Camp Near Vicksburg
Tomorrow, I am to start marching south with my troops to join General Grant. The transports will run the batteries tonight and I will again be out in the River below with a few men to do what we can to assist injured men and crippled boats. I expect to be out of touch, so I am sending letters before I leave.
TO JOHN SHERMAN
HeadQuarters, 15 Army Corps
Camp before Vicksburg, April 26, 1863
My Dear Brother,
Tomorrow I start with my Corps to bring up the Rear of the Movement against Grand Gulf, & maybe Jackson Mississippi. I feel in its success less Confidence than any similar undertaking of the War, but it is my duty to cooperate with Zeal and I shall endeavor to do it. Grant is pushed on by Clamors from the rear, the Same old damned Cowardly herd, who disgrace our nation, lay back in Ohio & remote places & raise the hue & cry. We must disregard all Sense and wisdom & common prudence to realize impossibilities. Our Army here in the Mississippi has accomplished more than all the other Armies of the Country have achieved: More results, More actual success & yet must be hounded on by Newspaper Clamor. We have completely paralyzed Arkansas and North Louisiana. The Trans-Mississippi is alienated from the central Government, at Richmond, and the Great Empire of the West is now Subject to our Military dictation. Yet does the country appreciate this fact? No. They have their mind on Vicksburg alone. They lay down impossible plans for its reduction and publish every movement however minute & then cry aloud failure, failure till even our armies begin to mistrust success. Has not Fredericksburg, Vicksburg, Charleston, Port Hudson and hundreds of other examples taught Our People that these are Stern facts to be overcome not by Clamor, but by hard fighting & combination?
But you know I have no faith in our Government as a War Machine. I am bound to lay low and let the Revolution work. But as to our Campaign here, the plan agreed on at Oxford in December last was the plain true & proper one, viz. The Main Army under Grant was to march down parallel with the Mississippi to Grenada, & on towards Vicksburg. Banks & the Gunboat fleet was to move against Port Hudson, whilst I with 30,000 men & the Porter fleet was to move against Vicksburg. The Mishap at Holly Springs turned Grant back and I was left alone to cope with the most formidable natural & artificial fort in this County.
All that is past. Grant came down by River and his entire army, about 70,000 is now near here, but the whole country is under water save little ribands of alluvial ground along the Main Mississippi or parallel Bayous. My proposition was one month ago to fall back upon our original plan, modified by the fact that Yazoo River could be entered by its head and could be used as far down as Greenwood, which is the mouth of Yalobusha. If our Gunboats could have passed that point, a real Substantial advantage would have been gained, for it would have enabled the army to pass the Yalobusha, whereas now, it is a serious obstacle like the Rappahannock and will have to be fought for. Still I hold our Main Army should now be aiming for Grenada. That place once in our hands, & the Railroads back to Memphis put in order, we would have a good open country all the way to the rear of Vicksburg. As this army moved South parallel to the Yazoo, Greenwood, Yazoo City & other points now held by the enemy would be relinquished, and the City of Vicksburg could be fully invested. But I don’t know why, Grant has resolved on another move.
McClernand’s Corps has marched from Millikens Bend along a narrow road to Carthage. McPherson’s has followed, and I start tomorrow. 60,000 men will thus be on a single Road, narrow, crooked & liable to become a quagmire on the occurrence of a single Rain. We hope to carry 10 days rations with us. Seven Iron Clad Gunboats have run the Vicksburg Batteries and and 7 transports will run the batteries tonight. With these we can reach Grand Gulf below the Mouth of Black River, whence there is a Railroad to Raymond 65 miles & Jackson. The destruction of this Road isolates Vicksburg.
Now if we can sustain the army, it may do, but I know the Materiels of food, forage & ammunition cannot be conveyed over that Single precarious Road. Grant has been opening a canal from the Mississippi to Willow Bayou, 3 miles. Willow Bayou Roundaway, & Bayou Vidal form a connected channel, for 47 miles terminating at Carthage, but it is crooked, narrow, and full of trees . Large working parties are Employed in removing these, but at best it is only calculated that it can be used by scows drawn by small steamtugs. It is not even contemplated that the Smallest transports can navigate it. The Canal itself is far from being done. I went through it yesterday in a small Boat & estimate it will take one month to give it 8 feet of water with the present stage. But the water in the River is now falling rapidly. We count on another rise in June from the Missouri, but these Rises are accidental & may or not come.
The great difficulty will be to Support an army operating from Grand Gulf. The Enemy should and will of course attack our Line. We leave behind only a few Common Gunboats and the Sick. Now there are in the Yazoo, plenty of fine boats with which they can emerge from the Yazoo and possess themselves of our Depot at Millikens Bend, the effect of which will be that Grant will be forced to return to reestablish his communications, or else cut loose from the upper River and turn towards New Orleans.
