Camp on the Big Black River, Near Vicksburg, Mississippi
General Halleck had sent a request for my thoughts on the war and bringing states back into the union. I have sent a detailed letter that I have shared with Grant and McPherson. Halleck seeks their opinion also.
TO HENRY W. HALLECK
private and confidential
Head Qrs. 15 Army Corps.
Camp on Big Black Miss. Sept. 17. 1863
Major General Halleck, Commander in Chief, Washington, D.C.
I have received your letter of Aug. 29, and with pleasure confide to you fully my thoughts on the important matter 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 scenery of intercommunication, yet the water channels still mark the Lines of fertile land, and afford carriage to the heavy products of it. The inhabitants of the country on the Monongehela, 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. Now that the nation has recovered its possessions, this Generation of men would make a fearful mistake if we again commit its charge to a People liable to mistake their title, and assert as was recently done that because they dwelt by sufferance 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 &c. or to institute in this Quarter any Civil Government in which the local People have much to say. They had a Government, and so mild & paternal that they gradually forgot they had any at all, save what they themselves controlled. They asserted an absolute right to seize public monies, Forts, arms, and even to Shut up the national avenues of travel & commerce. They chose War. They ignored & 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 the Great River, we must recognise the classes into which they have naturally divided themselves.
1st. 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 & all, serving in the armies of the Confederacy, whereas in others they are conservative. None dare admit a friendship to us, though they Say freely that they were opposed to disunion and war. I know we can manage this class, but only by action. Argument is exhausted, and words have not 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 population than to reconstruct it subordinate to the Policy of the Nation, but as this is not the case it is better to allow them with individual exceptions gradually to recover their plantations to hire any species of labor and 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 where Red River is navigable by our Gunboats. When these are done, then & not till then will the Planters of Louisiana, Arkansas & Mississipi 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 the new order of things. A civil Government of the Representative type would suit this class far less than a pure Military Rule, one readily adapting itself to actual occurrences, and able to enforce its laws & orders promptly and emphatically.
2nd. The smaller farmers, mechanics, merchants and laborers:
This class will probably number most 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 benefitted somehow, they Knew not how. They are essentially tired of the War, & 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 & fro according to events they do not comprehend or attempt to shape. When the time for reconstruction comes, they will want the old political system, of caucuses, Legislatures &c. something to amuse them, and make them believe they are achieving wonders, but in all things they will follow blindly the lead of the Planter. The Southern Politicians who understand this class use them as the French do their masses. Seemingly consulting their prejudices, they make their orders and enforce them. We should do the same.
3rd. 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 & 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 everything. When we reach them, they are full of complaints if our men take a few fence rails for firewood, or corn to feed our horses. They give us no assistance or information, and are loudest in their complaints at the smallest excess of our Soldiers. Their sons, horses arms and everything 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.
4th. The Young Bloods of the South, sons of Planters, Lawyers about Town, good billiard players & sportsmen. Men who never did work, or 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 “sous” for slaves, land or anything. They hate Yankees “per se” and don’t bother their brains about the Past, present or Future. As long as they have a good horse, plenty of Forage and an open Country they are happy. This is a larger class than most men suppose, and are the most dangerous set of men which this war has turned loose upon the world. They are splendid riders, shots, and utterly reckless. Stuart, John Morgan, Forrest, and Jackson are the types & leaders of this class. They must all be killed, or employed by us before we can hope for Peace. They have no property or future & therefore cannot be influenced by anything except personal considerations. I have two Brigades of these fellows to my Front, commanded by Cosby of the old army and Whitfield of Texas, Stephen D. Lee in command of the whole. I have frequent interviews with the officers, and a good understanding; 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 of Finance to supply them with horses. At present horses cost them nothing for they take where they find, and don’t bother their brains, who is to pay for them. Same of the corn fields 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 them….