TO LORENZO THOMAS
Headquarters, Military Division of the Mississippi, Nashville, Tennessee April 12,1864
General Lorenzo Thomas, Adjutant-General U.S. Army, Vicksburg, Mississippi
Yours of March 30, from Natchez, is received, and I take pleasure in answering. I confess I fear to enunciate any plan that can reconcile all objections, but am willing to say that I will use all my official power and influence to carry out yours or that of the War Department. My objections to the plantation scheme are purely military. The Mississippi is a long, weak line, easily approached from the rear. Plantations of, say, three whites and fifty blacks to a mile of river can be broken at any point by a guerrilla band of 100 with perfect impunity. You and I know the temper of the whites in the South.
I heard a young lady in Canton, educated at Philadelphia, who was a communicant of a Christian church, thank her God that her negroes, who had attempted to escape into our lines at Big Black, had been overtaken by Ross’s Texas brigade and killed. She thanked God, and did so in religious sincerity. Now, a stranger to the sentiment of the South would consider this unnatural, but it is not only natural but universal. All the people of the South, old and young, rich and poor, educated and ignorant, unite in this, that they will kill as vipers the whites who attempt to free their slaves, and also the “ungrateful slaves” who attempt to change their character from slave to free.
Therefore, in making this change, which I regard as a decree of nature, we have to combat not only with organized resistance of the Confederate forces, but the entire people of the South. Now, I would prefer much to colonize the negroes on lands clearly forfeited to us by treason, and for the Government to buy or extinguish the claims of other and loyal people in the districts chosen. I look upon the lands bordering the Mississippi, Steele’s Bayou, Deer Creek, Sunflower, Bogue Phalia, Yazoo, &c, in that rich alluvial region lying between Memphis and Vicksburg, of which Haines’ Bluff, Yazoo City, and Grenada are the key points, as the very country in which we might collect the negroes, and where they will find more good land already cleared than in any district I know of, and it would enable the negro at once to be useful.
If, however, the Government prefer the “lessee” system, then I shall favor the occupation by a black brigade of Harrisonburg, and cover as well as may be the Mississippi country lying between the Washita and Yazoo. General Slocum will soon come down, and we believe he will co-operate with you with his whole heart. Of course the possession of Vicksburg is a sine qua non. We don’t want the task of taking it again; but if he can spare troops he will be instructed, in connection with Natchez, to hold Harrisonburg, with one or more gun-boats up the Washita and Tensas.
Steele is ordered to hold the line of Red River, but I must have Smith’s command, which I loaned for but thirty days. I have reason to know that Banks must swing over against Mobile, so Steele will have only his Arkansas command, and that may be insufficient. Of this we cannot judge until we know what is already done. If Shreveport be taken before these orders read, Steele may hold that point; otherwise, all he should attempt would be Alexandria, in connection with the gun-boats.
We have sure enough a big job on hand, and the only way is to go on trusting to consequences following naturally grand results. Lee and Johnston must be whipped, and it should not be deferred an hour beyond the first possible practicable moment.
I necessarily write in some haste, but you will catch the drift of my argument.
With respect, your friend and servant,
W. T. Sherman, Major-General, Commanding