I wrote to my brother, Senator John Sherman on the boat trip down:
On Board Juliet, bound for Vicksburg in a fog,
Friday, Jan. 28, 1864
I wrote you from Lancaster, & it may be since, but I forget. Some things have transpired since that you would like to know and I now have more leisure than I can hope to have after arrival at Vicksburg. I have organized a cavalry force to Swoop down from Memphis towards Mobile. I have gathered together out of my garrisons a very pretty force of 20,000 men which I shall command in person and move from Vicksburg, due East in connection with the Cavalry named, to reach Meridian & break up the Rail Road connections there. This will have the effect to disconnect Mississippi from the Eastern Southern states, and without this single remaining link, they cannot keep any army of importance west of the Alabama River.
Our armies are now at the lowest point. So many are going home as reenlisted veterans that I will have a less force than should attempt it. It seems my luck to have to make the initiation and to come in at desperate times, but thus far having done a full share of the real achievements of this war I need not fear accidents. I observe the Cincinnati paper would now fawn on me, but I despise them. I prefer rather the respect of such men as Mr. Ewing, Henry Stanbery, Mr. S. S. L’Hom-medieu, Larz Anderson and Such men, than the adulation of all the Commercials and Gazettes of all Ohio, and this I am assured of.
You who attach more importance to popular fame would be delighted to See in what estimation I am held by the People of Memphis Tennessee and all along this mighty River. I could not decline an offer of a public dinner in Memphis but I dreaded it more than I did the assault on Vicksburg. I had to Speak & sent you the Report that best suited me, viz. that in the Argus. The report of the Bulletin which may reach the Northern press is disjointed & not so correct. Indeed I cannot speak from notes, or keep myself strictly to the points, but tis said that the effect of my crude speeches is good. My manner is earnest and language emphatic, but sometimes what I say in jest is taken for earnest.
I think the organizations of Civil Government down here is premature. I enclose you a copy of a letter I wrote to J. B. Bingham of Memphis, who is a right hand man to Governor Johnson of Tennessee, giving my views on this point, which I think will stand the test of Reason and of Time.
We are committed to the Right of Revolution. A People distinct & separate as our Colonies were, who have separate interests and the ability to maintain them have a natural Right to a Separate Government provided they have the power to enforce it. The People of the South have asserted this Right. We admit it, but make issue on their ability to maintain a separate Political existence. The test is war. During this test Laws are silent, argument fruitless and arms can alone decide. We have accepted the war, have maintained it & profess ability to maintain it, and until war produces a result, a solution, or cessation, all other questions should be waived. As a war measure, we can introduce discordant elements into the enemy’s counsels. We may do anything that weakens them & strengthens us, but it seems to me idle to attempt permanent political organizations until war ceases.
Now if Cannon on this River, a civil Government, in Arkansas, Tennessee, and Louisiana will strengthen us & weaken the enemy in War, it is right, but I doubt it. These state governments revive old political jealousies, hatreds, & enmities that in a state of pure war would die out. That is my stand, & moreover I know that for us to assume that slavery is killed, not by a predetermined act of ours but as the natural logical & legal consequence of the acts of its self constituted admirers, we gain strength & the enemy loses it. I think it is the true doctrine for the time being.
The South have made the interests of Slavery the issue of the War. If they lose the war, they lose Slavery. Instead of our being abolitionist, it is thereby proven that they are the abolitionists. I always assert that we were bound by our Constitutional compact to restore fugitive slaves, but as they broke the Constitution, the compact as to them was void, and we were released, Also, that the question of Slavery in the National Territories was an open one, not clear, and the South were bound to abide the decision of a National Congress & a National Court. But they preferred war, & cannot in after years complain if by war they lose that chance.
In like manner I admit the right of secession. Men may expatriate themselves. They may go away, but they cannot carry with them the ground which is tied down. In this ground we have some right to all they do not possess with ability to carry beyond our jurisdiction. Therefore if the People of the South are unwilling to live in the same land with us, let them go, even to Madagascar. If they cannot pay their passage we might help them, as an act of grace. They allege they cannot abide us. I Know that is the feeling of some, but the masses can. I have associated with rebels & have seen our soldiers do it under flags of truce, and during lulls in war, but I do admit that Some of them are so embittered that all would be benefitted by an eternal separation. They cannot kill us all, but we may them. They must be killed or sent away.
I would like to see the tide of emigration from down this way, and I would like to see the abandoned plantations pass into new hands, even that of negroes, rather than to speculators with Contract negroes whom they treat as Slaves. Still, even this must be a slow & gradual change. All of Tennessee & Arkansas are suited to free labor. There is no doubt, and much of Mississippi and Louisiana & Texas. I would like to See a bona fide population coming this way to hold cultivate & defend the Territory we acquire by conquest.
The Mississippi is now substantially clear, occasionally a band of Guerillas come to the bank & fire at a boat but as a Rule boats pass up & down free. Freights are moderate & no boat seems afraid of the risks. Some boats engaged in hunting up the Cotton hid away in swamps get peppered, but it is a risk run voluntarily & covered by the price they get for the Cotton when found. The Mississippi is a Substantial Conquest. We should next get the Red River, then the Alabama, & last push into Georgia.
In the mean time that Army of the Potomac which seems more intent on getting fame in the newspapers than in providing results might achieve something. Of course no soldier would expect an army so near Washington to do anything but it might at least prevent Lee from detaching against Grant. Butler at Norfolk & Foote in Richmond are doing us good service. They will worry Jeff Davis to death, but should Jeff’s power pass to Lee, we would lose by the change. Gillmore at Charleston is making valuable experiments in artillery & Banks in Louisiana reproducing effective political combinations.
In Grant’s army along the Tennessee the country alone can look for real valuable results. After my present move I will hasten round to Huntsville to command the army I left there to repair Railroads & prepare for the coming Campaign. You may write me at Memphis & Vicksburg till February 20. I do not think Grant will move forward till in March or April. The only effect of my present move is to widen our influence in the Mississippi Valley. Give my love to Cecilia and any friends who may be near you.
Your affectionate Brother,
W. T. Sherman