Review of "Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman" Vol. I

Here is the whole book.  I'll post a review of Volume II later today
or tomorrow.

When I think of the Civil War, my overwhelming emotion is sadness.
Sherman is often considered among the more barbaric of the Civil
War generals, so one might think it odd that someone who is
generally opposed to war, like me, would find a lot to admire in
General Sherman. However, Sherman has one of the most
redeeming qualities of all - he was almost always correct.

I believe the Civil War was unfortunate and unnecessary. It
happened because a lot of people wrong and a lot of people were
misled and a lot of people acted on ridiculous assumptions (Sherman
agreed "I thought, and may have said, that the national crisis had been
brought about by the politicians, and, as it was upon us, they 'might
fight it out'"). Sherman knew what the Civil War would entail (lots and
lots of death and destruction and lots of fighting) and he knew what
the fight was about (subjugation of the South to the North – "The South
must be ruled by us, or she will rule us. We must conquer them, or
ourselves be conquered."). He had no illusions. He also knew what it
took (Mencius Moldbug linked to this article, and it's worth reading) to
put down an insurgency (tactics that are brutal enough that they make
the whole population of the occupied territories want the war to end).

These memoirs are probably not the best introduction to Sherman or
the Civil War. Start with Shelby Foote and then go to contemporary
sources, like Sherman's memoirs. They are definitely worth reading if
you already have some familiarity with the War.

Sherman's attitude about slavery (this statement is made prior to the war)
is similar, to the general attitude of Northerners at the time (and many
Southerners):
 

. . . were I a citizen of Louisiana, and a member of the Legislature, I would deem it wise to bring the legal condition of the slaves more near the status of human beings under all Christian and civilized governments. In the first place, I argued that, in sales of slaves made by the State, I would forbid the separation of families, letting the father, mother, and children, be sold together to one person, instead of each to the highest bidder. And, again, I would advise the repeal of the statute which enacted a severe penalty for even the owner to each his slave to read and write, because that actually qualified property and took away a part of its value; illustrating the assertion by the case of Henry Sampson, who had been the slave of Colonel Chambers, of Rapides Parish, who had gone to California as the servant of an officer of the army, and who was afterward employed by me in the bank at San Francisco. At first he could not write or read, and I could only afford to pay him one hundred dollars a month; but he was taught to read and write by Reilley, our bank-teller, when his services became worth two hundred and fifty dollars a month, which enabled him to buy his own freedom and that of his brother and his family.

Sherman was also right about the truth of the War being something that is not palatable. I still think most people don’t find it palatable, and so we have what passes for the official version of the Civil War. As Sherman put it:

I have again and again been invited to write a history of the war, or to record for publication my personal recollections of it, with large offers of money therefor; all of which I have heretofore declined, because the truth is not always palatable, and should not always be told. Many of the actors in the grand drama still live, and they and their friends are quick to controversy, which should be avoided. The great end of peace has been attained, with little or no change in our form of government, and the duty of all good men is to allow the passions of that period to subside, that we may direct our physical and mental labor to repair the waste of war, and to engage in the greater task of continuing our hitherto wonderful national development.

Finally, Sherman gives his thoughts on reconstruction to General Halleck in a long letter, which I cannot resist the urge to quote in full.

[Private and Confidential.]

HEADQUARTERS, FIFTEENTH ARMY CORPS,
CAMP ON BIG BLACK, MISSISSIPPI, September 17 1863
H. W. HALLECK, Commander-in-Chief, Washington, D. C.

DEAR GENERAL: I have received your letter of August 29th, and with
pleasure confide to you fully my thoughts on the important matters
you suggest, with absolute confidence that you will use what is
valuable, and reject the useless or superfluous.

That part of the continent of North America known as Louisiana,
Mississippi, and Arkansas, is in my judgment the key to the whole
interior. The valley of the Mississippi is America, and, although
railroads have changed the economy of intercommunication, yet the
water-channels still mark the lines of fertile land, and afford
cheap carriage to the heavy products of it.

The inhabitants of the country on the Monongahela, the Illinois,
the Minnesota, the Yellowstone, and Osage, are as directly
concerned in the security of the Lower Mississippi as are those who
dwell on its very banks in Louisiana; and now that the nation has
recovered its possession, this generation of men will make a
fearful mistake if they again commit its charge to a people liable
to misuse their position, and assert, as was recently done, that,
because they dwelt on the banks of this mighty stream, they had a
right to control its navigation.

I would deem it very unwise at this time, or for years to come, to
revive the State governments of Louisiana, etc., or to institute in
this quarter any civil government in which the local people have
much to say. They had a government so mild and paternal that they
gradually forgot they had any at all, save what they themselves
controlled; they asserted an absolute right to seize public moneys,
forts, arms, and even to shut up the natural avenues of travel and
commerce. They chose war–they ignored and denied all the
obligations of the solemn contract of government and appealed to
force.

