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The War Nerd / April 16, 2011

Battle of Rich Mountain: McClellan Wimpout Preview

Lately I’ve been reading soldiers’ memoirs, mostly from the Western Theater of the Civil War. A lot of them are by Ohio men, and you realize quickly that Grant wasn’t so unique. He just came from a damn promising state.

Ohio was just far West enough to have a little wild in it, far north enough to be free of the cotton plague, but close enough to the center of gravity in DC/Philadelphia that these guys are well-connected to big power.

Gen. J. D. Cox: A Serious Man

It was a huge world for these guys in some ways, because travel was hard before the railroads (“the cars” is what these guys call railroads) came along. But when it comes to networking, power, it was a small, downright tiny world, where all the young men of good family married each others’ sisters (Grant married his West Point roommate’s sister). The ones who hadn’t met before got to know each other at West Point, and if South Carolina hadn’t had the brilliant idea of seceding, that would’ve been that, except for the odd hotel-lobby and business-conference encounter.

But they’re all back together suddenly in 1861. They all joined up at once, mom and sis doing their best to guess what “Zouave” meant in tailoring terms. And they had to use a lot of cloth, because although men were skinny back then (they’d have split their sides if a pig like me had come onstage), they were tall and healthy, unlike the cannon fodder people expected to find wearing army uniform.

In fact, every time someone with peacetime-army experience sees the new recruits from the “best families in town” lined up in review, they’re shocked at how tall and healthy the men look. The peacetime army drew its manpower from immigrants and drunks, people who couldn’t find a job anywhere else, then beat them into submission. It made for organized marching but not a very impressive look on parade. Basic European tactics involved beating, like literally beating, a bunch of dregs into formation and sending them to intercept the first volley of another bunch of dregs in a different uniform. You didn’t need “a few good men,” you needed a lot of dregs, and the first reaction old-school army men had when they saw all these tall, healthy 19th-c. yuppies in uniform was, why are you wasting actual human beings as lead-absorbers?

One Army officer actually says that, in General Cox’s Military Reminiscences of the Civil War, when he sees the town’s leading yout’ who’ve switched from 90-day enlistments to the three-year hitch:

”Captain Gordon Granger of the regular army came to muster the re-enlisted regiments into the three years’ service, and as he stood at the right of the Fourth Ohio, looking down the line of a thousand stalwart men, all in their Garibaldi shirts (for we had not yet received our uniforms), he turned to me and exclaimed: “My God! that such men should be food for powder!”’

Cox’s memoir is slow going, I admit. In fact I’ll save you some trouble right now: If you’re only going to read one Civil War memoir, read Grant’s. Sometimes the majority gets it exactly right, and when the majority decided Grant’s were the best, they were absolutely right. Grant is totally unlike all these other Victorians because he spares you the damn details. The rest of them…well, ever see one of those early photographs showing a Victorian living room, or parlor, or whatever? Try counting the items of furniture. If it’s not in triple digits, you’re looking at a pauper’s hut. And that pauper’s dream must’ve been to get rich enough to buy more stools and Turkish pillows and hatstands and other crap. They felt naked without a whole swarm of trinkets around them, and most of them write like they decorate.

Cox, great man though he was, can’t say hello in less than about ten pages. Sherman’s memoirs aren’t much better; he just has to show you every letter he wrote to Halleck, and what Halleck said back, and what Ord said about what Halleck stated, until you just want to yell, “Will you shut up and burn some town already?”

Grant never does that, never tells a story unless there’s a point, leaves the documents to General Badeau, his official biographer. I can’t help wondering if it’s because Grant was dying of throat cancer when he wrote his memoirs, and only did it for the money to keep his family out of debt. After reading the fantastic results, you can’t help kinda wishing a whole bunch of these 19th c. writers, including all the ones I had to read in school, had been diagnosed with throat cancer and impending death and family poverty before they dipped their damn quills.

