HDQRS. MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI In the Field, near Lovejoy’s, twenty-six miles south of Atlanta,
September 4, 1864.
MY DEAR FRIEND, I owe you a private letter, and believe one at this time will be acceptable to you. I appreciate your position and the delicate responsibilities that devolve on you, but believe you will master and surmount them all. I confess I owe you all I now enjoy of fame, for a I had allowed myself in 1861 to sink into a perfect “slough of despond,” and do believe if I could I would have run away and hid from the dangers and complications that surrounded us. You alone seemed to be confident, and opened to us the first avenue of success and hope, and you gradually put me in the way of recovering from what might have proved an ignoble end. When Grant spoke of my promotion as a major-general of the regular army, I asked him to decline in my name till this campaign tested us. Even when my commission came, which you were kind enough to send, I doubted its wisdom, but now that I have taken Atlanta as much by strategy as by force, I suppose the military world will approve it.
Through the official bulletins you are better acquainted with all the steps of our progress than any other man in the country, but I will try and point out to you more clearly the recent achievement. By the rapid falling off of my command, by expiration of service, I found myself reduced in number, close up against Atlanta, which was so protected by earth-works that I dared not assault. Fortunately Hood detached 6,000 of his best cavalry to raid my railroads that supply me.
I knew my cavalry was the superior to his and sent cavalry to break the Macon road, over which his provisions arrived. He managed skillfully to send a brigade of infantry, which, in connection with his cavalry, about 4,000, managed so to occupy mine that though Kilpatrick reached the road he could work but little. The damage was soon repaired, and nothing was left me but to raise the siege, and move with army. I moved one corps by night back to the bridge, which had been intrenched, using mostly old rebel works, then withdrawing from the left I got my whole army over on the West Point road, from Red Oak to Fairburn, with the loss of but one man. There I spent one day and broke twelve miles of that road good. I then moved rapidly so that my right flank was within half a mile of the Macon road at Jonesborough, and the left two miles and a half from Rough and Ready.
Hood had first sent Lee’s corps to Jonesborough and Hardee’s to Rough and Ready, but the Army of the Tennessee (my right) approached Jonesborough so rapidly that Hardee’s corps was shifted at night also to that flank. Seeing his mistake I ordered Howard rapidly to intrench and hold his position, “threatening,” and threw the balance of my army on the road from Rough and Ready to within four miles of Jonesborough. The moment that was done, I ordered Thomas and Schofield to rapidly break up that road, and without rest to turn on Jonesborough and crush that part.
My plan was partially, but not thoroughly, executed. Hardee assaulted Howard, but made no progress; left his dead, about 400, and wounded in our hands, and fell behind his own works. I expected Thomas to be ready by 11 a.m., but it was near 4 when he got in; but one corps, Davis’, charged down and captured the flank with 10 guns and many prisoners, but for some reason Stanley and Schofield were slow,and night came to Hardee’s relief, and he escaped to the south. Hood finding me twenty miles below him on his only railroad, and Hardee defeated, was forced to abandon Atlanta, and retreated eastward, and by a circuit has got his men below me on the line to Macon. I ought to have reaped larger fruits of victory. A part of my army is too slow, but I feel my part was skillful and well executed. Though I ought to have taken 10,000 of Hardee’s men and all his artillery, I must content myself with 500 dead, 2,000 wounded, 2,000 prisoners, 10 guns on the field and 14 in Atlanta, 7 trains of cars captured and burned, many stragglers fleeing in disorder and the town of Atlanta, which after all, was the prize I fought for.
The army is in magnificent heart, and I could go on, but it would not be prudent. Wheeler is still somewhere to my rear, and every mile costs me detachments which I can illy spare. This country is so easily fortified that an enemy can stop an army every few miles. All the roads run on ridges,so that a hundred yards of parapet, with abatis, closes it and gives the wings time to extend as fast as we can reconnoiter and cut roads. Our men will charge the parapet without fear, but they cannot the abatis and entanglements, which catch them at close range.
I stay here a few days for effect, and then will fall back and occupy Atlanta, giving my command some rest. They need it. The untold labor they have done is herculean, and if ever your pass our route you will say honestly that we have achieved success by industry and courage. I hope the administration will be satisfied, for I have studied hard to serve it faithfully.
