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General Sherman And The Baltimore Belle
“Why Oh! Why should death’s darts reach the young and brilliant —”
April 1958 | Volume 9, Issue 3
The following day a messenger appeared at the Baltimore residence of Samuel Hoffman bearing a telegram for Emily’s mother. Mrs. Huffman’s only son was in the Confederate service, and that perhaps made it less inexcusable when she remarked, as she handed Emily the message, that here at last was “some good news”:
THE AMERICAN TELEGRAPH COMPANY
NEAR ATLANTA JULY 23 1864
REC’D, BALTIMORE, 23 1864 ,
TO MRS SAML HOFFMAN FRANKLIN ST
GENL BARRY DESIRES ME TO SAY THAT GENL MCPHERSON WAS KILLED IN BATTLE YESTERDAY HIS REMAINS WERE SENT TO HIS HOME LAST EVENING IN CHARGE OF HIS STAFF
JC VAN DUSEN CAPT & ASST SUPR
Emily fled to her room and locked the door. She was still there three weeks later when a servant handed her a second letter from General Sherman. It was written from outside Atlanta—the city lay under siege now and victory was in sight—but the General’s thoughts were far from jubilant:
HEADQUARTERS , Military Division of the Mississippi In the Field, near Atlanta Geo.
1864 Miss Emily Hoffman,
My Dear Young Lady,
A letter from your Mother to General Barry on my Staff reminds me that I owe you heartfelt sympathy and a sacred duty of recording the fame of one of our Country’s brightest & most glorious Characters. I yield to none on Earth but yourself the right to excel me in lamentations for our Dead Hero. Better the Bride of McPherson dead, than the wife of the richest Merchant of Baltimore.
Why Oh! Why should death’s darts reach the young and brilliant instead of older men who could better have been spared. Nothing that I can record will elevate him in your minds memory, but I could tell you many things that would form a bright halo about his image. We were more closely associated than any men in this life. I knew him before you did, when he was a Lieutenant of Engineers in New York we occupied rooms in the same house. Again we met at St. Louis almost at the outset of this unnatural war, and from that day to this we have been closely associated. I see him now, So handsome, so smiling, on his fine black horse, booted & spurred, with his easy seat, the impersonation of the Gallant Knight.
We were at Shiloh together, at Corinth—at Oxford—at Jackson, at Vicksburg, at Meridian, and on this campaign. He had left me but a few minutes to place some of his troops approaching their position, and went through the wood by the same road he had come, and must have encountered the skirmish line of the Rebel Hardee’s Corps, which had made a Circuit around the flank of Blair’s troops. Though always active and attending in person amidst dangers to his appropriate duties on this occasion he was not exposing himself. He rode over ground he had twice passed that same day, over which hundreds had also passed, by a narrow wood road to the Rear of his Established Line.
He had not been gone from me half an hour before Col. Clark of his Staff rode up to me and reported that McPherson was dead or a prisoner in the hands of the Enemy. He described that he had entered this road but a short distance in the wood some sixty yards ahead of his Staff & orderlies when a loud volley of muskets was heard and in an instant after his fine black horse came out with two wounds, riderless. Very shortly thereafter other members of his staff came to me with his body in an ambulance. We carried it into a house, and laid it on a large table and examined the body. A simple bullet wound high up in the Right breast was all that disfigured his person. All else was as he left me, save his watch & purse were gone.
At this time the Battle was raging hot & fierce quite near us and lest it should become necessary to burn the house in which we were I directed his personal staff to convey the body to Marietta & thence North to his family. I think he could not have lived three minutes after the fatal shot, and fell from his horse within ten yards of the path or road along which he was riding. I think others will give you more detailed accounts of the attending circumstances. I enclose you a copy of my official letter announcing his death.
The lives of a thousand men such as Davis and Yancey and Toombs and Floyd and Buckner and Greeley and Lovejoy could not atone for that of McPherson. But it is in this world some men by falsehood and agitation raise the storm which falls upon the honorable and young who become involved in its Circles.
Though the cannon booms now, and the angry rattle of musketry tells me that I also will likely pay the same penalty yet while Life lasts I will delight in the Memory of that bright particular star which has gone before to prepare the way for us more hardened sinners who must struggle on to the End.
With affection & respect, W. T. Sherman
The letter did little good. Emily remained secluded in her room, blinds drawn. Food was left on a tray outside her door, and occasionally she put out a jar of slops. She allowed no one to enter except her sister Dora, who gradually ruined her eyes reading aloud in the gloom. It was exactly a year later—to the very day—when Emily HofTman finally emerged, to spend the rest of her life in bitter spinsterhood.