But if you can stand the word-surplus, these memoirs by second-rank generals like Cox show you some amazing stuff, the sort of horrible moment you just know would happen to you if you tried to be an officer. Like: what if they just plain won’t do what you say? I always wondered about that: what if you say, “Left march!” and they go, “Nah. Tired.”

That happens to one of Cox’s officers. His unit is stuck in the mud of the West Virginia hills, getting rumors of Confederate forces massing all around them. Most of the time this turns out to be some farmer’s paranoia; once Cox’s scouts verify that there’s a huge rebel encampment very close to them and are about to attack it when the officer commanding the attack decides to be absolutely sure, and realizes that they’re about to charge the back side of their own camp.

Everybody’s in a bad mood—they haven’t slept on dry ground for weeks—and finally an argument about a work detail ends up with an officer shooting a sergeant, and Cox having to face down the sergeant’s troops who want to kill the officer. I’m telling you the juicy part in advance here to keep your morale up because like I said, these guys take their own sweet time telling a story and you might get discouraged otherwise. So here’s Cox’s account of that killing:

“In the midst of the alarms from every side, my camp itself was greatly excited by an incident which would have been occasion for regret at any time, but which at such a juncture threatened for a moment quite serious consequences. The work of intrenching the position was going on under the direction of Lieutenant Wagner as rapidly as the small working parties available could perform it. All were overworked, but it was the rule that men should not be detailed for fatigue duty who had been on picket the preceding night. On August 28th, a detail had been called for from the Second Kentucky, which lay above the hedge behind my headquarters, and they had reported without arms under a sergeant named Joyce. A supply of intrenching tools was stacked by the gate leading into the yard where my staff tents were pitched, and my aide, Lieutenant Conine, directed the sergeant to have his men take the tools and report to Mr. Wagner, the engineer, on the line. The men began to demur in a half-mutinous way, saying they had been on picket the night before. Conine, who was a soldierly man, informed them that that should be immediately looked into, and if so, they would be soon relieved, but that they could not argue the matter there, as their company commander was responsible for the detail. He therefore repeated his order. The sergeant then became excited and said his men should not obey. Lieutenant Gibbs, the district commissary, was standing by, and drawing his pistol, said to Joyce, “That’s mutiny; order your men to take the tools or I’ll shoot you.” The man retorted with a curse, “Shoot!” Gibbs fired, and Joyce fell dead. When the sergeant first refused to obey, Conine coolly called out, “Corporal of the guard, turn out the guard!” intending very properly to put the man in arrest, but the shot followed too quick for the guard to arrive. I was sitting within the house at my camp desk, busy, when the first thing which attracted my attention was the call for the guard and the shot. I ran out, not stopping for arms, and saw some of the men running off shouting, “Go for your guns, kill him, kill him!” I stopped part of the men, ordered them to take the sergeant quickly to the hospital, thinking he might not be dead. I then ordered Gibbs in arrest till an investigation should be made, and ran at speed to a gap in the hedge which opened into the regimental camp. It was not a moment too soon. The men with their muskets were already clustering in the path, threatening vengeance on Mr. Gibbs. I ordered them to halt and return to their quarters. Carried away by excitement, they levelled their muskets at me and bade me get out of their way or they would shoot me. I managed to keep cool, said the affair would be investigated, that Gibbs was already under arrest, but they must go back to their quarters. The parley lasted long enough to bring some of their officers near. I ordered them to come to my side, and then to take command of the men and march them away. The real danger was over as soon as the first impulse was checked. [Footnote: Dispatch to Rosecrans, August 29.] The men then began to feel some of their natural respect for their commander, and yielded probably the more readily because they noticed that I was unarmed. I thought it wise to be content with quelling the disturbance, and did not seek out for punishment the men who had met me at the gap. Their excitement had been natural under the circumstances, which were reported with exaggeration as a wilful murder. If I had been in command of a larger force, it would have been easy to turn out another regiment to enforce order and arrest any mutineers; but the Second Kentucky was itself the only regiment on the spot. The First Kentucky was a mile below, and the Eleventh Ohio was the advance-guard up New River. Surrounded as we were by so superior a force of the enemy with which we were constantly skirmishing, I could not do otherwise than meet the difficulty instantly without regard to personal risk.
The sequel of the affair was not reached till some weeks later when General Rosecrans assembled a court-martial at my request. Lieutenant Gibbs was tried and acquitted on the plain evidence that the man killed was in the act of mutiny at the time. The court was a notable one, as its judge advocate was Major R. B. Hayes of the Twenty-third Ohio, afterwards President of the United States, and one of its members was Lieutenant-Colonel Stanley Matthews of the same regiment, afterwards one of the Justices of the Supreme Court. [Footnote: Some twenty years later a bill passed the House of Representatives pensioning the mother of the man killed, under the law giving pensions to dependent relatives of those who died in the line of duty! It could only have been smuggled through by concealment and falsification of facts, and was stopped in the Senate.]”

