ON BOARD JULIET, BOUND FOR VICKSBURG, Friday (in a fog), January 29, 1864.
Major General H. W. HALLECK,
DEAR GENERAL: I am now en route to Vicksburg to execute a project for which all the preliminary arrangements are complete. Seven thousand cavalry, under Brigadier General William Sooy Smith, will start from Collierville, 24 miles east of Memphis, next Monday, and ignoring all small detachments of the enemy will push for Pontotoc, Okolona, Columbus, Meridian, &c. At same time I will leave Vicksburg with four divisions of infantry and artillery (two of General Hurlbut and two of General McPherson) and move by Clinton, Jackson, Brandon, Morton, &c., on Meridan. At same time will start up Yazoo an expedition of gun-boats and negro troops, by way of diversion, to threaten Grenada. The object is to break up the only remaining railroad connection between Mississippi and the East.
I shall be tempted to swing around to Mobile, but this would be imprudent unless we are prepared to follow up by taking the Mobile harbor forts, and pushing rapidly up the Alabama River to Selma and Montgomery. I hardly think I would accomplish all this with my limited force. After I have broken up Demopolis (Tombigbee), I could aid Banks, Steele, and Admiral Porter in taking Shreveport, which would be the death blow to our enemies of the Southwest. Water is now too low, but in March and April it will favor us. General Grant is fully advised and I have my orders, and merely note these facts by way of prelude to smoothing personal.
When you sent me to Memphis from Corinth, without neglecting my military interests I cultivated a good feeling among the people. This I was enabled to do from a large acquaintance with the ruling families, and there is no doubt, for good or evil, I have a large influence on this river. On arriving at Memphis some days ago the city authorities offered me an ovation. I accepted it with the condition that it should be purely social. It came off last Monday, and was genteel and handsome. I was compelled to speak, and endeavored to generalize as much as possible. I know not how reporters will translate my remarks, but I know they were designed and calculated to do good, for a great number of influential men of Southern birth came to me and said not a gentleman of Mississippi could deny an argument I made or conclusion I drew. Laying aside the constitutional and legal questions involved in this war, I took the ground that, according to the rules of honor as prescribed by the best clubs of Paris, London, New Orleans, and Charlestown, the South was wrong. The people had gone willingly into an election, and because that election did not result as they wanted they refused to abide by the result and appealed to war.
I also recalled a few of the facts known to me personally touching the seizure of Baton Rouge Arsenal, its garrison, its arms, their dispersion, the seizure of unoccupied forts, mints, &c., all made by order of two Senators- one (Slidell) a New Yorker, and the other (Benjamin) a Jew, born in Havana. Most of the accords in Louisiana were foreigners. The man who sent me at Alexandria, 4,800 arms from the arsenal was a Pole. I forget the name. He was ordnance sergeant, and since ordnance officer to Bragg. Bragg was a North Carolinian; Governor Moore the same, and Beauregard was the only Creole in the whole batch, and these men involved the safety of Louisiana, insulted the United States, and made us choose between an active war or silent submission to an usurped power.
On this simple statement, the truth of which no man can question, I asked the Southern gentlemen present how they could allow their minds to dwell on the little issues made of “homes and firesides,” “vadal outrages,” Northern pusillanimity, &c. Do they not respect us the more for our determined and successful effects to resent these insults than if we had tamely submitted, as Davis, Yancey, and Moore permissed? I do not propose to turn speaker, and trust you will pardon this effort, which was rather addressed to those who knew me in Carolina and Louisiana than to those who heard me in Memphis, or to the Northern people, whose minds and feelings have drifted into newer channels.
After the banquet was well over, and the shank of the supper was being discoursed, and old Union club, which I used to nurse, gathered around me and pressed me to give them a home talk, such as I had been accustomed to. I spoke a second time more familiarly, and I find even that was reported by an evening paper, which may be reproduced and need explanation. My purpose there was to encourage what I had already initiated- the formation in the city of Memphis, a brigade of four regiments for its defense against a dash of guerrillas, should such be attempted in the absence of a too heavy garrison, heretofore kept there, and in close support. Already thirty two companies, of 100 each, are formed, and without any pay or assistance, save arms, have agreed to obey the orders of the post shed as an armory, and issue to them second-hand muskets and ammunition, with blue sack coats and forage caps, to be used only when assembled for drill.
In this connection I expressed a doubt whether Tennessee would gain much by a mere political State organization. They are in a state of anarchy. No sheriff can serve a writ in the interior, and there is no court that can administer law. I said order must grow out of chaos in a slower and more natural way. Men suited to each stage of the progress of development would rise equal to occasion, and by way of illustration instanced the example of this war. When it first burst upon us we were all paralyzed for want of suitable leaders, but as the ward progressed these evolved. In this connection I used your name in such a way as even you could not object. I spoke of your indomitable industry, and called to mind how when Ord, Loeser, Spotts, and I were shut up in our state-room, trying to keep warm with lighted candles, and playing cards on the Old Lexington, off Cape Horn, you were lashed to your berth studying, boning harder than you ever did at West Point. I spoke of your knowledge of law, especially the higher branch of it-the low of war and of nations. I had noticed with concern that some disorganizing newspapers were thing to undermine your authority and influence, and supposed it resulted from your abrupt, bisque manner, even to members of Congress, but concluded by saying you knew more of your profession than Mr. Lincoln, Mr. Chase, and Mr. Seward combined, and I believed in their turn they appreciated you, and the public would come to a right conclusion in the end.
I mentioned Grant’s name with marked esteem, for his strong points are in his simple courage and faith in his cause, in his attachment to his friends and coworkers, and his utter absence of vainglory and selfish pride. I mention these facts merely to prevent my being misquoted, which may not be; but I am going away where I cannot be heard of for weeks. They have no desire to misquote me down here, but I know many at the North would make a new schism in heaven itself if they could gain an hour’s notoriety by it. I think you and all thinking men will approve my earnest resolve to keep out of all political complications. Mr. Chase may try his trade schemes, so that he is neutral as between the public enemy and my army, and civil governors may be inaugurated and go to work, but we have not now, and never have had, more than enough men to accomplish military results, let alone guarding civil interests and local combinations.
With respect, your friend,
W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General