jan
uary llth). This ended the expedition up the
Arkansas, and Grant, who had at first been inclined
to disapprove of the movement as an unnecessary
side issue, felt all the more confidence in Sherman
when he realized the importance of the removal
of nearly 5,000 Confederates from the scene. 1

Sherman has left, in his " Memoirs," a graphic

1 "Five thousand Confederate troops left in the rear might have
caused us much trouble and loss of property while navigating
the Mississippi," says Grant.


account of the surrender of the post. t i As the gun
boats got closer up I saw their flags actually over
the parapet of Fort Hindman, and the rebel gun
ners scamper out of the embrasures and run down
into the ditch behind. About the same time a man
jumped up on the rebel parapet just where the road
entered, waving a large white flag, and numerous
smaller white rags appeared above the parapet
along the whole line. I immediately ordered,
Cease firing ! 7 and sent the same word down the
line to General Steele, who had made similar prog
ress on the right, following the border of the
swamp." Sherman ordered his aide, Colonel Day
ton, to jump on his horse and ride straight up to
the large white flag ; and when Dayton s horse was
on the parapet the General followed with the rest of
his staff. On entering the line, he saw that the
Union guns had done good execution ; for there was
a horse battery in evidence, and " every horse lay
dead in the traces." Dead men were lying around
" very thick" ; the scene was one of desolation.

Sherman inquired who commanded the Confeder
ates at this point of the line. A certain colonel
stepped forward and claimed the honor. When
General Churchill, the Commander-in-chief of the
fort, appeared on the scene, he asked furiously :
" Why, colonel, did you display the white flag !"

11 1 received orders to do so from one of your
staff! " answered the colonel, manfully.

Churchill, according to Sherman, angrily denied
ever giving such an order, and there was then


enacted an unusual scene that of two Confederate
officers disputing with each other whilst a victorious
Union general acted as peacemaker.

" It makes little difference now," remarked Sher
man, who, tired and powder-begrimed though he
was, must have appreciated the ironical humor of
the situation ; "you are in our power now ! " The
officers had the sense to stop quarreling ; Fort
Hiudman was now a Union post.

After the capture, Sherman had an amusing in
terview with General McClernand, who, by virtue
of his appointment, had been theoretically in com
mand of the expedition, and who arrogated to him
self the whole credit thereof. McClernand was in
high spirits. He exclaimed repeatedly : Glorious !
Glorious ! My star is ever in the ascendant ! " He
spoke of the troops in a complimentary way, but
seemed very jealous of the work of Admiral Porter.
The admiral had already told Sherman that he felt
a " strong prejudice " against the general.

"I ll make a splendid report ! " went on McCler-
naud. "It s glorious ! " Sherman, who had no ex
alted opinion of his superior (whom he regarded as
that most dangerous specimen of the military
species, a "soldier-politician") unromantically an
swered by asking for something to eat and drink.
That night he slept with the colonel who had been
engaged in the dispute with General Churchill.
The two made some coffee, ate their bread together,
and talked politics until quite late, when they sank
to sleep on straw saturated with the blood of


dead or wounded men. Such are the contrasts of

McClernand ran his erratic course in the Union
army, and has long since been forgotten. 1 He
lacked one of the greatest gifts of the successful
general the power to hold the confidence of his
men. That was a gift that William Tecumseh Sher
man was fast acquiring.

The feelings of General Sherman at this juncture
may be inferred from a letter he wrote John Sher
man from Napoleon, at the junction of the Arkansas
Eiver with the Mississippi, where the river expedi
tion rendezvoused after the attack on Fort Hind-
man. "Mr. Lincoln," he says and here his
wounded pride for once got the better of his judg
ment and his faith in the President " ID tended to
insult me and the military profession by putting
McClernand over me, and I would have quietly
folded up my things and gone to St. Louis, only I
knew in times like these all must submit to insult
and infamy if necessary. ... I hope the poli
ticians will not interfere with Halleck. You have
driven off McClellan, 2 and is Burnside any better?
I never dreamed of so severe a test of my
patriotism as being superseded by McClernand, and

1 John A. McClernand won greater distinction as a politician
than he did as a general. He was relieved of his command of
an army corps in July, 1863, and resigned from the army No
vember 30, 1864. He lived for many years after the war, and
died in September, 1900.

2 McClellan had been relieved of the command of the Army
of the Potomac in November, 1862, while Burnside, his successor,
had met disaster at Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862.


if I can keep down my tamed (?) spirit and live I
will claim a virtue higher than Brutus." A few
days later he says : "The early actors and heroes
of the war will be swept away, and those who study
its progress, its developments, and divine its course
and destiny will be most appreciated. ... As
to making popularity out of it, it is simply ridicu

Many of those who did try to " make popularity "
out of the war were swept away as leaves before
an autumn wind. Sherman, who attended to the
business of war in a businesslike way, was to
secure popularity and hero-worship because he
never groveled for these pleasant evidences of

