J J Brownyneal, “a resident of Indiana with an interest in history”, has a remarkable blog devoted to General William Tecumseh Sherman’s Civil War years. The entries are based on Sherman’s correspondence and other papers and are being posted in chronological order.
The first entry, for December 1, 1860, was posted on posted on December 25, 2010. It’s a letter Sherman wrote to his brother when Sherman was living and working in Louisiana. Abraham Lincoln had been elected but not yet sworn in as President:
The Convention will meet in January, and only ‘two questions will be agitated, Immediate dissolution, a declaration of State independence, and a General Convention of Southern States, with instructions to demand of the Northern States to repeal all laws hostile to slavery and pledges of future good behavior… the moment Louisiana assumes a position of hostility, then this becomes an arsenal and fort.
Let me hear the moment you think dissolution is inevitable. What Mississippi and Georgia do, this State will do likewise.
On August 2, 1864, Sherman was outside Atlanta. An entry for that date (posted today) includes his messages to other Union officers, with remarks like these:
If you have any negro regiments fit for duty I would like to have them in front of Nashville…
Losses in battle and sickness from work and weather is beginning to tell on the strength of my army.
Too many citizens manage to come to the front. Be even more stringent than heretofore. Grant no passes beyond Chattanooga, and only the smallest possible number that far.
Another entry for August 2 features a letter Sherman wrote to his wife:
I have for some days been occupying a good house on the Buckhead Road about 4 miles north of Atlanta but am going to move in the morning nearer to the Right to be nearer where I expect the next battle….
Somehow or other we cannot get Cavalry. The enemy takes all the horses of the Country and we have to buy and our People won’t sell. [Major General] Stoneman is also out with a cavalry force attempting to reach our prisoners confined at Andersonville, but since [Maj. Gen.] McCook’s misfortune I also have fears for his safety….
No Recruits are coming for the draft is not till September and then I suppose it will consist mostly of freed slaves & bought recruits that must be kept well to the Rear. I sometimes think our People do not deserve to succeed in War. They are so apathetic….
Atlanta is on high ground and the woods extend up to the forts which look strong and encircle the whole town. Most of the People are gone & it is now simply a big Fort. I have been a little sick today but feel better. Weather very hot.
By all accounts, Sherman was an excellent officer, although some of his actions in the South might qualify as war crimes today (his role in our treatment of the American Indians probably would). Of course, he also helped end a terrible war that was begun in order to protect and propagate an economic system based on the subjugation of millions. Fierce Patriot, a new biography of Sherman, has just been published and I plan to learn more about him by reading it.
One last thing: That scary burning of Atlanta depicted in Gone With the Wind wasn’t Sherman’s doing. It was Confederate General John Bell Hood who ordered the burning of both public buildings and military supplies on the night of September 1st, as his troops and some residents left the city.
Sherman’s army occupied Atlanta on September 2nd. All remaining civilians were ordered to evacuate. Later, on November 15, when Sherman moved on toward Savannah, he ordered the city’s remaining war resources, including a train depot, to be burned. According to a site called About North Georgia (probably not a regular purveyor of Yankee propaganda), Sherman’s burning of Atlanta was “significantly less than Hood’s Burning of Atlanta”.