SHERMAN, William Tecumseh (1820-1891). Autograph letter signed ("W. T. Sherman"), to Mrs. E.B. Anderson (widow of General Robert Anderson, who commanded Fort Sumter in 1861). Washington, D.C., 6 January 1878. 12 full pages, 4to, first page of each 4-page gathering with letterhead: "Headquarters Army of the United States."
THE "HELL" THAT WAS LOUISVILLE, 1861: SHERMAN VIVIDLY NARRATES THE CRITICAL EARLY MONTHS OF THE WAR IN KENTUCKY AND TENNESSEE, AND RECALLS MEETINGS WITH LINCOLN, FREMONT AND OTHERS
A most remarkable reminiscence of the Civil War. Sherman explains that he is away from his usual post in St. Louis, "a sort of harbor of safety from the political storm and tempest." It is natural, he writes, to "revert to that awful time when the angry passions of man had aroused the demon of War, had arrayed...brother against brother, and as in your case brothers against sister & husband...." But it might take, he warns, "many sheets to paint the picture of our country in the early autumn of 1861..., when Washington was a vast camp of soldiers gathering...to defend the Capitol against a bitter enemy...." President Lincoln, he recalls, was concerned about the situation in Kentucky, "a slave state," now "divided by patriotic sentiments" and unlikely to remain neutral for long. Lincoln was determined to hold the state in the Union, and to secure the military outposts there, but "he needed a leader, and all men naturally turned to General Robert Anderson," a native of Kentucky, a thorough soldier...and already tested in the first act of war [Fort Sumter]. He was summoned to Washington and soon after wrote me a note to meet him...We met as appointed, and Mr. Lincoln with several gentlemen from Kentucky were present." It was decided to send Anderson to Kentucky "with extraordinary powers to raise troops and commission officers." Anderson "told me that he wanted me to go along as his Lieutenant, as I had been his Lieutenant in Company G 3rd Artillery...and that Mr. Lincoln had promised him four Brigadiers of his choice out of the Army of the Potomac. He said he wanted [George] Thomas, [Ambrose] Burnside and [Don Carlos] Buell..." But, he continues, "McClellan could not spare Burnside, but I and General Thomas were ordered to report to Gen. Anderson" (in Louisville).
Kentucky was rapidly approaching a crisis. "There were no Union forces organized for Kentucky," Sherman recalls, and when he was summoned by telegraph to Louisville, he found Anderson "overwhelmed by the necessary work forced on him by a command without adequate force, or official help." In the meantime "The Rebels [Albert] Sidney Johnson and Zollikoffer had invaded Kentucky...and were actually approaching Knoxville." He details Anderson's desperate situation: "no staff, no Quarter Master, no Ordnance officer, and with few ill-organized and ill armed troops to meet the dangers which threatened the national cause on all sides. The government proceeded on the theory that Kentucky was full of Union men, who only needed arms and a leader to meet and repel any enemy," but most of the Union men were "dazed by the noise & clamor of those who owned slaves..." Sherman describes the almost insurmountable problems in mobilizing to defend the state, maintaining civil government and aiding the civilian population. These difficulties eventually proved too much for Anderson, Sherman relates, and "he broke down and resigned his post."
"I have heard Hell portrayed by eloquent men...but none have described a place that will compare with Louisville in the Autumn & Winter of 1861. I followed General Anderson in the same office, and failed equally. Afterwards I proved equal to bloody battle-fields and long, arduous campaigns, and would, given the option of such bloody battles as Shiloh, or Vicksburg, or Atlanta, in comparison with Louisville in 1861, I could not hesitate to choose the former with all their chances of wounds, death and captivity...." In conclusion, had it been Anderson's fate to have been "cast in honorable battle he would have proven himself a noble general...I cherish the memory of Robert Anderson as of one too good for Civil strife...."
Anonymous owner (sale Christie's, 11 April 1980, lot 217, $500).