What I like is the outrage in the “Footnote” that this guy’s poor old mother tried to sneak a pension off the gummint, 20 years after her son was killed by one of his own officers. They were steely people back then.

Cox is a pretty serious fellow, as you can probably tell from that story. You don’t read him for laughs but because he saw some astonishing stuff, like McClellan and Rosecrans in their first commands in West Virginia. Rosecrans, who I’ve always liked anyway and considered underrated, comes off much better than McClellan. In fact Cox is more honest than almost anybody else about the “puzzle” (Grant’s word) of McClellan. He says (I’m translating, or condensing, let’s say) McClellan was a “genial,” sensible man in person but when he was in command he tried to look, sound and think like his idol Napoleon and went basically insane.

There’s one key moment in West Virginia, McClellan’s failure to support Rosecrans at the Battle of Rich Mountain, that comes up in both of the Ohio men’s memoirs I’ve been reading, Cox’s and Gen. John Beatty’s. McClellan, in overall command, Rosecrans volunteered to lead a small force over a narrow mountain path to cut off the Confederates’ retreat. McClellan agrees and sends Rosecrans off, planning to attack in front when the noise of Rosecrans’ attack reaches him. But McClellan reads the noise of Rosecrans’ attack as defeat, assumes that the enemy’s beaten Rosecrans, and refuses to support him. Rosecrans’ men get away, no thanks to their commander, but the opportunity to trap the whole enemy force is gone. Cox sums it up:

“[McClellan’s role in] the Rich Mountain affair, when analyzed, shows the same characteristics which became well known later. There was the same over-estimate of the enemy, the same tendency to interpret unfavorably the sights and sounds in front, the same hesitancy to throw in his whole force when he knew that his subordinate was engaged.”

The exact same moment is in this other memoir by an Ohio general, John Beatty. In fact, he was there when McClellan wimped out, saw it happen. Beatty’s book is called The Citizen Soldier, or Memoirs of A Volunteer. They loved those “or” titles: OK, you didn’t like my first try? How about this one? Pick one…Hell, take’em both.

Gen. John Beatty: Funnier than he looks

Beatty is somebody you could like. Cox is more the sort of person who everybody respects and avoids, but Beatty is the class clown of the Union officer corps. And being a Victorian his comical-type stories take about ten pages to develop. He can spin out a lame joke about how drunk one of his fellow officers was for a whole chapter. But sometimes he’s damn funny, like when his superior officer, early in the war, makes a pre-battle speech to the troops that would have me running for the hills in a second. This officer decides to be “honest,” a bad idea at that moment, so he tells the troops what they can expect:

“The Secessionists…have more men and more cannon than we have. They will cut us to pieces. Marching to attack such an enemy…is marching to a butcher-shop rather than a battle…Many of you, boys, will go out who will never come back again.”