We accepted the issue, and now they begin to realize that war is a
two-edged sword, and it may be that many of the inhabitants cry for
peace. I know them well, and the very impulses of their nature;
and to deal with the inhabitants of that part of the South which
borders on the great river, we must recognize the classes into
which they have divided themselves:

First. The large planters, owning lands, slaves, and all kinds of
personal property. These are, on the whole, the ruling class.
They are educated, wealthy, and easily approached. In some
districts they are bitter as gall, and have given up slaves,
plantations, and all, serving in the armies of the Confederacy;
whereas, in others, they are conservative. None dare admit a
friendship for us, though they say freely that they were at the
outset opposed to war and disunion. I know we can manage this
class, but only by action. Argument is exhausted, and words have
lost their usual meaning. Nothing but the logic of events touches
their understanding; but, of late, this has worked a wonderful
change. If our country were like Europe, crowded with people, I
would say it would be easier to replace this class than to
reconstruct it, subordinate to the policy of the nation; but, as
this is not the case, it is better to allow the planters, with
individual exceptions, gradually to recover their plantations, to
hire any species of labor, and to adapt themselves to the new order
of things. Still, their friendship and assistance to reconstruct
order out of the present ruin cannot be depended on. They watch
the operations of our armies, and hope still for a Southern
Confederacy that will restore to them the slaves and privileges
which they feel are otherwise lost forever. In my judgment, we
have two more battles to win before we should even bother our minds
with the idea of restoring civil order–viz., one near Meridian, in
November, and one near Shreveport, in February and March next, when
Red River is navigable by our gunboats. When these are done, then,
and not until then, will the planters of Louisiana, Arkansas, and
Mississippi, submit. Slavery is already gone, and, to cultivate
the land, negro or other labor must be hired. This, of itself, is
a vast revolution, and time must be afforded to allow men to adjust
their minds and habits to this new order of things. A civil
government of the representative type would suit this class far
less than a pure military role, readily adapting itself to actual
occurrences, and able to enforce its laws and orders promptly and
emphatically.

Second. The smaller farmers, mechanics, merchants, and laborers.
This class will probably number three-quarters of the whole; have,
in fact, no real interest in the establishment of a Southern
Confederacy, and have been led or driven into war on the false
theory that they were to be benefited somehow–they knew not how.
They are essentially tired of the war, and would slink back home if
they could. These are the real tiers etat of the South, and are
hardly worthy a thought; for they swerve to and fro according to
events which they do not comprehend or attempt to shape. When the
time for reconstruction comes, they will want the old political
system of caucuses, Legislatures, etc., to amuse them and make them
believe they are real sovereigns; but in all things they will
follow blindly the lead of the planters. The Southern politicians,
who understand this class, use them as the French do their masses
–seemingly consult their prejudices, while they make their orders
and enforce them. We should do the same.

Third. The Union men of the South. I must confess I have little
respect for this class. They allowed a clamorous set of demagogues
to muzzle and drive them as a pack of curs. Afraid of shadows,
they submit tamely to squads of dragoons, and permit them, without
a murmur, to burn their cotton, take their horses, corn, and every
thing; and, when we reach them, they are full of complaints if our
men take a few fence-rails for fire, or corn to feed our horses.
They give us no assistance or information, and are loudest in their
complaints at the smallest excesses of our soldiers. Their sons,
horses, arms, and every thing useful, are in the army against us,
and they stay at home, claiming all the exemptions of peaceful
citizens. I account them as nothing in this great game of war.

Fourth. The young bloods of the South: sons of planters, lawyers
about towns, good billiard-players and sportsmen, men who never did
work and never will. War suits them, and the rascals are brave,
fine riders, bold to rashness, and dangerous subjects in every
sense. They care not a sou for niggers, land, or any thing. They
hate Yankees per se, and don’t bother their brains about the past,
present, or future. As long as they have good horses, plenty of
forage, and an open country, they are happy. This is a larger
class than most men suppose, and they are the most dangerous set of
men that this war has turned loose upon the world. They are
splendid riders, first-rate shots, and utterly reckless. Stewart,
John Morgan, Forrest, and Jackson, are the types and leaders of
this class. These men must all be killed or employed by us before
we can hope for peace. They have no property or future, and
therefore cannot be influenced by any thing, except personal
considerations. I have two brigades of these fellows in my front,
commanded by Cosby, of the old army, and Whitfield, of Texas.
Stephen D. Lee is in command of the whole. I have frequent
interviews with their officers, a good understanding with them, and
am inclined to think, when the resources of their country are
exhausted, we must employ them. They are the best cavalry in the
world, but it will tax Mr. Chase’s genius for finance to supply
them with horses. At present horses cost them nothing; for they
take where they find, and don’t bother their brains as to who is to
pay for them; the same may be said of the cornfields, which have,
as they believe, been cultivated by a good-natured people for their
special benefit. We propose to share with them the free use of
these cornfields, planted by willing hands, that will never gather
the crops.

