Some Quotations from the Personal Memoirs of

Gen'l. W. T. Sherman (1820-1891)

compiled by Hugo S. Cunningham
first posted 000709
latest minor change y10724

Source of all quotes listed here:
William T. Sherman, Personal Memoirs of Gen'l W. T. Sherman (written by himself, with an appendix, bringing his life down to its closing scenes, also a personal tribute and critiques of the memoirs, by Hon. James G. Blaine), Volumes I and II, Fourth Edition, revised, corrected, and complete; Charles L. Webster & Co., New York, 1892.

[Following the defeat at Bull Run, a militia captain demanded an immediate discharge from Colonel Sherman. Sherman turned him down, lest his example be followed by hundreds of enlisted men. Later that day, the captain tried complaining directly to President Lincoln, then visiting the troops. The President, however, had already developed a respect for Sherman, and was too cagy to be drawn.]
[The militia captain] "forced his way through the crowd to the carriage, and said: 'Mr President, I have a cause of grievance. This morning I went to speak to Colonel Sherman, and he threatened to shoot me.'
Mr. Lincoln, who was still standing, said, 'Threatened to shoot you?'
'Yes, sir, he threatened to shoot me.'
Mr. Lincoln looked at him, than at me [Sherman], and stooping his tall, spare form toward the officer, said to him in a loud stage-whisper, easily heard for some yards around: 'Well, if I were you, and he threatened to shoot, I would not trust him, for I believe he would do it.' The officer turned about and disappeared, and the men laughed at him."
ca 26 July 1862
Vol I, pp. 218-219

"I will punish the soldier for trespass or waste if adjudged by a court-martial, because they disobey orders; but soldiers are men and citizens as well as soldiers, and should promptly resent any insult to their country, come from what quarter it may. I mention this phase because it is too common. Insult to a soldier does not justify pillage, but it takes from the officer the disposition he would otherwise feel to follow up the inquiry and punish the wrong-doers."
--from letter, dated 2 Sep 1862, by Maj.-Gen W.T. Sherman, military commander of occupied city of Memphis TN, to the editor of a local newspaper, "Bulletin,"
Vol I, p. 306

[Letter to U.S. Grant]
"Until you had won Donelson [Fort Donelson TN, captured by US Grant in Feb 1862], I confess I was almost cowed by the terrible array of anarchical elements that presented themselves at every point; but that victory admitted the ray of light which I have followed ever since.
"I believe you are as brave, patriotic, and just, as the great prototype Washington; as unselfish, kind-hearted, and honest, as a man should be, but the chief characteristic in your nature is the simple faith in success you have always manifested, which I can liken to nothing else than the faith a Christian has in his Saviour.
"This faith gave you victory at Shiloh and Vicksburg. Also, when you have completed your best preparations, you go into battle without hesitation, as at Chattanooga -- no doubts, no reserve; and I tell your that it was this that made us act with confidence. I know wherever I was that you thought of me, and if I got in a tight place you would come -- if alive.
"My only points of doubt were as to your knowledge of grand strategy, and of books of science and history; but I confess your common-sense seems to have supplied all this."
--from letter, dated 10 March 1864, from Maj-Gen W.T. Sherman to his boss U.S. Grant, just promoted to Lieut.-Gen.
Vol I, p.428

[On 7 Sep 1864, Maj Gen Sherman, commander of Union forces occupying Atlanta GA, sent a letter to Gen. J.B. Hood, commander of opposing Confederate forces, requesting his cooperation in the peaceful evacuation of civilians, mostly pro-Confederate, from Atlanta, which was to be converted into an exclusively military fortress and target.
Gen. Hood wrote back agreeing to cooperate, since "I do not have any alternative in this matter," but added a reproach.]
[letter by Gen. Hood to Gen. Sherman]
"Permit me to say that the unprecedented measure you propose transcends, in studied and ingenious cruelty, all acts ever before brought to my attention in the dark history of war.
"In the name of God and humanity, I protest, believing that you will find that you are expelling from their homes and firesides the wives and children of a brave people."
--letter, dated 9 Sep 1864, from Gen. J.B. Hood to M.Gen. W.T. Sherman
Vol. II, p. 119.

