The Post-Shiloh Musings of General Sherman

William Tecumseh Sherman

There is little doubt that the Battle of Shiloh, April 6-7, 1862, changed not only the nature of the American Civil War, but also the trajectory of William Tecumseh Sherman’s career.  Going into the battle Sherman was working diligently to throw off the reputation for being insane. After Shiloh, the red-headed commander enjoyed newfound fame and would gain a promotion.

A nice window into Sherman’s post-Shiloh views is found in a letter the Ohioan wrote to his wife about a week after the battle.   

Camp Shiloh, Apl. 14, 1862

Dearest Ellen,

The day before yesterday I heard Halleck had arrived at the River and upon making a short turn through the Camps I found him on board the Continental and Grant on the Tigress.  I was there ordered again to try to destroy the Memphis and Charleston Road, a thing I had twice tried and failed.  I at once ordered 100 4 Illinois Cavalry under Bowman to be embarked on board [illegible phrase] and a Brigade of Infantry Fry’s1 on board the [illegible boat name] and White Cloud, and with two Gunboats went up the Tennessee 32 miles to Chickasaw, just at the Corner of Alabama, then I disembarked there and sent them on their errand—Bowman reached the Railroad and destroyed the Bridge and some 500 feet of trestles succeeding perfectly in the undertaking which is very important as it prevents all communication of the enemy with the East.  I tried to go up to Florence but the water would not let us pass two shoals above so I returned & Halleck was delighted.  This has been with him a chief object.  When I got down this morning he handed me the enclosed copy of one sent last night to Washington—so at last I Stand redeemed from the vile slanders of that Cincinnati paper—I am sometimes amused at these newspaper Reporters.  They keep shy of me as I have said the first one I catch will hang as a Spy.  I now have the lawful right to have a Court martial, and if I catch one of those Cincinnati Newspapers in my camp I will have a Court and they will do just as I tell them.  It would afford me a real pleasure to hang one or two—I have seen a paragraph in the Cincinnati Commercial about Dr. Hewit.  He never drinks, is as moral a man and as intelligent as ever, and all his time is working for the Sick, but because he will not drop his work & listen & babble with a parcel of false humorists who came here from the various [illegible phrase] of our Country he must be stigmatized as a corrupt drunkard.  Rebellion is a sin, & of course should be punished but I feel that in these Southerners there are such qualities of Courage, bold daring and manly that though I know they are striving to subvert our Government and bring them into contempt, Still I feel personal respect for them as individuals, but for these mean contemptible slanderous and false villains who seek reputation by abuse of others—Here called off by a visit of my Kentucky friends who express to me unbounded confidence.

I have just got yours of the 9th my hand is not off—it was a buckshot by a Cavalry man who got a shot at me but was almost instantly killed in return.—My shoulder is well and I am as good as ever.

For mercy’s sake never speak of McClellan as you write.  He ought to have Sent me men & officers in Kentucky but did not, but that he had any malice or intention of wrong I don’t believe.  I committed a fearful mistake in Kentucky and if I recover it will be a wonderful instance.  I have made good progress here, and in time can illustrate the motives that influenced me—I know McClellan to be a man of talents & having now a well organized & disciplined army, he may by some rapid strokes achieve a name that would enable him to Crush me—Keep your own counsel, and let me work for myself on this Line.  Halleck has told me that he had ordered the 4 Cos. Of the 13 Inf. to me as soon as a certain Battalion could be spared at New Madrid.  Charley need not be impatient[.] The southern army was repulsed but not defeated.  Their Cavalry hangs about our front now—we must have one more terrible battle—we must attack—My Division is raw—some regts. behaved bad but I did the best I could with what remained, and all admit I was of good service—I noticed that when we were enveloped and death stared us all in the face my seniors in rank leaned on me—Well I am not in search of honor or fame and only count it for yours & childrens sake.

I think you will have some satisfaction and I know your father will be please that I am once more restored to favor.  Give him Hallecks letter & tell him I broke the Charleston Road[.]  Yrs.

W.T. Sherman

About Derek Maxfield

Associate Professor of History Genesee Community College
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2 Responses to The Post-Shiloh Musings of General Sherman

  1. Mike Maxwell says:

    Interesting that W.T. Sherman puts so much emphasis on cutting a railroad… that had already been cut three days earlier by Army of the Ohio’s Ormsby Mitchel. Other letters of William T. Sherman are on file with University of Notre Dame; and most are accessible online: http://archives.nd.edu/findaids/ead/xml/shr.xml

    • Dan says:

      Mitchel was in Huntsville, AL, over a hundred miles east of Corinth. Sherman cut the railroad in NW Alabama, as ordered.

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