I let General Grant know my whereabouts and plans. Previously, no one paid much attention to me. Now I find I am somewhat a celebrity. Fame is fleeting. One misstep and I will be out of public favor again. The same applies to General Grant.
December 29, 1863
General U. S. GRANT,
I got home Christmas day. I hardly realized till I got here the intense interest felt for us. Our army is on all lips, and were you to come to Ohio, you would hardly be allowed to eat a meal, from the intense curiosity to see you and hear you. I have got along as quietly as possible, and expect to leave on Friday for Cairo as noiselessly as possible. I will be at Cairo the day appointed, viz, January 2, or 3 at furthest. I have dispatches from Hurlbut which satisfy me that all things will be in readiness for my coming.
I have written to Admiral Porter to collect accurate accounts of all damages to steam-boats on the Mississippi, with the localities where they occurred. I think that we can hold the people on Yazoo and back responsible for all damages above Vicksburg, the country on Ouachita for all damages between the mouth of Red and Arkansas on the west bank, and finally the rich country up Red River for the more aggravated cases near the mouth of Red River. We should make planters pay in cotton not only for the damages done, but the cost of our occupation, and in case of failure to pay we should inflict exemplary punishment.
I think we have force enough on the river to do all this. Hurlbut can spare 5,000 men and McPherson, 3,000, and I will order Hawkins with his whole negro force to go to the Ouchita. No part of this force should remain longer than is necessary to produce these results, and leave general notice that similar visitations will be repeated on every attack upon the boats navigating the Mississippi from Cairo to the mouth. We must treat the river as one idea. As long as the enemy held any part of it the case was different, but now the navigation is one and should be controlled by one mind. I will do nothing risky or useless. Admiral Porter heartily sanctions.
If Joe Johnston is now at Dalton, it is proof that the army of the Mississippi is all there, and you are right in preparing to get from the base of the Tennessee. We may then be able to draw more men from Hurlbut by neglecting Corinth and the railroad. If you have gone to Knoxville, I cannot expect to hear from you again until I reach Huntsville, but if you are at Chattanooga I should like to hear from you.
In relation to the conversation we had in General Granger’s office the day before I left Nashville, I repeat, you occupy a position of more power than Halleck or the President. There are similar instances in European history, but none in ours. For the sake of future generations risk nothing. Let us risk, and when you strike let it be as at Vicksburg and Chattanooga.
Your reputation as a general is now far above that of any man living, and partisans will maneuver for your influence; but if you can escape them, as you have hitherto done. You will be more powerful for good than it is possible to measure. You said then you were surprised at my assertion on this point, but I repeat, that from what I have seen and heard here I am more and more convinced of the truth of what I told you. Do as you have heretofore done. Preserve a plain military character, and let others maneuver as they will. You will beat them not only in fame, but in doing good in the closing scenes of this war, when somebody must heal and mend up the breaches made by war.
Always your friend,
W. T. SHERMAN