Wednesday, February 18, 1863

Camp Near Vicksburg

The weather is wet and it makes camp life difficult. The river is rising and we are almost flooded. I have plenty of time. I wrote to my brother, Senator John Sherman:

TO JOHN SHERMAN

Camp before Vicksburg,

February 18,1863

My Dear Brother,

I have seen your speeches on the subject of absentees, filling up the army with conscripts, and the necessity of standing by the President for the sake of unity of action. So at last I see you and the Country begin to realize what we ought to have known two years ago, that individual opinions however sincere, real & honest are too various to Secure unity of action, and at last that men must forego their individual notions and follow some one Leader, the Legitimate & Constitutional one if possible. Two years of war, costly & bloody have been endured and we have arrived by sad experience at a Result that all the world knew before. If the People of the North will not learn from the experience of the world, but must go on groping in the dark for experience to develop and demonstrate the Truth of established principles of Government, why of course there is no help for it, but as a people we must pay the price.

We have reproached the South for arbitrary conduct in coercing her People. At last we find we must imitate their example. We have denounced their tyranny in filling their armies with conscripts. Now we must follow her example. We have denounced their tyranny in suppressing freedom of speech and the press, and here too in time we must follow her Example. The longer it is deferred the worse it becomes.

Who gave notice of McDowell’s movement on Manassas, & enabled Johnston so to reinforce Beauregard that our army was defeated?
The Press.
Who gave notice of the movement on Vicksburg?
The Press.
Who has prevented all secret combinations and movements against our enemy?
The Press.
Who has sown the seeds of hatred so deep, that Reason, Religion and Self interest cannot eradicate them?
The Press.
What is the real moving cause in this Rebellion?
Mutual hatred & misrepresentations made by a venal Press.

In the South this powerful machine was at once scotched and used by the Rebel Government, but at the North was allowed to go free. What are the results? After arousing the passions of the people till the two great sections hate each other with a hate hardly paralleled in history, it now begins to Stir up sedition at home, and even to encourage mutiny in our armies.
What has paralyzed the Army of the Potomac?
Mutual jealousies kept alive by the Press.
What has enabled the enemy to combine to hold Tennessee after we have twice crossed it with victorious armies? What defeats and will continue to defeat our best plans here and elsewhere?
The Press.

I cannot pick up a paper but tells of our situation here, in the mud, sickness,
and digging a canal in which we have little faith. But our officers attempt secretly to cut two other channels, one into Yazoo by an old Pass, and one through Lake Providence into the Tensas, Black, Red &c., whereby we could turn not only Vicksburg & Port Hudson, but also Grand Gulf, Natchez, Ellis Cliff, Fort Adams and all the strategic points on the Main River. The busy agents of the Press follow up and proclaim to the world the whole thing. Instead of surprising our enemy, we find him felling trees & blocking passages that would without this information have been in our possession. All the real effects of surprise are lost. I say with the Press unfettered as now, we are defeated to the end of time.

Tis folly to say the people must have news. Every soldier can and does write to his family & friends & all have ample opportunities for so doing. This pretext forms no good reasons why agents of the Press should reveal prematurely all our plans & designs. We cannot prevent it. Clerks of steamboats, correspondents in disguise or openly attend each army & detachment. And presto! Appearing in Memphis & St. Louis are minute accounts of our plans & designs. These reach Vicksburg by telegraph from Hernando & Holly Springs before we know of it.

The only two really successful military strokes out here have succeeded because of the absence of newspapers or by throwing them off the trail. Halleck had to make a simulated attack on Columbus to prevent the Press giving notice of his intended move against Forts Henry & Donelson. We succeeded in reaching the Post of Arkansas before the Correspondents could reach their Papers. Now in war, it is bad enough to have a bold daring enemy in great strength to our front without having an equally dangerous & treacherous foe within. I know if the People of the United States could see & realize the Truth of this matter they would agree to wait a few days for their accustomed batch of exciting news rather than expose their sons, brothers & friends as they inevitably do to failure and death.

Of course I know the President & Congress are powerless in this matter & we must go on till perpetual defeat & disaster point out one of the Chief Causes. Instead of being governed by Reason, our people prefer to grope their way through personal Experience and must pay its cost. I only await a good time to Slide out & let the experiment go on at the expense of others. I have had my share & wish no more. I still have unlimited faith in Halleck & prefer that he should command the whole army than McClellan. Still, I would like to have him come West.

Affectionately,
Sherman

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2 Responses to Wednesday, February 18, 1863

  1. Pingback: “‘Tis folly to say the people must have news”: Sherman, the Press, and Our Own Culpability | Emerging Civil War

  2. Pingback: ‘Tis folly to say the people must have news’ – Sherman, the press and our own culpability – Jandoli Institute

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