Sherman’s Voice

I noticed a little something that now has me obsessed. A passing mention in the New York Times from 1888 that mentions a party at which William Tecumseh Sherman related some of his war memories to Thomas Edison, specifically, into Edison’s recording gramophone. No mention anywhere on the web of this recording being recovered or available, though. Historians and antiquarians of the world, please keep an eye (or ear) out for an actual recording of Sherman’s voice! (Until it’s found, he’ll still sound like Arthur Miller in my head.)

There were strange sounds and sights in the unique headquarters of the Electric Club, in East Twenty-second-street, last night. Thomas A. Edison was there with a dozen of his perfected phonographs, and the compact little machines entertained a distinguished company of invited guests with oratorical eloquence and harmonious music. Gen. W. T. Sherman related war reminiscences, which were faithfully recorded and reproduced…

Source: Remembering the Phonograph

The Peacemakers

It’s the 150th anniversary of the River Queen conference, which – of all the great events and happenings from 1860-1865, is the one I most wish I could witness. Sherman in all his glory reunites with his elevated friend Grant. Sherman also meets Lincoln the reelected for the first time in 4 years, after getting off on the wrong foot back at the war’s outset, and finds himself captivated. The men lay out amongst themselves a tentative plan for a humane and thoughtful Reconstruction. That rainbow in the background of the famous painting belied what actually happened, but to me, this was the brief shining moment of the Civil War.

The Peacemakers - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Peacemakers – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

America’s Worst Anti-Jewish Action

The same author from yesterday’s article wrote earlier about Grant’s infamous anti-Jewish order from 1862.  Sad to see the words of some of the greatest heroes laid bare with anti-semitism.

A few months earlier, on August 11, General William Tecumseh Sherman had warned in a letter to the adjutant general of the Union Army that “the country will swarm with dishonest Jews” if continued trade in cotton were encouraged. And Grant also issued orders in November 1862 banning travel in general, by “the Israelites especially,” because they were “such an intolerable nuisance,” and railroad conductors were told that “no Jews are to be permitted to travel on the railroad.”

As a result of Grant’s expulsion order, Jewish families were forced out of their homes in Paducah, Kentucky, and Holly Springs and Oxford, Mississippi – and a few were sent to prison. When some Jewish victims protested to President Lincoln, Attorney General Edward Bates advised the president that he was indifferent to such objections.

Lincoln rescinded Grant’s odious order, but not before Jewish families in the area had been humiliated, terrified, and jailed, and some stripped of their possessions.

via The Jewish Press » » Shame of the Yankees – America’s Worst Anti-Jewish Action.

Forty Acres and a Mule

Sherman’s famous field order is one of the war’s great what-ifs.  A terrific idea nixed by a man who can only be described as the anti-Lincoln.  Reconstruction in microcosm.

Congress created the Freedmen’s Bureau shortly after Sherman’s Field Order No. 15 demanded the redistribution of land to former slaves. The Freedmen’s Bureau was created to ensure that millions of free slaves would begin to receive economic equality and empowerment, their 40 acres and mule, shortly after the Civil War ended. President Johnson, however, reversed Sherman’s policy and issued an order for all land to be returned to the Confederacy’s White landowners and confiscated from the free Blacks.

via Michigan Chronicle – Forty Acres and a Mule.

Bomber Boys

No podcast tonight, folks – I’ll save the story of Appomattox for the sesquicentennial 2 years from now.  I had planned to cover it for this week’s podcast, but frankly got caught up in a different war tonight.

I just watched this great documentary on the Bomber Command of WWII.  It’s not Civil War based, I admit, but the ethical questions raised by Arthur Harris’ carrying the war to populations has always reminded me of the controversy around Sherman.

The veterans in this documentary echo Sherman’s defense of his campaign:

We cannot change the hearts and minds of those people of the South, but we can make war so terrible … [and] make them so sick of war that generations would pass away before they would again appeal to it.

Bomber Boys – BBC Documentary. – YouTube.

War Is Hell, but Kissing is Great

I found this absolutely delightful anecdote in John F. Marszalek’s Sherman: A Soldier’s Passion for Order – a biography which looks pretty damn great based on a quick flip through.

“Some time after Grant was elected President I went to call on him at the White House. I had been struck with the number and speed of his horses, and with the delight it seemed to give him to be in their company. So I said to him, ‘General, fine horses seem to have become a fad with you.’

“‘Well, Sherman,’ said he, “we all must have our fads these days. It seems to have become the fashionable thing. I have all my life been intensely fond of good horseflesh. In my youth I hadn’t the means to indulge this fancy. Later in life I had not the time. Now, when for the first time I have both the money and the leisure, I am indulging it and enjoying it to the full.’

“‘Well, general,’ said I, ‘I suppose I’ll have to be getting a fad myself I never have had one, and if I have one now I don’t know it. Let me see — let me see: what shall it be? I have it! You may drive your fast horses, and I will kiss all the pretty girls. Ha! ha! that shall be my fad.'”

Sherman is always thought of as The Destroyer, so it was hilarious to read about this later-years campaign, which by all accounts, he undertook with as much gusto as the destruction of the South.

The anecdote and many stolen-kiss followups can be found in this free online book (added to the Library), which sure seems to be a must-read for Sherman buffs like me, born 150 years too late to snare a kiss from the old rascal in person.

via Full text of “Life and deeds of General Sherman, including the story of his great march to the sea ..”.

General Sherman and Father Sherman

Another father/son story, though this one doesn’t have a terribly happy ending. W.T. Sherman – that freethinker who delighted in his army’s killing of Bishop Polk – begat a son who became a Catholic priest.  Interesting that the younger Sherman inherited his father’s manic depression, and also his feistiness; note how many of his descriptions are military or combative in theme.  You can see how the Jesuits (“God’s stormtroopers”, as one of my history profs called them) would have appealed.

