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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
“So smoothly and harmoniously have things worked on this line...that the soldiers and officers will follow me into any enterprise however hazardous....The capture of Atlanta and its Line of Railroads gives me a fine opening for another still more decisive move in war, but we must have our regiments filled up. War is costly in life, but it is thrust on us and we must meet it in all its magnitude.”
On actually commencing his famous march from Atlanta to the sea, Sherman severed his contacts with the North, breaking all railroad and telegraph communications with the rear. Early in November, before setting out, Sherman wrote to Phil from Kingston, Georgia:
“We are not fighting [Jefferson] Davis alone, but all the elements of Anarchy, which have organized resistance to an attempted civilized and compact Government....If my name must go to History, I prefer it should not as the enemy to the South or any...system of labor which however objectionable has cleared the Forest & cornbrakes and developed a Wealth otherwise latent, but against mobs, vigilance committees and all the other phases of sedition and anarchy which have threatened and still endanger the country which our children must inhabit.”
“I still threaten the newspaper men with instant death.”
A month after his army had captured Savannah and on the eve of his northward march into the Carolinas, Sherman wrote Phil from his headquarters just across the Georgia line.
“I have been wanting to write you for a month but have let days & weeks pass by and now find myself on the edge of civilization about to cut loose to attempt another of those Grand Schemes of War that make me stand out as a Grand Innovator. Of course I know better, that I have done nothing wonderful or new, [taken] in our risks proportioned to the ability to provide for them. The Dutch & Greek navigators clung to the land, but others struck out across the ocean depending on the compass, and now who clings to the land is deemed the less safe sailor. So in war. Who clings to a base or defends it is less at ease than one who makes his army strong and doesnt dissipate it by detachments. But let the world draw its own conclusions. I know my enemy and think I have made him feel effects of war that he did not expect. And he now learns how the Power of the United States can reach him in his innermost recesses...
“I am at this instant at a Plantation house near Pocotaligo around which I am assembling men & materiel of war for the invasion of South Carolina, where I spent so many years. The rice fields look familiar, the...Forests and rows of live oaks, but the People are all gone—Negroes & Whites—and desolation is supreme, i know that at some point I will meet a desperate set who look upon me as a renegade, one who enjoyed their hospitality and now thanks them with fire & sword. Their devotion is wonderful. Men of immense estates of income of 30 to 50,000 dollars have given up all and now serve as common soldiers in the Ranks. Why cannot we inspire our people with the same ardor, whereas they seem more intent on getting Negroes and vagabonds to take the place of soldiers....I have been writing by twilight and got off these Lines, but will dress up now that Candles are lighted....My Right wing is now here, draws its supplies from the head of Port Royal. My Left Wing is over on the Savannah River near Sisters Ferry. I expect to be all ready on the 30th when I will again cut loose and penetrate the State, trusting to our strong army to cut our way out. I have pretty clearly marked out in my mind my course, which does not touch Charleston, but it will face that place to extremity and the enemy may give it up, but it makes little difference, as it does us little harm now, and is not worth the time of a siege. You may not hear from me for a month and then on the North Carolina coast. Keep this to yourself, and breathe not a syllable, for it is only by keeping my own counsels that I have succeeded.”
Referring to a bill in Congress to create a new office of lieutenant general for himself, Sherman said he would not accept the new rank and that he did not approve, either, a proposal to make Grant a full general. “My rank is now enough for legal purposes,” he wrote from Pocotaligo, “...and additional rank would confer no title. I am now a General in Command of an army as large as possible, indeed my command now runs from the Mississippi to the Atlantic and in fact I command wherever I go and...it is impossible to confer more....Indeed the fact that such perfect harmony exists between me and all commanders gives me as much influence in the military world as I could ask.”
Sherman recently had received an appeal for special consideration from one of his foster brothers, Brig. Gen. Hugh Ewing, who had fought with great spirit at Vicksburg and Missionary Ridge. At the approach of winter 1863-64, Hugh had requested a transfer from the field to a city. Sherman had given him the transfer but in the spring would not restore him to his old command. After the fall of Savannah, Hugh had appealed again without success. Of this Sherman wrote to Phil: