I wrote the following letter to my wife, Ellen:
TO ELLEN EWING SHERMAN
Camp on Bear Creek, 20 miles N.W. of Vicksburg
June 27, 1863
I am out here studying a most complicated Geography and preparing for Joe Johnston if he comes to the relief of Vicksburg. As usual I have to leave my old companions & troops in the trenches of Vicksburg, and deal with strange men, but I find all willing & enthusiastic. Although the weather is intensely hot, I have ridden a great deal, and think I know pretty well the weak and strong points of this extended Line of Circumvallation, and if Johnston comes I think he will have a pretty hard task to reach Vicksburg. From the broken nature of the country he may feign at many points and attack but on one.
Black River, the real Line is now so low it can be forded at almost any point and I prefer to fight him at the Ridges along which all the Roads lead. Of these there are several, some of which I have blocked with fallen trees and others left open for our own purposes. These will be open to him if he crosses over. Our accounts of his strength & purposes are limited as the testimony of fact of deserters & spies generally are. I intend to be governed by what I suppose he will do, under the pressure of opinion that must be brought to bear on him to relieve a brave & beleaguered Garrison.
I suppose he made large calculations on obstructing the River at some point above us, and it seems the Boats coming down & going up receive shots at various points along the River, but thus far reinforcements and supplies have reached us without serious check. My Line extends from the Railroad Bridge on Black River, around to Haines Bluff, both of which are entrenched. I have some works at intermediate points, but if Johnston crosses, the fight will be mostly by detachments along the narrow Ridges with which the country abounds, and along which alone Roads can be made.
The siege of Vicksburg progresses. From my camp I hear the booming of cannon, telling of continued battering. My trenches had connected with the main ditch before I left, and had I remained I think by this time we should have made a push for the Bastion in my front. I hear every day, that things remain status quo. I left Charley at HeadQuarters. to continue his inspections and Hugh in command of his Brigade which is on the main approach. He says he writes often to his wife and to you all. He is very stubborn & opinionated, but has his Brigade is in good order, which is the only test to which I refer in official & military matters.
I must not favor him or Charley unfairly, as it would do them no good & me much harm. You will feel sure that each has as much of my thoughts and affections as can be spared for the thousands subject to my orders & care. My military family numbers by the tens of thousands and all must know that they enjoy a part of my thoughts and attention. With officers & soldiers I know how to deal but am willing to admit ignorance as to the People who make opinion according to their contracted Knowledge & biassed prejudices, but I know the time is coming when the opinion of men “not in arms at the country’s crisis, when her calamities call for every man capable of bearing arms” will be light as to that of men who first, last & all the time were in the war.
I enclose a slip which came to me by accident, describing our Leaders here. Were I to erase the names you would not recognize one, although the narrative meant to be fair & impartial.
I meet daily incidents which would interest you but these you will have to draw out on cross examination when we meet. I find here a Mrs. Klein only child of Mrs. Day of New Orleans & niece of Tom Bartley. I will continue to befriend them. They have a son in the Confederate Army now in Vicksburg, a lad some 18 years of age.
The day I approached Vicksburg, my advance Guard caught a Confederate soldier and a negro, servant to George Klein, carrying a letter to the father at his Country refuge near here. Of course the negro was sent north and the letter read. It contained much useful information, and among other things he described the loss of the Battery of Guns at Champion Hill in which he used the Expression, “We lost our Guns, but they will do the Yankees no good, for we broke up the carriages and hid the Guns in a Ravine”. So this boy of Ohio birth is not very loyal, though he was with John Sherman during his Electioneering Canvas which resulted in Lincoln’s Election. Mr. Klein’s father continually exclaims, “they can’t hold out much longer, their provisions must be out &c.” but the enemy in Vicksburg in my judgment shows no abatement of vigorous resistance or short food, with every house in sight of our lines marked with the Hospital Flag, Orange Yellow. We can’t show a hand or cap above our rifle pits without attracting a volley. But of course there must be an end to all things & I think if Johnston does not make a mighty effort to relieve Vicksburg in a week they will cave in.
I would at this moment be in the saddle, but have sent a Brigade down to Black River to examine a certain Ford where one of our Pickets was fired on last night by Cavalry. I rather think two of our patrols came together & mistook. Nobody was hurt but I must watch closely, as I know Joe Johnston will give me little time to combine after he moves. He may approach from the North North East or East, all of which routes I am watching closely, but it will be necessary to draw from two quarters to reinforce one, and it will be exceedingly difficult to judge from signs the Real point from the Feints. Their cavalry is so much better than ours, that in all quick movements they have a decided advantage.