Now that I have sketched the people who inhabit the district of
country under consideration, I will proceed to discuss the future.

A civil government now, for any part of it, would be simply
ridiculous. The people would not regard it, and even the military
commanders of the antagonistic parties would treat it lightly.
Governors would be simply petitioners for military assistance, to
protect supposed friendly interests, and military commanders would
refuse to disperse and weaken their armies for military reasons.
Jealousies would arise between the two conflicting powers, and,
instead of contributing to the end of the war, would actually defer
it. Therefore, I contend that the interests of the United States,
and of the real parties concerned, demand the continuance of the
simple military role, till after all the organized armies of the
South are dispersed, conquered, and subjugated.

The people of all this region are represented in the Army of
Virginia, at Charleston, Mobile, and Chattanooga. They have sons
and relations in each of the rebel armies, and naturally are
interested in their fate. Though we hold military possession of
the key-points of their country, still they contend, and naturally,
that should Lee succeed in Virginia, or Bragg at Chattanooga, a
change will occur here also. We cannot for this reason attempt to
reconstruct parts of the South as we conquer it, till all idea of
the establishment of a Southern Confederacy is abandoned. We
should avail ourselves of the present lull to secure the
strategical points that will give us an advantage in the future
military movements, and we should treat the idea of civil
government as one in which we as a nation have a minor or
subordinate interest. The opportunity is good to impress on the
population the truth that they are more interested in civil
government than we are; and that, to enjoy the protection of laws,
they most not be passive observers of events, but must aid and
sustain the constituted authorities in enforcing the laws; they
must not only submit themselves, but should pay their share of
taxes, and render personal services when called on.

It seems to me, in contemplating the history of the past two years,
that all the people of our country, North, South, East, and West,
have been undergoing a salutary political schooling, learning
lessons which might have been acquired from the experience of other
people; but we had all become so wise in our own conceit that we
would only learn by actual experience of our own. The people even
of small and unimportant localities, North as well as South, had
reasoned themselves into the belief that their opinions were
superior to the aggregated interest of the whole nation. Half our
territorial nation rebelled, on a doctrine of secession that they
themselves now scout; and a real numerical majority actually
believed that a little State was endowed with such sovereignty that
it could defeat the policy of the great whole. I think the present
war has exploded that notion, and were this war to cease now, the
experience gained, though dear, would be worth the expense.

Another great and important natural truth is still in contest, and
can only be solved by war. Numerical majorities by vote have been
our great arbiter. Heretofore all men have cheerfully submitted to
it in questions left open, but numerical majorities are not
necessarily physical majorities. The South, though numerically
inferior, contend they can whip the Northern superiority of
numbers, and therefore by natural law they contend that they are
not bound to submit. This issue is the only real one, and in my
judgment all else should be deferred to it. War alone can decide
it, and it is the only question now left for us as a people to
decide. Can we whip the South? If we can, our numerical majority
has both the natural and constitutional right to govern them. If
we cannot whip them, they contend for the natural right to select
their own government, and they have the argument. Our armies must
prevail over theirs; our officers, marshals, and courts, must
penetrate into the innermost recesses of their land, before we have
the natural right to demand their submission.

I would banish all minor questions, assert the broad doctrine that
as a nation the United States has the right, and also the physical
power, to penetrate to every part of our national domain, and that
we will do it–that we will do it in our own time and in our own
way; that it makes no difference whether it be in one year, or two,
or ten, or twenty; that we will remove and destroy every obstacle,
if need be, take every life, every acre of land, every particle of
property, every thing that to us seems proper; that we will not
cease till the end is attained; that all who do not aid us are
enemies, and that we will not account to them for our acts. If the
people of the South oppose, they do so at their peril; and if they
stand by, mere lookers-on in this domestic tragedy, they have no
right to immunity, protection, or share in the final results.

I even believe and contend further that, in the North, every member
of the nation is bound by both natural and constitutional law to
“maintain and defend the Government against all its enemies and
opposers whomsoever.” If they fail to do it they are derelict, and
can be punished, or deprived of all advantages arising from the
labors of those who do. If any man, North or South, withholds his
share of taxes, or his physical assistance in this, the crisis of
our history, he should be deprived of all voice in the future
elections of this country, and might be banished, or reduced to the
condition of a mere denizen of the land.