You have to imagine this Jimmy Stewart character, the skinny Ohio civilian Beatty, listening to this speech, thinking, ‘Well, he’s the veteran officer, he must know what he’s doing, but I dunno, motivational-wise, if it’s such a durn good idea…” Beatty says,

As this speech progressed my hair began to stiffen at the roots…When a boy I had read Plutarch and knew something of the great warriors of the old time; but I could not, for the life of me, recall an instance when they had made such an address to their soldiers on the eve of battle.”

What’s amazing is that the soldiers don’t all flee for sunnier climes overnight. I sure would. Like I said: steely people. And maybe more used to dealing with outright lunatics like Beatty’s superior here. There weren’t a lot of shrinks around back then, and you get the sense that until somebody actually pulled out his own eyeballs or claimed to be the Pharaoh of Egypt, people took a lot of loopiness in stride.

Beatty takes an interest in just about everything, from the songs his Irish orderly sings to his horse to the jokes his troops tell about him. And he has one other thing you get when people are willing to play the clown: he’s amazingly honest. He tells you how he got totally lost climbing down a mountain in West Virginia and wandered around all night looking for his camp. I always knew that happened all the time in war, but you don’t hear about it much, first-hand; not that many officers are modest enough to admit it.

Beatty’s pretty good at description, too, and when he tells you what it was like the exact moment McClellan wimped out, you can feel the whole horrible story about to go down in Virginia happening right there in front of you.

McClellan: WW Napoleon D? Uh…Retreat?

Beatty’s men are waiting for the order to attack. They can hear the sound of combat up on the mountain, meaning Rosecrans’ little force is engaged. Just then…

“General McClellan and staff came galloping up, and a thousand faces turned to hear the order to advance; but no order was given. The General halted a few paces from our line, and sat listening to the guns, apparently in doubt as to what to do; and as he sat there with indecision stamped on every line of his countenance, the battle grew fiercer in the enemy’s rear.”

McClellan decides it’s too risky to attack, of course. And Beatty asks a damn reasonable question that never seemed to bother McClellan when he was in the grip of one of his cowardice fits: “If the enemy is too strong for us to attack, what must be the fate of Rosecrans’ four regiments, cut off from us, and struggling against such odds?”

From there to listening to his miserable Copperhead friend FitzJohn Porter and not committing the reserve at Antietam is about one year, plus three more years of war and a few hundred thousand dead. And there it all was, on display on this little road in West Virginia, the same moment in two different memoirs.

Pretty cool. But to be fair, you do have some serious wading to do. Those West Virginia flash floods were nothing compared to what a Victorian soldier can do with a good steady supply of ink.

Read more:, Gary Brecher, The War Nerd

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36 Comments

Add your own

  • 1. Bhbar  |  April 16th, 2011 at 10:18 am

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your blog. It is about the only thing keeping me sane these days.

  • 2. abc123  |  April 16th, 2011 at 11:08 am

    No one cares about the American civil war, it’s boring. Write about the Swedish empire, Charles XII and the battles of Narva and Poltava. Those conflicts have everything, a revolutionary new way of waging war (high mobility), torture (including making Russians eat their own shit) and an insane dictator who wanted to unite all of Europe under his rule.

    To get an idea of how wonderfully fucked up Charles XII was, the plan was that if he won against the Russian (he lost during the battle of Poltava) he would invade Afghanistan. When asked why, he simply said “then we can say we invaded Afghanistan too”.

    Essentially it was one great poker bluff, no one called the bluff and Sweden conquered more territory that it could hold.

  • 3. James  |  April 16th, 2011 at 11:39 am

    Interesting stuff, just checked online for Grant’s memoirs and they can be found here

    http://www.bartleby.com/1011/

  • 4. debaser  |  April 16th, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    Civil war stuff again… wake me up when the other guy gets back.

  • 5. Technomad  |  April 16th, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    That ornate writing style wasn’t just a problem with memoirs. Many 19th-century fiction authors shoved in everything but the kitchen sink.

