SHERMAN, William Tecumseh (1820-1891), Major General. Autograph letter signed ("W.T. Sherman") to his foster brother Thomas Ewing, "Camp Shiloh near Pittsburg [Landing] Tenn.," 4 April 1862. 4 pages, 4to (9 13/16 x 7¾ in.), very minor browning to edges, evidence of early binding affects some letters of text on page 4, otherwise in good condition.
TWO DAYS BEFORE THE SURPRISE CONFEDERATE ATTACK AT SHILOH, SHERMAN CONFESSES QUALMS ABOUT DESTROYING CIVILIAN PROPERTY: "THE ISSUES INVOLVED ARE SO MOMENTOUS...THAT I SHRINK FROM THE RESPONSIBILITIES..."
A lengthy letter of considerable historical significance, revealing the Union command's ignorance of Confederate movements that led to the nearly disatrous surprise attack at Shiloh, two days later. In addition, Sherman expresses troubling reservations about the mortality of the destructive tactics he would later employ with devastating effect in his infamous March to the Sea.
Writing from his camp at Shiloh, Sherman reflects upon recent Union operations: "I was troubled in mind on account of the part...taken by me in the burning of the Road near Chattanooga...At the time I hoped the Administration last fall would see the importance of Kentucky as the center of the vast Battle field of America, and would order from the East or anywhere an army suited to the occasion. I then expressed a wish that the People of East Tennessee would manifest their declared preference for the Union cause by organizing with such arms as they would find." Arriving in Louisville "I found the enemy concentrating heavy forces on the Nashville Bowling Green & Paris Line, and had they rapidly approached Lexington they would have checkmated us, and beaten us, just as the unexpected interposition of Grant's Army at Donelson defeated Johnston." Sherman is convinced that campaigning in the region is dependant upon the railroad: "An army thus depending on Kentucky for supply could be beaten by ¼ its numbers, for the road...to Knoxville is a common mud road...Our volunteers will for a few days stand deprivations, but if we bring them to corn & meat, such as the country affords, they will scatter all over the country, and become useless as an army." Concerning the destruction of the railroad in that region, he voices his unease: "The destruction of a railroad...must be justifiable in war, but as an independent thing could not be justified. I confess the issues involved in this are so momentous that I shrink from the responsibilities which others seem to court."
Currently, he reports, "We now hold complete control of the river from Eastport to its mouth..." Completely unaware that Confederate commander Albert Sidney Johnston (1803-1862) had marched in secret from Corinth to attack the Union encampments, Sherman confidently reports: "The Enemy is at Corinth as a center with strong detachments along the rail road as far East as Tuscumbia: also with strong Cavalry & Infantry pickets towards us, almost to our very camp. These are mere videttes that fall back whenever we show ourselves, designed simply to carry notice back of an advance in front on our part." He gives an account of his new recruits: "I keep them pretty well employed and think they are gaining consistency." With a touch of bitterness he notes that "I have done all the reconnoitering & adventuring thus far, but when Glory is to be gained, I suppose [John A.] McClerand or some newspaper favorite must go ahead. I still think there is no need of haste. All will get their fill of fighting -- as much as they want."
Early on the morning of April 6, the Confederate army launched an entirely unexpected attack on the breakfasting Union soldiers in their camps along the Tennessee River near the small Shiloh church. Only Grant and Sherman's determined defense of a line near Pittsburg Landing stopped the Confederate advance. Sherman seems to have overcome the compunctions he expressed here over the destruction of privately owned railroads. During the Georgia campaign his army made it a practice to bend rail lines into loops, popularly known as "Sherman's hairpins," to prevent their re-use.
Partially published in American Heritage, Volume 38, Number 5, July-August 1997, p. 29.
Provenance: Joseph H. Ewing (sale, Sotheby's, 26 October 1988, lot 181, part).