Between the two choices open to him, I far prefer Grenada. One is sure and natural. The other is difficult and hazardous in the Extreme. There is no national or Political reason why this Army should be forced to undertake unnecessary hazards. It is far in advance of Hooker, Rosecrans or Curtis. We have done far more than either of these armies, but have encountered more calumny & abuse than all. General Thomas & Dana are with Grant, a kind of spy on his movements.
Thomas made a speech to my command about the Negroes. I followed & Know the men look to me, more than anybody on Earth. Blair also spoke to his Division. I of Course always tell the Soldiers we are likened to a Sheriff, that must execute the Writ of the Court & not go into an inquiry into the merits of the case. I expressed a hope if the Government did make use of negroes as armed men, they Should be used for some side purpose & not be brigaded with our white men. Long before Congress acted on this matter, I employed cooks & teamsters for my Regiments, but Experience has even changed this. The companies prefer now to be rid of negroes. They desert the moment danger threatens. As soon as we began our march to the Tallahatchee from Memphis, the Negroes quit, leaving their Teams standing in the Roads and details of soldiers had to be sent back to bring up the wagons. At Shiloh all our negro servants fled, and Some of them were picked up by boats 40 miles down the River. I wont trust them to fight yet, but don’t object to the Government taking them from the Enemy, & making such use of them as experience may suggest.
The order consolidating our old Regiments is fatal to the army. It takes 78 of the best men in each Regiment out. If Lincoln desires to defeat our armies he could not have hit upon a better plan. In like manner I infer the draft will not be enforced, or if so that it will be completed with Bounties & a promise of a full share of officers. If this be so, no one will ever look for further success during this administration.
In the hurry of packing up today I wrote this letter, and tonight received a letter from Grant at Carthage countermanding my march and explaining the difficulties that already surround him. He calls on me to make a Road where there is not a foot of dry ground for five miles, indeed on a swamp in which I passed night before last in a large yawl. But I can aid him and have sent a messenger to him that I will make a wagon Road back 3 miles to Willow Bayou, one which can be navigated by barges to Richmond & then in larger boats to Carthage. But even this will not be enough. He cannot support his army & the fleet at Carthage or Grand Gulf, with the Vicksburg & Warrenton Batteries behind him.
It was just this way with Porter. He went up Dan Creek without even advising with me. When he got there jammed in the willows & trees, he appealed to me to come to his aid. By an energy which could not be exceeded, I got up to him just in time to Save his fleet, and yet I have read in a New York paper that had I got to Rolling Fork two days sooner the admiral would have succeeded in his design of reaching Yazoo. The fact was that he was in Deer Creek, before a Soldier of my command knew of the proposed expedition.
I have no doubt also that in this case, I will be the Scape Goat, though I have opposed this move on Grand Gulf from the beginning. Our Iron Clad fleet is below Vicksburg and soon 7 transports & innumerable barges. The iron clads may get back but none else. They are in a fatal trap. They must escape below Port Hudson or be burned. They cannot operate against Vicksburg any better below than above the City. Vicksburg can alone be taken by a powerful army moving inland in cooperation with the Gunboat & a floating force in the River, the plan we made at Oxford in December last is best. But Clamor, newspaper clamor unnerves & unmans every American and makes him helpless. I would not hesitate an hour, but would put things back to when we started. I say we are further from taking Vicksburg today than we were the day I was repulsed.
The Gunboat fleet is in a false position. They only want enough boats in that reach to cut off communication with Red River. Banks is afraid even to attempt Port Hudson, & from all I can hear is more likely to be caged up in New Orleans than to assist us against Vicksburg. Gunboats of themselves can do nothing. In cooperation with a land force, they can occupy the heavy batteries whilst Infantry & land force approach from the rear. 500 Gun boats could not take Vicksburg. They might silence the shore batteries, but could not touch a man on & behind the Hills. Porter knows this & Grant knows it, but they must play to the popular clamor.
Our time here is wasted, and the quicker we get back on the Grenada Road, the Sooner will there be a prospect of success. If a large part of the army does not get into North Mississippi they will make & gather crops there. I don’t believe in the Starvation cry, for wherever we penetrate the Land we find plenty of Cattle 8c Corn. I have met many Vicksburg officers & soldiers under flags of truce, they are fat, healthy and as well clad as we.
Do urge Mr. Lincoln to fill up the Regiments full, & stop this consolidation, if not too late. With the old Regiments full, we would have armies as large as we can handle & feed. But if consolidated in the manner proposed, this year’s campaign is lost before a step is taken.
My health is good. General Thomas pronounced my troops the best he had seen. I don’t oppose negro arming, further than I have no confidence in them. I don’t want them mixed up with our white soldiers. I would rather see them armed & colonized in Florida & North Arkansas.
Give my love to all & believe me always most affectionately.
W. T. Sherman