I have received a request from friends of General Buell who wish to rehabilitate his reputation by writing a history of his service. Any such volume is bound to cause controversy, slight some and vilify others. I do not feel that this is the time for such memoirs.
TO JOHN M. WRIGHT
HeadQuarters, 15th Army Corps,
Major J. M. Wright, A.A.G., Louisville, Kentucky
Yours of September 18th overtook me here. I have no time to reexamine my Letter of the 2nd of September which was written with a desire to serve General Buell. I do say, that any one who makes any publication whatever during the existence of the War will do General Buell greater wrong, than his worst enemy could desire. No matter what the motive and purpose of a writer may be, the world makes its own construction of Motive. No one can misconstrue your kind intent, but having been a member of General Bueli’s Staff, your publication of a history will be construed as his act, for all Know, that you could not do such a thing, without consulting him. Therefore, independent of the contents of the volume, whether confined to facts, witnessed by the narrator, or explaining results, it will complicate the General, and therefore do him a disservice. If the War were over and the time come for History I would gladly give you any assistance in my power, but now we are still daily grappling with a bitter enemy. I must repeat that it does excite us painfully to see publications treating of past events as though they were critical.
It was not and is not my purpose to rebuke you or any one not subject to my authority, or to discourage young Officers who seek to improve their time and advance the cause of their Profession and military Literature, nor to cast disrespect on General Buell. But you asked me to assist in doing, what I believe and know would injure General Buell more than you can realize. I know, that General Buell is one of the coolest, most methodic and patient men living. I feel assured that his Letter Book and Orders is the best History of his campaign, that every step taken was well considered, and record made of it. There is, where the Historian will look for his facts, and already an official body has elicited in the form of evidence every material fact of the events, you propose to reduce to an historical treatise.
I repeat my warning, if you persist in carrying out your plan, you are bound to advise General Buell, and if he assents, he will repent it forever. If in warning you against so fatal a mistake I impair my hitherto reputation for magnanimity I don’t see it. On the contrary, were I to fail in warning you of the danger in which you are about to involve your friend, I would have just reason to reproach myself always.
The conception is wrong and no matter how delicate and truthful the execution, such a publication as you foreshadow will involve General Buell in a controversy injurious to his well earned reputation.
You know I am no newspaper favorite. I never see my name in Print without a feeling of contamination and I would undertake to forego half my Salary if the newspapers will ignore my name. I do repeat, now is the time for work and I know that every Soldier and officer should be employed night & day. The present affords ample scope for every hand, and I never think without effect of such men as Buell and Mc-Clellan and other first rate Soldiers being unemployed, when there is so much to be done. I never said, Buell was thus unemployed of his own choice and I believe I express the feelings of his heart, when I say, he would rather have a Division this day, than be out.
As to my expressing disrespect for him, he knows better. He knows I always esteemed him as one of the best, if not the best, practical Soldier of our Army. I disagree with you in toto in your conclusions, and if you write a history of the Army of the Ohio now, before the War is all over, mark my words for it, you will regret it forever.
I am &c.
W.T. Sherman, Major General