    And I’d say that McClellan was great at putting an army together, but lacked the killer instinct you need to be a good general. When Lee attacked him, he all of a sudden snapped-to and was fighting back like a fury.

  • 6. DrunktankDan  |  April 16th, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    @abc123 It may not be your personal favorite, but the American Civil War is anything but boring. The numbers alone make it one of the all time great wars.

  • 7. required  |  April 16th, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    Suggestions for books on Charles XII? I actually have some familiarity with Peter but have only looked at stuff from Peter’s point of view, and the idea of Swedes who are so far from being progressive, efficient and sensible is absolutely fascinating!

  • 8. Arch Stanton  |  April 16th, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    The Civil War wasn’t boring–endless blather about it is boring. Mmmkay? You want some excitement? There’s a new Civil War just waiting for volunteers. So sign up right now and stop kvetching like a bunch menstrual school girls.

  • 9. The Dark Avenger  |  April 16th, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    Perhaps one of the reasons that Grants’ autobiography is better than everyone elses’ is because he had the help of an experienced writer, Mark Twain, in editing them for publication.

  • 10. PanTardovski  |  April 16th, 2011 at 3:53 pm

    Hey Gary, some stuff on the Libyan farce you might dig — http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2011/04/14/false_pretense_for_war_in_libya/?camp=misc%3Aon%3Ashare%3Aarticle

    “Moammar Khadafy is not deliberately massacring civilians but rather narrowly targeting the armed rebels who fight against his government … In nearly two months of war, only 257 people — including combatants — have died there. Of the 949 wounded, only 22 — less than 3 percent — are women. If Khadafy were indiscriminately targeting civilians, women would comprise about half the casualties … Libya’s leader promised amnesty for those “who throw their weapons away.’’ Khadafy even offered the rebels an escape route and open border to Egypt, to avoid a fight “to the bitter end.’’”

  • 11. Magpie  |  April 16th, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    I just wanted to say that WN every day is the only thing stopping me from going on a murderous rampage.

    I’m going to go right now and buy the book. Twice.

  • 12. Paul  |  April 16th, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    @ PanTardovski
    Alan J Kuperman seems to be opposed to armed humanitarian intervention but at the same time wants to bomb Iran: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/24/opinion/24kuperman.html?pagewanted=1

  • 13. ged  |  April 16th, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    i love the war nerd’s civil war blogs. funny and true. good job nerdlington.

  • 14. super390  |  April 16th, 2011 at 5:27 pm

    abc123: It would be great if there was a Swedish War Nerd. Hop to it, son!

    Arch Stanton: You’re right, it’s brewing. There’s no difference in the pro-CSA sentiment here than at the New York Times’ blog about the Civil War, “Disunion”. Something is up, and it’s good for us to read up on the first civil war to realize what an awful, probably fatal mess a second one will be for a country full of the kind of people War Nerd observes in Fresno. I’m still going to fight in it, though. I swore 20 years ago, when I realized what was coming, that I would rather work to destroy the United States than have its fate be to revert back to the hellhole it was 150 years ago. I mean, especially if you’re not white, not Christian, and not rich, like I’m not.

  • 15. Michal  |  April 16th, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    Cool stuff. Tell you what, I might even pick up a book about this whole affair.

  • 16. Xenophon's Mama  |  April 16th, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    @Magpie go ahead and buy three. I got two and I never see them because they get passed around too much. When they finally get back they are dog-eared and cum-soaked.

    God, that classic War Nerd was the best. Hopefully Our Nerd doesn’t get stuck in a rut with current events.

  • 17. Ivan  |  April 16th, 2011 at 6:23 pm

    I just want to read about Rocroi, Malplaquet and Fontenoy. Victorian British historiography fucked history in the ass all the way to the present day.

