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The New Sherman Letters
Extraordinary correspondence, never published before, takes us inside the mind of a military genius. Here is William Tecumseh Sherman in the heat of action inventing modern warfare, grieving the death of his little boy, struggling to hold Kentucky with levies, rolling invincibly across Georgia, and—always—battling the newspapermen whose stories, he believes, are killing his soldiers.
July/August 1987 | Volume 38, Issue 5
“Grant dont like Rosecrans. He found great fault with him here at Iuka a year ago, and though he is disposed to yield to any body who will make some show of sacrifice I doubt if Rosecrans will take it kindly. Rosecrans may be Grant’s superior in intellect, but not in sagacity, purity of character, and singleness of purpose. Rosecrans is selfish & vainglorious. Grant not a bit so. He would never appropriate the just fame of another. He & I have been always perfect friends. I confide in him my innermost thoughts, and when we think differently—which we have on many minor occasions—each respects the motive of the other. I would rather serve under Grant than Rosecrans, for in an extended country like this any one of us may be worsted. Grant would stand by his friend, but Rosecrans would sacrifice his Brother if he stood in the way of his popular renown....
“Willy was to me the one I looked to to inherit all I could learn.”
“Since poor Willy’s death I have felt more than ever my natural desire to stride out into obscurity. The Constant wear & tear of mind & body will make me old & feeble before my time, & yet the moment I cast about to see how I could get away it seems impossible, for all naturally & by habit come to me for orders & instructions. Without being aware of it, I seem to possess a knowledge of men & things, Rivers, Roads capacity of trains, wagons, &c that no one near me even professes to have. And yet I see Buell & McClellan & Porter & others of greater Rank and more fame hugging fine hotels and Summer resorts.”
In March 1864, when Grant was ordered to Washington to assume command of all the Union armies, he turned over to Sherman the huge Military Division of the Mississippi, embracing the departments of the Ohio, the Cumberland, the Tennessee, and the Arkansas. The following month Sherman wrote Phil Ewing from Nashville:
“My whole thoughts now are on concentrating on the Tennessee, and in getting forward the supplies that will enable me at the right time to move forward against Joe Johnston, entrenched in the Mountain Gorge of Georgia. So many men want a furlough, and it is like drawing teeth to get them back, but next month for better or worse. I am sorry to see the people settling down to the belief that this year will end the war. That is impossible. Full 300,000 of the bravest men of this world must be killed or banished in the South before they will think of peace, and in killing them we must lose an equal or greater number, for we must be the attacking party. Still we as a nation have no alternative or choice. It must be done whether we want or not....”
From Nashville Sherman moved on to Chattanooga, and from there, in May 1864, he marched south to begin the invasion of Georgia. By mid-July, having fought, flanked and pursued Joe Johnston for nearly two months, his army stood close to Atlanta. He wrote to Phil in Lancaster to report on his situation:
“As to this campaign I have now driven my adversary wholly across the Chattahoochee....Atlanta is in full sight 9 miles off. I have brought a hundred thousand men from Chattanooga 120 miles, and driven a well commanded & well organized [Confederate] Army of 60,000 from the fortified positions at Dalton, Resaca, Cassville, Allatoona, Kenesaw, Smyrna and the Chattahoochee taking his only nitre [for making gunpowder] country, his vast iron works, & lode of ore, and lastly the most extensive cotton & woolen manufactures of Georgia. We had sixty days of Continuous Combat, with several pretty smart battles interspersed. I don’t believe there are ten men in the United States other than those here who appreciate and measure the vast labor of mind & body consumed in accomplishing these results and I may be at fault for discouraging flattering descriptions because I prefer at the end, or rather at some pause in the Grand drama, to paint a connected whole rather than scattering it piecemeal to satisfy the greedy curiosity of a gaping public. I think in crossing the Chattahoochee as I have, without loss of a man, I have achieved really a creditable deed. Thomas told me he dreaded it more than any one thing ahead and when he learned that I had Schofield across, fortified & with two pontoon bridges laid only 3 miles above where Johnston lay entrenched on this bank, he could not believe it....If I can take Atlanta without too large a sacrifice I may then allow my friends to clamor for another Kind of General, for I have given daily directives to 200,000 men on distant fields with a full hundred thousand under my own eye.
“My health is good, I live out of doors under a tent fly, have good rations, & ride a good deal. Indeed my lines are always over ten miles long & at the moment full twenty, but my office labors are not great as the details fall upon Army Commanders....”
Three weeks after the fall of Atlanta on September 1, Sherman again wrote Phil.