As I am now on my second sheet, and as I am listening for signs of action at a Ford in the bottom 3 miles off, I might as well go on and punish you with a surfeit after the manner of your affectionate son & uncle, and bosom friend, Lt. Colonel, Charley Ewing. My HeadQuarters. here are in a tent by the Road side, where one forks down to Bear Creek & the other goes along down to Black River direct. I have with me the invariable Hill who still puts me on a damned allowance of segars & whiskey & insists on blacking my boots & brushing my clothes in & out of season. Boyer my orderly is also here, with my horses Dolly, Abner, Sam and a new one recently presented me by General Steele called Duke. Dolly carries me when I explore; Sam & Duke when I expect to be shot at.
Yesterday morning with Dolly, Boyer, McCoy & Hill aids and a small escort, I started on a circuit visiting outposts & pickets. At a Mrs. Fox’s, I found as is the case of all farms here, a bevy of women waiting patiently the fate of husbands & sons penned up in Vicksburg. One of them a Mrs. Eggleston, whose pretty children I noticed asked me if I were the General Sherman of New Orleans—of course not. She asked because a Mrs. Wilkinson was a great friend of his. What Mrs. Wilkinson? a Mrs. Wilkinson of New Orleans. Where was she? Spending the day at another Mrs. Fox, Parson Fox about a mile further on. As my route lay that way I rode up the yard of Parson Fox. A company of Iowa men lay in the shade on picket, and about a dozen ladies sat on the broad balcony. I rode up close saluted the ladies & inquired for Mrs. Wilkinson. A small old lady answered. I asked if she were of Plaquemine Parish—Yes—Where was her husband the General? Killed on the Plains of Manassas, fighting for his Country,” with a paroxism of tears at tearing open the old wound, and all the women looking at me as though I had slain him with my own hand. I knew him well, he was a direct descendant of the General Wilkinson of the old wars, and was once a client of your father, I think in the famous Land case of Penrose St. Louis. He had a son at Alexandria about whom we corresponded a good deal. When I left Louisiana I regarded him as an Union man and had forgotten that he was killed at Manassas at the first Battle. After the old lady had cooled down a little, I inquired for the Son. He is in Vicksburg, and the mother has got this near to watch his fate. Do, oh do General Sherman spare my son, in one breath and in another, that Lincoln was a tyrant and we only Murderers, Robbers, plunderers and defilers of the houses and altars of an innocent & outraged People. She and all the women were real secesh, bitter as gall & yet Oh do General Sherman protect my son.
The scene set all the women crying, and Dolly & I concluded to go into the more genial atmosphere out in the Fields & Woods. I doubt if History affords a parallel of the deep & bitter enmity of the women of the South. No one who sees them & hears them but must feel the intensity of their hate. Not a man is seen, nothing but women, with houses plundered, fields open to the cattle & horses, pickets lounging on every porch, and desolation sown broadcast. Servants all gone and women & children bred in luxury, beautiful & accomplished begging with one breath for the soldiers Ration, and in another praying that the Almighty or Joe Johnston will come & kill us, the despoilers of their houses and all that is sacred.
Why cannot they look back to the day & the hour when I, a stranger in Louisiana begged & implored them to pause in their course, that secession was death, was everything fatal, and that their seizure of the public arsenals was an insult that the most abject nation must resent or pass down to future ages an object of pity & scorn.
Vicksburg contains many of my old pupils & friends. Should it fall into our hands, I will treat them with kindness, but they have sowed the wind & must reap the whirlwind. Until they lay down their arms, and submit to the rightful authority of their Government, they must not appeal to me for mercy or favors.
The weather is very hot, though the nights are cool; wild plums abounded, have ripened and are gone. Blackberries are now as abundant as ever an army could ask, and are most excellent. Apples & peaches & figs are ripening, and of all these there will be an abundance even for our host. Corn too is in silk & tassel and soon Roasting ears will give our soldiers an additional tendency to sickness. Advice, orders & remonstrance are all idle. Soldiers are like children, and eat, eat all the time.
Water is very poor & scarce on the hills but is found in moving brooks down in the chasms and hollows of Clear & Bear Creeks near which all my Camps are. I have written Minnie & Willy & sent the latter some fishing poles from the “Battle Field”. Tell Tom & Lizzy they must write me also. Tell them all that actually I have hardly time to write to you and I get tired of writing more than I used to
Love to all. Yours ever,