General Grant is in New Orleans and not expected back until later. I have a petition from citizens of Mississippi begging for protection from us. They should have thought of the need for protection before they chose to go to war.
TO H.W. HILL
Camp on Big Black River, September 7, 1863
H. W. Hill, Esquire
Chairman of Meeting of Citizens of Warren County Miss.
The communication addressed to General Grant, myself and other Officers in the nature of a Petition is received. I think it proper and right, that the Property holding classes of Warren County, and indeed of the whole State of Mississippi should meet in their capacity as Citizens to talk over matters, so that they may take any steps, they deem to their interest; and if such meetings be open and with the Knowledge of the nearest Military Commander, I will protect them whilst so engaged.
Your Preamble, however, starts out with a mistake. I do not think any Nation ever undertook to feed, supply and provide for the future of the inhabitants of an insurgent District. We have done so here and in other instances in this War, but my Reading has discovered no parallel cases. If you know of any, I will thank you for a Copy of the History, which records them. I know it is the purpose of the controlling Generals of this War, to conduct it on the most humane principles of either ancient or modern times, and according to them I contend, that after the firing on our Steamboats, navigating our own Rivers, after the long and desperate resistance to our Armies at Vicksburg, on the Yazoo, and in Mississippi generally, we are justified in treating all the inhabitants as combatants and would be perfectly justifiable in transporting you all beyond the Seas, if the United States deemed it to her interest. But our purpose is not to change the population of this Country but to compel all the inhabitants to acknowledge and submit to the common Laws of the land. When all, or a part of the inhabitants acknowledge the just Rights of the U.S., the War as to them ceases. But I will reply to your questions in the order you put them.
1st. The duty of the Government to protect and the inhabitants to assist is reciprocal. The People of Warren County have not assisted the U.S. much as yet, and are therefore not entitled to undue protection. What future protection they receive will depend on their own conduct.
2nd. The negroes, former Slaves by inheritance or purchase, that now fill the Country have been turned loose upon the world by their former owners, who by rebelling against the only earthly power that ensured them the rightful possession of such property, have practically freed them. They are a poor, ignorant class of human Beings, that appeal to all for a full measure of forbearance.
The task of providing for them at present, devolves on the U.S. because ex necessitate the U.S. succeeds by Act of War to the former, lost title of the Master. This task is a most difficult one, and needs time for development and execution. The white inhabitants of the Country must needs be patient, and allow time for the work. In due season the negroes at Roaches’ and Blakes’ will be hired, employed by the Government or removed to Camps where they can be conveniently fed, but in the mean time no one must molest them or interfere with the agents of the U.S. entrusted with this difficult and delicate task. If any of them are armed it is for self defence, and if they mistake their just relation to the Government, or the people, we will soon impress on them the Truth.
3rd. Your third inquiry is embraced in the above. I don’t know, that any fixed and determined plan is matured, but some just and proper provisions will be made for the negro population of this State.
4th. Congress alone can appropriate public money. We cannot hire Servants for the people, who have lost their Slaves, nor can we detail negroes for such purposes. You must do as we do, hire your Servants and pay them. If they don’t earn their hire, discharge them and employ others. Many have already done this and are satisfied with the results.
5th. I advise all Citizens to stay at home, gradually put their houses and contiguous grounds in order and cast about for some employment or make preparations on a moderate Scale to resume their former business and employment. I cannot advise any one to think of planting on a large Scale for it is manifest, no one can see far enough in the future to say, who will reap what you sow. You must first make a Government, before you can have property. There is no such thing as property without government. Of course we think that our Government (which is still yours) is the best and easiest put in full operation here. You are still citizens of the United States and of the State of Mississippi. You have only to begin and form one precinct, then another. Soon your County will have such organisation, that the Military authorities would respect it. The example of one County would infect another, and that another in a compound ratio, and it would not be long, till the whole State would have such strength by association, that with the assistance of the United States you could defy any insurgent force. The moment the State can hold an open, fair election, and send Senators and Members to Congress, I doubt not, they would be received, and then Mississippi would again be as much a part of our Government as Indiana and Kentucky now are, equal to them in all respects and could soon have Courts, Laws and all the Machinery of Civil Government. Until that is done it is idle talk about little annoyances, such as you refer to at Deer Creek and Roaches’. As long as the War lasts, these troubles will exist, and in truth the longer the War is protracted, the more better will be the feeling. The poor people will have to bear it, for they cannot help themselves.
General Grant can give you now no permanent assurances or guarantees, nor can I, nor can anybody. Of necessity in War, the Commander on the spot is the judge, and may take your house, your fields, your everything, and turn you all out, helpless to starve. It may be wrong, but that don’t alter the case. In War you can’t help yourselves, and the only possible remedy is, to stop war.
I know this is no easy task, but it is well for you, to look the fact square in the face, and let your thoughts and acts tend to the great solution. Those who led the People into War promised all manner of good things to you, and where are their promises? A Child may fire a City, but it takes a host of strong men to extinguish it. So a Demagogue may fire the minds of a whole people, but it will take a host like yourselves to imbue the flames of anger thus begotten. The task is a mammoth one, but still you will in after years be held recreant, if you do not lend your humbled assistance. I know that hundreds and thousands of good Southern men now admit their error in appealing to War and are engaged in the worthy effort to stop it, before all is lost. Look around you and see the wreck. Let your minds contemplate the whole South in like chaos and disorder, and what a picture? Those who die by the bullet are lucky, compared to those poor fathers and wives and children, who see their all taken and themselves left to perish, or linger out their few years in ruined poverty. Our duty is not to build up, it is rather to destroy both the Rebel Army and whatever of wealth or property it has founded its boasted strength upon. Therefore don’t look to any Army to help you. Ask for yourselves. Study your real duties to yourselves and families, and if you remain inert, or passively friendly to the Power, that threatens our national existence, you must reap the full consequences. But if like true men you come out boldly and plainly and assert, that the Government of the United States is the only Power on earth, which can insure to the inhabitants of America that protection to Life, property and fame which alone can make life tolerable, you will then have some reason to ask of us protection and assistance. Otherwise Not.
General Grant is absent. I doubt if he will have time to notice your petition, as he deals with a larger Sphere. I have only reduced these points to writing that your people may have something to think about, and divert your minds from the questions of Cotton, Slaves and petty depredations, in which the engines of all order and all Government have buried up the real issues of this War.
I am &c.
W. T. Sherman, Major General Commanding