  • 18. Massena  |  April 16th, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    Love the ACW blogs. Wouldn’t mind a bit of Napoleonic now and then though 😉

  • 19. Soj  |  April 16th, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    People didn’t have TVs, computers or radios in those days. Reading a good lengthy book was EXACTLY what you wanted in those days as it’d fill up the time marvelously.

    To wit, there’s a great old ad I found once for books sold to people going on ships to cross the Atlantic and it says “every book guaranteed 500 pages or MORE”.

    Different times, folks, and a lot longer attention spans.

  • 20. William  |  April 16th, 2011 at 10:20 pm

    Been really enjoying these Civil War posts.

  • 21. abc123  |  April 17th, 2011 at 2:36 am

    required: “Karl XII: En biografi” by Bengt Liljegren. Naturally the book is in Swedish, but perhaps it has been translated.

    The book starts of with Charles being 15 years old and gets a sword, he says he wants to try the sword out and ask his men to bring out a lot of horses, he then slices the heads of the horses with his new sword and everyone is shocked.

  • 22. John Figler  |  April 17th, 2011 at 3:19 am

    A meek point to made, and a wonderfully hilarious way to made it in 3.000 words.

    Besides, I used to scare my friends over here in Europe telling them that a Second American Civil War is in the making, now that I see you the Yankees -you’re all Yankees here despite the John Ford movies- openly stating the same it’s me the one scared.

    There will be no repository of tough Ohio men this time I’m afraid…

  • 23. Bork bork bork  |  April 17th, 2011 at 3:55 am

    @super390

    Problem is nobody actually wants to nerd it down (even though Karl XII is an interesting character) as much as they crave the recognition of a foreigner, especially an american.

  • 24. Belgian  |  April 17th, 2011 at 5:09 am

    I’ve been enjoying these civil war posts as well. Yesterday I caught myself thinking “Hey nice, it’s civil war saturday, let’s check The Exiled”. Looking forward to sunday’s book review.

  • 25. captain america  |  April 17th, 2011 at 6:53 am

    love the civil war stuff. it’s a bonus that it annoys the eurofags. thanks, gary.

  • 26. Bester  |  April 17th, 2011 at 7:15 am

    Gary, have you seen it?

    It’s the second time it happens. F/A-18 Hornet ignites upon landing.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06zbOZIdNFI

  • 27. abc123  |  April 17th, 2011 at 9:22 am

    Bork bork bork: Bullshit, there is already plenty written on him (yes, by foreigners), but it’s mostly boring, politically correct things.

  • 28. Alpha Bravo  |  April 17th, 2011 at 9:24 am

    Great stuff!

    As a history buff, thanks!

  • 29. Bhbar  |  April 17th, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    Warnerd! You magnificent bastard!!!!!I READ YOUR BOOOOOOOOOOK!!!!

  • 30. J.T. Patton  |  April 19th, 2011 at 10:23 am

    I would like to recommend another Ohian- Ambrose Bierce.

  • 31. Technomad  |  April 20th, 2011 at 1:15 pm

    I’ll second the Bierce recommendation—both his Civil War fiction and his memoirs, like “What I Saw of Shiloh.”

  • 32. Phoenix Woman  |  April 22nd, 2011 at 9:18 am

    “Perhaps one of the reasons that Grants’ autobiography is better than everyone elses’ is because he had the help of an experienced writer, Mark Twain, in editing them for publication.”

    Indeed, but Twain, who knew from smart, was more than willing to acknowledge that Grant was no slouch in the brains and wit department:

    Twain describes seeing Grant for the first time in 1866 when Grant was still General of the Army and was considered by the world to be the man who preserved the Union. But the role Twain played here was merely that of observer. Hands were shaken but no words were exchanged.

    he second meeting between the two men was in the White House when Grant was serving his first term as president. Twain was introduced by Senator Bill Stewart of Nevada, a friend of both men. By that time Twain had “acquired some trifle of notoriety” but was far from being what is now known as a “celebrity.”

