Hd. Qrs. Mil. Div. Miss. In the Field Near Kenesaw, Georgia
June 13th 1864. Prof. Henry Coppee Philadelphia
In the June number of the United Service Magazine, I find a brief sketch of Lieut. General. U. S. Grant, in which I see you are likely to perpetuate an error, which General. Grant may not deem of sufficient importance to correct. To Genera. Buell’s very noble, able and gallant conduct you attribute the disasters of April 6th at Pittsburg Landing being retrieved, and made the victory of the following day. Like General Taylor is said in his late days to have doubted whether he was at the Battle of Buena Vista at all, on account of the many things having transpired there according to the historians which he did not see, so I begin to doubt whether I was at the Battle of Pittsburg Landing of modern description.
But I was at the Battles of April 6 & 7 1862. General Grant visited my Division in person about 10 a.m. when the battle raged fiercest. I was there on the Right, after some general conversation he remarked that I was doing right in stubbornly opposing the progress of the enemy, and in answer to my inquiry as to cartridges told me he had anticipated their want and made orders accordingly. He then said his presence was more needed over at the Left. About 2 p.m. of the 6th the enemy materially slackened his attack on me, and about four p.m. I deliberately made a new Line behind McArthur’s drill field, placing Batteries on chosen ground and repelled easily a Cavalry attack, and watched the cautious approach of the Enemy’s Infantry that never dislodged us there. I selected that Line in advance of a Bridge across Snake Creek, by which we had all day been expecting the approach of Lew Wallace’s Division from Crump’s Landing.
About 5 p.m., before the Sun set General Grant came again to me and after hearing my report of matters explained to me the situation of affairs on the Left which were not as favorable. Still the Enemy had failed to reach the Landing of the Boats. We agreed that the enemy had expended the Furors of his attack, and we estimated our loss, and approximated our then strength including Lew Wallace’s fresh Division expected each minute, and he then ordered me to get all things ready and at daylight the next day to assume the offensive.
That was before General Buell had arrived, but he was Known to be near at hand. General Buell’s troops took no essential part in the first days fight and Grant’s Army though collected together hastily, green as Militia, some Regiments arriving without cartridges even, and nearly all hearing the dread sound of Battle for the first time had successfully withstood and repelled the first days terrific onset of a superior Enemy, well Commanded and well handled. I Know I had orders from General Grant to assume the offensive before I Knew General Buell was on the west side of the Tennessee. I think General Buell, Colonel Fry and others of General Buell’s Staff rode up to where I was about sunset, about the time General Grant was leaving me. General Buell asked me many questions and got of me a small map which I had made for my own use, and told me that by daylight he could have 18,000 fresh men which I Knew would settle the matter. I understood Grants force’s were to advance on the right of the Corinth Road, and Buells on the Left, and accordingly at daylight I advanced my Division, by the flank, the resistance being trivial, up to the very spot where the day before the battle had been most severe, and then waited till near noon, for Buell’s troops to get up abreast, when the entire Line advanced, and recovered all the ground we had ever held. I Know that with the exception of one or two severe struggles the fighting of April 7th was easy as compared with that of April 6th. I never was disposed, nor am I now to question anything done by General Buell and his Army and Know that approaching our Field of Battle from the Rear, he encountered that sickening crowd of laggards and fugitives that excited his contempt and that of his Army, who never gave full credit to those in the Front Line, who did fight hard, and who had at 4 p.m. checked the enemy and were preparing the next day to assume the offensive.
I remember the fact the better from General Grants anecdote of his Donelson Battle which he told me then for the first time, that at a certain period of the Battle he saw that either side was ready to give way, if the other showed a bold front, and he determined to do that very thing, to advance on the enemy, when as he prognosticated the Enemy Surrendered. At 4 p.m. of April 6th he thought the appearances the same, and he judged with Lew Wallace’s fresh Division, and such of our startled troops as had recovered their equilibrium we would be justified in dropping the defensive and assuming the offensive in the morning. I repeat, I received such orders before I knew General Buell’s troops were at the River. I admit that I was glad Buell was there, because I Knew his troops were older than ours and better systematized and drilled, and his arrival made that certain which before was uncertain. I have heard this question much discoursed and must say that the officers of Buell’s Army dwelt too much on the Stampede of some of our Raw troops and gave us too little credit for the fact that for one whole day, weakened as we were by the absence of Buell’s Army long expected, of Lew Wallace’s Division only four miles off, and of the fugitives from our Ranks, we had beaten off our assailants for the time. At the same time our Army of the Tennessee have indulged in severe criticisms at the slow approach of that Army which Knew the danger that threatened us from the concentrated armies of Johnston, Beauregard, and Bragg that lay at Corinth. In a war like this where opportunities for personal prowess are as plenty as blackberries, to those who seek them at the Front, all such criminations should be frowned down, and were it not for the Military Character of your Journal I would not venture to offer a correction to a very popular Error.
I will also avail myself of this occasion to correct another very common mistake in attributing to General Grant the selection of that Battlefield. It was chosen by that veteran soldier Major Genrtal Charles F. Smith who ordered my Division to disembark there and strike for the Charleston Rail Road. This order was subsequently modified by his ordering Hurlbut’s Division to disembark there and mine higher up the Tennessee to the mouth of Yellow Creek, to strike the Railroad at Burnsville. But flood prevented our reaching the Railroad, when General Smith ordered me in person also to disembark at Pittsburg Landing, and take post well out so as to make plenty of room with Snake and Lick Creeks the flanks of a camp for the Grand Army of Invasion. It was General Smith who selected that Field of Battle and it was well chosen. On any other we surely would have been overwhelmed, as both Lick and Snake Creeks forced the Enemy to confine his attack to a direct Front attack for which new troops are better qualified, than where the flanks are exposed to a real or chimerical danger, even the Divisions of that Army were arranged in that camp by General Smith’s order, my Division forming as it were the outlying Picket, whilst McClernand and Prentiss were the Real Line of battle, with W. H. L. Wallace in support of the Right wing and Hurlbut of the Left, Lew Wallace’s Division being detached. All those subordinate dispositions were made by the order of General Smith before General Grant succeeded him to the Command of all the forces up the Tennessee, Head Quarters. Savannah.
If there was any error in putting that Army on the west side of the Tennessee, exposed to the superior force of the enemy also assembling at Corinth, the mistake was not General. Grant’s. But there was no mistake. It was necessary that a combat firm and bitter to test the manhood of the two armies, should come off, and that was as good a place as any. It was not then a question of military skill and strategy but of courage and pluck, and I am convinced that every life lost that day to us was necessary, for otherwise at Corinth at Memphis & at Vicksburg we would have found harder resistance, had we not shown our enemies that rude and untutored as we then were we would fight, as well as they.
Excuse so long a letter which is very unusual from me, but of course my life is liable to cease at any moment and I happen to be a witness to certain truths which are now beginning to pass out of memory, and from what is called History.
I also take great pleasure in adding that nearly all the new troops that at Shiloh drew from me official censure have more than redeemed their good name, among them that very Regiment which first broke, the 53rd Ohio, Col. Appier. Under another leader Colonel Jones, it has shared every campaign and expedition of mine since, is with me now, and can march and bivouac and fight as well as the best Regiment in this or any army. Its reputation now is equal to that of any from the state of Ohio.
I am with respect Yours truly,
W.T. Sherman, Major General