[Reply by Gen. Sherman to Gen. Hood]
"In the name of common-sense, I ask you not to appeal to a just God in such a sacrilegious manner. You who, in the midst of peace and prosperity, have plunged a nation into war -- dark and cruel war -- who dared and badgered us to battle, insulted our flag, seized our arsenals and forts that were left in the honorable custody of peaceful ordnance-sergeants, seized and made 'prisoners of war' the very garrisons sent to protect your people against negroes and Indians, long before any overt act was committed by the (to you) hated Lincoln Government; tried to force Kentucky and Missouri into rebellion, spite of themselves; falsified the vote of Lousiana; turned loose your privateers to plunder unarmed ships; expelled Union families by the thousands, burned their houses, and declared, by an act of your Congress, the confiscation of all debts due Northern men for goods had and received! Talk thus to the marines, but not to me, who have seen these things, and who will this day make as much sacrifice for the peace and honor of the South as the best-born Southerner among you! If we must be enemies, let us be men, and fight it out as we propose to do, and not deal in such hypocritical appeals to God and humanity. God will judge us in due time, and he will pronounce whether it be more humane to fight with a town full of women and the families of a brave people at our back or to remove them in time to places of safety among their own friends and people.
--from a letter, dated 10 Sep 1864, from W.T. Sherman to J.B. Hood
Vol II, pp. 120-121

To James M. Calhoun, Mayor of Atlanta, and E.E. Rawson and S.C. Wells, representing the City Council of Atlanta:
"You cannot qualify war in harsher terms that I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. I know I had no hand in making this war, and I know I will make more sacrifices to-day than any of you to secure peace. But you cannot have peace and a division of our country. If the United States submits to a division now, it will not stop, but will go on until we reap the fate of Mexico, which is eternal war. The United States does and must assert its authority, wherever it once had power; for if it relaxes one bit to pressure, it is gone, and I believe that such is the national feeling. [...]
"You might as well appeal against the thunder-storm as against these terrible hardships of war. They are inevitable, and the only way the people of Atlanta can hope once more to live in peace and quiet at home, is to stop the war, which can only be done by admitting that it began in error and is perpetuated in pride."
--from a letter, dated 12 Sept 1864, by Gen. W.T. Sherman
Vol II, p. 126

Sherman proposes his march to the sea:
"I propose that we break up the railroad from Chattanooga forward, and that we strike out with our wagons for Milledgeville, Millen, and Savannah. Until we can repopulate Georgia, it is useless for us to occupy it; but the utter destruction of its roads, houses, and people, will cripple their military resources. By attempting to hold the roads, we will lose a thousand men each month, and will gain no result. I can make this march, and make Georgia howl!"
--from a telegram, dated 9 Oct 1864, from W.T. Sherman to U.S. Grant.
Vol II, p. 152

"4. The army will forage liberally during the march."
--from Special Field Orders, No. 120, dated 9 November 1864, by order of Major-General Sherman
Vol II, p. 175

"My aim then was to whip the rebels, to humble their pride, to follow them to their inmost recesses, and make them fear and dread us. 'Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.'"
--W.T. Sherman, describing his attitude in Savanna GA, Dec 1864
Vol. II, p. 249.

From General Sherman's final letter to the troops in his Civil War command:
"To such as go home, [I] will only say that our favored country is so grand, so extensive, so diversified in climate, soil,and productions, that every man may find a home and occupation suited to his taste; none should yield to the natural impatience sure to result from our past life of excitement and adventure. You will be invited to seek new adventures abroad; do not yield to the temptation, for it will lead only to death and disappointment.
--from Special Field Orders, No. 76, dated 30 May 1865
Vol. II, p. 380.

The text and a MIDI rendition of "Marching through Georgia," a Civil War song still offensive to Georgian ears, can be found at the "Civil War MIDI Page"
Sherman had nothing to do with the song, composed after the march was over.

Return to quotations page.