Some of the higher officers of the Union army,
more particularly during the earlier portion of the
war, when so many military reputations existed on
a precarious tenure, were very energetic in their
cultivation of the newspapers, through the corre
spondents who traveled with the armies. We need
hardly point out that this was not one of Sherman s
weaknesses. Indeed, just about this time, or several
weeks later, characteristically, he was having trouble
with one of the newspaper men, a correspondent of
the New York Herald. The latter had accompanied
the general s forces in defiance of orders, and had
interspersed certain unauthorized information which
he published in the Herald with some personal criti
cisms directed against Sherman himself. He was
tried by court martial, found guilty of violating the


orders of the War Department by publishing corre
spondence concerning military operations without
the sanction of the general in command, and
sentenced to be removed beyond the lines of the
army, not to return again under pain of imprison
ment. This sentence was partially revoked by
the President, who with his naturally kind heart
combined a shrewd wish to retain, as far as possible,
the friendship of the press. The offense, said Lin
coln, was " technical, rather than wilfully wrong,"
and he ordered that the correspondent, Thomas W.
Knox, be allowed to go to General Grant s head
quarters provided, however, that Grant should give
his " express assent" thereto.

But Grant, ever loyal to Sherman, refused this
u express assent," and in no uncertain terms.
Writing from before Yicksburg (April 6, 1863) he
tells Mr. Knox : You came here first in positive
violation of an order from General Sherman. Be
cause you were not pleased with his treatment of
army followers who had violated his order, you
attempted to break down his influence with his
command and to blast his reputation with the
public. . . . General Sherman is one of the
ablest soldiers and purest men in the country. You
have attacked him and been sentenced to expulsion
from this department for the offense. While I
would conform to the slightest wish of the President
where it is formed upon a fair representation of both
sides of any question, my respect for General
Sherman is such that in this case I must decline,


unless General Sherman first gives his consent, to
your remaining."

This was a pretty brave refusal, under the cir
cumstances, for Grant was not yet the power that
he later became.

It may be imagined that, as the correspondent did
not see fit to apologize, Sherman did not give the
required consent. i The insolence of these fellows
is insupportable," he wrote to Grant, in thanking
him for this refusal. " Mr. Lincoln, of course, fears
to incur the enmity of the Herald, but he must rule
the Herald or the Herald will rule him ; he can take
his choice. ... If the press be allowed to run
riot and write up and write down at their pleasure,
there is an end to a constitutional government in
America, and anarchy must result."

Of course, the question as to the rights of a war
correspondent, forms a very delicate problem. The
u freedom of the press" is one of the greatest safe
guards of any country, yet in time of war a little of
that " freedom" may be judiciously curtailed. Ab
struse theories as to rights do not find much
sympathy in war; as between a general and a
journal the general must oftener be the auto

General Force has well summed up these news
paper controversies when he says that Sherman did
not appreciate the craving for information of a
people wrought to a fever of interest. "He was
military in every fibre. His care was to make his
army efficient. He saw that the presence of any


non-combatant was, to some extent, an incum-
brance." l

It is certain that Sherman had no reason to think
with sentimental leniency of the outspoken way in
which some of the newspapers criticised the conduct
of the war. We can fancy him reading the follow
ing editorial excerpt from the Herald, published
just before news of his success at Arkansas Post was
received :

1 As the full details of the late unsuccessful dash
of General Sherman against the rebel defenses of
Vicksburg are laid before the country the decline of
public confidence in Mr. Lincoln s administration is
becoming positively alarming. . . . The clouds
of doubt and despondency, which hitherto have
been relieved by broad spaces of a clear sky, now
seem to overshadow the firmament. With a de
spairing earnestness never witnessed till now, calm,
thinking men are inquiring of each other, Is there
any hope for the country from the present admin
istration f and, if none, will not chaos be upon us
before the appointed period for the election of an
other T 7 (January 16, 1863).

To return to the reduction of Vicksburg. The ne
cessity for such reduction became greater and greater
as the days went on, and none the less so because a
goodly number of persons in the North, Republicans
as well as Democrats, were asking themselves, as the
New York Herald had indicated, whether the war
were not a failure, from the Union standpoint.
1 " General Sherman," page 114.


After McClernand and his forces had reached Na
poleon, succeeding the capture of Arkansas Post,
both Sherman and Admiral Porter sent word to Grant
asking him to take command in person of any future
movement to secure Vicksburg, and expressing their
distrust of McCleruand s fitness for the direction of
so intricate an expedition. So, on the 17th of Jan
uary, Grant visited the forces at Napoleon, and at
once assured himself that McClernand so lacked the
confidence of both army and navy that to keep him
in command would be an element of grave weakness.
"By this time," he says, "I had received authority
to relieve McClernand or to assign any person else to
the command of the river expedition, or to assume
command in person. I felt great embarrassment
about McClernand. He was the senior major-general
after myself within the department. It would not
do, with his rank and ambition, to assign a junior
over him. Nothing was left, therefore, but to as
sume the command myself. I would have been glad
to put Sherman in command, to give him an oppor
tunity to accomplish what he had failed in the De
cember before ; but there seemed no other way out
of the difficulty, for he was junior to McClernand.
Sherman s failure needs no apology."

The result was that on January 29th, General
Grant arrived at Young s Point, on the Mississippi,
above Vieksburg, and assumed personal command
of the operations against that city, with a force com
prising 50,000 men and Porter s flotilla of gunboats.
His army, as now organized, consisted of the Thir-


1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryEdward RobinsWilliam T. Sherman → online text (page 7 of 22)