I hope anything I may have said or done will not be construed unfriendly to Mr. Lincoln or Stanton. That negro letter of mine I never designed for publication, but I am, honest in my belief that it is not fair to our men to count negroes as equals. Can’t we at this day drop theories, and be reasonable men? Let us capture of course, and use them to the best advantage. My quartermaster now could give employment to 3,200, and relieve that number of soldiers who are now used to unload and dispatch trains, whereas those recruiting agents take them back to Nashville, where, so far as my experience goes, they disappear. When I call for expeditions at distant points, the answer invariably comes that they have not sufficient troops. All count the negroes out. On the Mississippi, where Thomas talked about 100,000 negro troops, I find I cannot draw away a white soldier, because they are indispensable to the safety of the river. I am willing to use them as far as possible, but object to fighting with “paper” men.
Occasionally an exception occurs, which simply deceives. We want the best young white men of the land, and they should be inspired with the pride of freemen to fight for their country. If Mr. Lincoln or Stanton could walk through the camps of this army and hear the soldiers talk they would hear new ideas. I have had the question put to me often; “Is not a negro as good as a white man to stop a bullet?” Yes, and a sandbag is better; but can a negro do our skirmishing and picket duty? Can they improvise roads, bridges, sorties, flank movements, &c., like the white man? Soldiers must and do many things without orders from their own sense, as in sentinels. Negroes are not equal to this. I have gone steadily, firmly and confidently along, and I could not have done it with black troops, but with my old troops I have never felt a waver of doubt, and that very confidence begets success.
I hope to God the draft will be made tomorrow; that you will keep up my army to its standard, 100,000 men; that you will give Canby an equal number; give Grant 200,000 and the balance keep on our communications, and I pledge you to take Macon and Savannah before spring, or leave my bones. My army is now in the very condition to be supplied with recruits. We have good corporals and sergeants and some good lieutenants and captains and those are far more important than good generals. They all seem to have implicit confidence in me. They observe success at points remote, as in this case of Atlanta and they naturally say that the old man knows what he is about. They think I know where every road and by-path is in Georgia, and one soldier swore that I was born on Kenesaw Mountain. George Thomas, you know, is slow, but as true as steel; Schofield is also slow and leaves too much to others; Howard is a Christian elegant gentleman, and conscientious soldier. In him I made no mistake. Hooker was a fool. Had he staid a couple of weeks he could have marched into Atlanta and claimed all the honors. I therefore think I have the army on which you may safely build.
Grant has the perseverance of a Scotch terrier. Let him alone, and he will overcome Lee by untiring and unceasing efforts. The Mobile column is the one that needs a head, and no time should be wasted on the city. The river, Montgomery and Columbus, Ga., are the strategic points. The latter has a double line by Montgomery and the Appalachicola River. It will not be safe to push this line farther until that is done, but stores and supplies may be accumulated here, and the country behind Chattahoochee purged a little more.
Tomorrow is the day for the draft, and I feel far more interested in it than any event that ever transpired. I do think it has been wrong to keep our old troops so constantly under fire. Some of those old regiments that we had at Shiloh and Corinth have been with me ever since, and some of them have lost 70 per cent in battle. It looks hard to put those brigades, now numbering less than 800 men, into battle. They feel discouraged, whereas if we could have a steady influx of recruits the living would soon forget the dead. The wounded and sick are lost to us, for once at a hospital they become worthless. It has been very bad economy to kill off our best men and pay full wages and bounties to the drift and substitutes. While all at the rear are paid regularly, I have here regimens that have not been paid for eight months, because the paymaster could not come to them. The draft judiciously used will be popular, and will take as many opponents of the war as advocates, whereas now our political equilibrium at the North seems disturbed by the absence of the fighting element, whereas the voting population is made up of sneaks, exempts, and cowards. Any nation would perish under such a system if protracted.
I have not heard yet of the Chicago nominations, but appearances are that McClellan will be nominated. The phases of “Democracy” are strange indeed. Some fool seems to have used my name. If forced to choose between the penitentiary and White House for four years, like old Professor Molinard, I would say the penitentiary, thank you, sir. If any committed would approach me for political preferment, I doubt if I could have patience or prudence enough to preserve a decent restraint on myself, but would insult the nation in my reply.
If we can only carry our people past this fall, we may escape the greatest danger that ever threatened a civilized people. We as soldiers best fulfill our parts by minding our own business, and I will try to do that.
I wish you would thank the President and Secretary for the constant support they have given me, and accept from my personal assurance that I have always felt buoyed up by the knowledge that you were there.
Your sincere friend,
W. T. SHERMAN, Major General