War is upon us, none can deny it. It is not the choice of the
Government of the United States, but of a faction; the Government
was forced to accept the issue, or to submit to a degradation fatal
and disgraceful to all the inhabitants. In accepting war, it
should be “pure and simple” as applied to the belligerents. I
would keep it so, till all traces of the war are effaced; till
those who appealed to it are sick and tired of it, and come to the
emblem of our nation, and sue for peace. I would not coax them, or
even meet them half-way, but make them so sick of war that
generations would pass away before they would again appeal to it.

I know what I say when I repeat that the insurgents of the South
sneer at all overtures looking to their interests. They scorn the
alliance with the Copperheads; they tell me to my face that they
respect Grant, McPherson, and our brave associates who fight
manfully and well for a principle, but despise the Copperheads and
sneaks at the North, who profess friendship for the South and
opposition to the war, as mere covers for their knavery and
poltroonery.

God knows that I deplore this fratricidal war as much as any man
living, but it is upon us, a physical fact; and there is only one
honorable issue from it. We must fight it out, army against army,
and man against man; and I know, and you know, and civilians begin
to realize the fact, that reconciliation and reconstruction will be
easier through and by means of strong, well-equipped, and organized
armies than through any species of conventions that can be framed.
The issues are made, and all discussion is out of place and
ridiculous. The section of thirty-pounder Parrott rifles now
drilling before my tent is a more convincing argument than the
largest Democratic meeting the State of New York can possibly
assemble at Albany; and a simple order of the War Department to
draft enough men to fill our skeleton regiments would be more
convincing as to our national perpetuity than an humble pardon to
Jeff. Davis and all his misled host.

The only government needed or deserved by the States of Louisiana,
Arkansas, and Mississippi, now exists in Grant’s army. This needs,
simply, enough privates to fill its ranks; all else will follow in
due season. This army has its well-defined code of laws and
practice, and can adapt itself to the wants and necessities of a
city, the country, the rivers, the sea, indeed to all parts of this
land. It better subserves the interest and policy of the General
Government, and the people here prefer it to any weak or servile
combination that would at once, from force of habit, revive sad
perpetuate local prejudices and passions. The people of this
country have forfeited all right to a voice in the councils of the
nation. They know it and feel it, and in after-years they will be
the better citizens from the dear bought experience of the present
crisis. Let them learn now, and learn it well, that good citizens
must obey as well as command. Obedience to law, absolute–yea,
even abject–is the lesson that this war, under Providence, will
teach the free and enlightened American citizen. As a nation, we
shall be the better for it.

I never have apprehended foreign interference in our family
quarrel. Of coarse, governments founded on a different and it may
be an antagonistic principle with ours naturally feel a pleasure at
our complications, and, it may be, wish our downfall; but in the
end England and France will join with us in jubilation at the
triumph of constitutional government over faction. Even now the
English manifest this. I do not profess to understand Napoleon’s
design in Mexico, and I do not, see that his taking military
possession of Mexico concerns us. We have as much territory now as
we want. The Mexicans have failed in self-government, and it was a
question as to what nation she should fall a prey. That is now
solved, and I don’t see that we are damaged. We have the finest
part of the North American Continent, all we can people and can
take care of; and, if we can suppress rebellion in our own land,
and compose the strife generated by it, we shall have enough
people, resources, and wealth, if well combined, to defy
interference from any and every quarter.

I therefore hope the Government of the United States will continue,
as heretofore, to collect, in well-organized armies, the physical
strength of the nation; applying it, as heretofore, in asserting
the national authority; and in persevering, without relaxation, to
the end. This, whether near or far off, is not for us to say; but,
fortunately, we have no choice. We must succeed–no other choice
is left us except degradation. The South must be ruled by us, or
she will rule us. We must conquer them, or ourselves be conquered.
There is no middle course. They ask, and will have, nothing else,
and talk of compromise is bosh; for we know they would even scorn
the offer.

I wish the war could have been deferred for twenty years, till the
superabundant population of the North could flow in and replace the
losses sustained by war; but this could not be, and we are forced
to take things as they are.

All therefore I can now venture to advise is to raise the draft to
its maximum, fill the present regiments to as large a standard as
possible, and push the war, pure and simple. Great attention
should be paid to the discipline of our armies, for on them may be
founded the future stability of the Government.

The cost of the war is, of course, to be considered, but finances
will adjust themselves to the actual state of affairs; and, even if
we would, we could not change the cost. Indeed, the larger the
cost now, the less will it be in the end; for the end must be
attained somehow, regardless of loss of life and treasure, and is
merely a question of time.

Excuse so long a letter. With great respect, etc.,

W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General.

General Halleck, on receipt of this letter, telegraphed me that Mr.
Lincoln had read it carefully, and had instructed him to obtain my
consent to have it published. At the time, I preferred not to be
drawn into any newspaper controversy, and so wrote to General
Halleck; and the above letter has never been, to my knowledge,
published; though Mr. Lincoln more than once referred to it with
marks of approval.

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