    After this, their second handshake, there was an awkward silence. As Twain put it: “I couldn’t think of anything to say. So I merely looked into the general’s grim, immovable countenance a moment or two, in silence, and then I said: “Mr. President, I am embarrassed. Are you?”

    Twain continued: “He smiled a smile which would have done no discredit to a cast-iron image, and I got away under the smoke of my volley.”

    Ten years passed and Twain admits that “In the meantime I had become thoroughly notorious.” Finally, in 1879 the two men were both speakers at a Chicago reunion of the Army of the Tennessee – Grant’s first command of troops.

    Again, both men were introduced by a mutual friend (this time it was the Mayor of Chicago). The mayor said: “General, let me introduce Mr. Clemens.”

    Twain recalls: “We shook hands. There was the usual momentary pause and then the general said: “I am not embarrassed. Are you?”

    Grant was likely also the finest horseman on either side of the conflict, if not the finest US military horseman ever:

    http://faculty.css.edu/mkelsey/usgrant/hors1.html

    http://faculty.css.edu/mkelsey/usgrant/hors2.html

  • 33. Dejo  |  April 26th, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    If I were under the command of an officer that didn’t treat other soldiers like fodder, I’d be more willing to trust him with my life. Just sayin’.

  • 34. Alan  |  May 1st, 2011 at 10:28 am

    http://www.christies.com/LotFinder/LotDetailsPrintable.aspx?intObjectID=3886808

    Lot Description SHERMAN, William Tecumseh (1820-1891). General. Autograph letter signed (“W.T. Sherman”) to his foster brother, Thomas Ewing, Alexandria, [Lousiana], 8 January 1861. 4 pages, 4to (7¾ x 9¾ in.), Louisiana State Seminary of Learning and Military Academy stationery, light stain on final page affects last letter of signature, otherwise very fine.

    SHERMAN LAMENTS THE ONSET OF WAR: “SLAVERY IS NOT THE CAUSE BUT THE PRETEXT”

    A moving letter in which Sherman contemplates the secession of the South and the impact that it might have upon his career. After resigning from the Army in 1853 and subsequently spending four years as a lawyer, Sherman accepted the position of Superintendent at the newly established Louisiana State Seminary of Learning and Military Academy.
    Nearly three weeks after South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union, a troubled Sherman expresses his concerns to his former law partner and future Union general, Thomas Ewing (1829-1896): “My position is complicated, and it is proper you should understand it. The election for Members of the Convention took place yesterday, and the Convention still will meet Jan 23. There is not the shadow of a doubt that Louisiana will secede. All people now say that the question is beyond mending.” On January 26, Louisiana voted for secession, becoming the sixth state to leave the Union. Sherman criticizes secession, but shrewdly predicts its future and the uncertainty of its outcome: “Of course I regard this as all madness, all folly. It however has clearly illustrated the weakness of our Government, and bodes some change– and that change must be violent. From the best information that reaches me it also seems probable that even the middle states of Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia & Maryland will fall off. Even if they do not join the Southern Confederacy, will at least quit the Union, and thus the new Combinations–All this is in the future, and I doubt if any living man foresees the End.” Having spent twelve pleasant years living in the South, Sherman boldly asserts a deeper foundation of disunion: “I am now satisfied that Slavery is not the Cause but the pretext, and that when these important defections take place, what will be the new Combinations?”

    […]

  • 35. Aaron  |  August 29th, 2011 at 8:06 am

    “…there’s a great old ad I found once for books sold to people going on ships to cross the Atlantic and it says “every book guaranteed 500 pages or MORE”.”

    Well, sure. Who wants to go three months without having anything to wipe his ass on?

  • 36. Aaron  |  August 29th, 2011 at 8:07 am

    “If I were under the command of an officer that didn’t treat other soldiers like fodder, I’d be more willing to trust him with my life.”

    …he said, every bit as though he’d be given any choice in the matter.


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