In the spring of 1878, General William T. Sherman opened a letter from his oldest son Thomas, a young man for whom he held great hopes. At 22, Tom had studied at Georgetown and Yale, and had graduated from law school. Sherman envisioned a bright future for Tom, one which would ensure the family’s security. The letter, however, left him shocked, distressed, even furious.

Tom wrote that he wasn’t going to continue as a lawyer, but was joining the Jesuits that summer. The General told Tom in no uncertain terms that he had betrayed him, his sisters and mother, who looked to him for support in their old age. (He always felt his army salary didn’t go far enough.) It’s not clear that Sherman ever fully forgave his son.


Free Book: Atlanta, by Jacob Dolson Cox

I went looking for this book after another rewatching of the Ken Burns series. Cox’s writing is used throughout, and for good reason; he was a thoughtful, observant, and effective reporter of the events surrounding him.  Sadly, the four versions available for free have plenty of OCR mistakes (“Richmond” seems to be unreadable to every scanner in North America), but is worth checking out for descriptions like this.

[Sherman’s] nervous and restless temperament, with a tendency to irritability, might have raised a doubt whether he would be successful in guiding and directing men of the capacity of his principal subordinates ; but experience showed that he had the rare faculty of beconiing more equable imder great responsibilities and in scenes of great excitement. At such times his eccentricities disappeared, his grasp of the situation was firm and clear, his judgment was cool and based upon sound military theory as well as upon quick practical judgment, and no momentary complication or unexpected event could move him from the purposes he had based on full previous study of contingencies. His mind seemed never so clear, his confidence never so strong, his spirit never so inspiring, and his temper never so amiable as in the crisis of some fierce struggle like that of the day when McPherson fell in front of Atlanta.

If you want to read this without the digital errors, there is a version for sale that features actual scans of the original pages.

Atlanta : Jacob Dolson Cox : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive.

General Sherman is a Hog!

In yesterday’s post on Bunny Breckinridge, I mentioned his great-grandpa’s fury at Sherman’s whiskey-based neglect. It’s a great story, and I’ve copy-pasted a version here. It’s taken from the memoirs of John S. Wise, son of the Virginia governor Henry A. Wise. Through him Wise Jr. had apparently told him by Joe Johnston – the other General in the room during the negotiations.

” You know how fond of his liquor Breckinridge was?” added General Johnston, as he went on with his story.

“Well, nearly everything to drink had been absorbed. For several days, Breckinridge had found it difficult, if not impossible, to procure liquor. He showed the effect of his enforced abstinence. He was rather dull and heavy that morning. Somebody in Danville had given him a plug of very fine chewing tobacco, and he chewed vigorously while we were awaiting Sherman’s coming. After a while, the latter arrived. He bustled in with a pair of saddlebags over his arm, and apologized for being late. He placed the saddlebags carefully upon a chair. Introductions followed, and for a while General Sherman made himself exceedingly agreeable. Finally, some one suggested that we had better take up the matter in hand.

“Yes,” said Sherman, “but, gentlemen, it occurred to me that perhaps you were not overstocked with liquor, and I procured some medical stores on my way over. Will you join me before we begin work ?

General Johnston said he watched the expression of Breckinridge at this announcement, and it was beatific. Tossing his quid into the fire, he rinsed his mouth, and when the bottle and the glass were passed to him, he poured out a tremendous drink, which he swallowed with great satisfaction. With an air of content, he stroked his mustache and took a fresh chew of tobacco.

Then they settled down to business, and Breckinridge never shone more brilliantly than he did in the discussions which followed. He seemed to have at his tongue’s
end every rule and maxim of international and constitutional law, and of the laws of war, international wars, civil wars, and wars of rebellion. In fact, he was so resourceful, cogent, persuasive, learned, that, at one stage of the proceedings, General Sherman, when confronted by the authority, but not convinced by the eloquence or learning of Breckinridge, pushed back his chair and exclaimed: “See here, gentlemen, who is doing this surrendering anyhow? If this thing goes on, you ll have me sending a letter of apology to Jeff Davis.”

Afterward, when they were Hearing the close of the conference, Sherman sat for some time absorbed in deep thought. Then he arose, went to the saddlebags, and fumbled for the bottle. Breckinridge saw the movement. Again he took his quid from his mouth and tossed it into the fireplace. His eye brightened, and he gave every evidence of intense interest in what Sherman seemed about to do.

The latter, preoccupied, perhaps unconscious of his action, poured out some liquor, shoved the bottle back into the saddle-pocket, walked to the window, and stood there, looking out abstractedly, while he sipped his grog.

From pleasant hope and expectation the expression on Breckinridge s face changed successively to uncertainty, disgust, and deep depression. At last his hand sought the plug of tobacco, and, with an injured, sorrowful look, he cut off another chew. Upon this he ruminated during the remainder of the interview, taking little part in what was said.

After silent reflections at the window, General Sherman bustled back, gathered up his papers, and said: “These terms are too generous, but I must hurry away before you make me sign a capitulation. I will submit them to the authorities at Washington, and let you hear how they are received.” With that he bade the assembled officers adieu, took his saddlebags upon his arm, and went off as he had come.

General Johnston took occasion, as they left the house and were drawing on their gloves, to ask General Breckinridge how he had been impressed by Sherman.

“Sherman is a bright man, and a man of great force,” replied Breckinridge, speaking with deliberation, “but,” raising his voice and with a look of great intensity, ” General Johnston, General Sherman is a hog. Yes, sir, a hog. Did you see him take that drink by himself?”

General Johnston tried to assure General Breckinridge that General Sherman was a royal good fellow, but the most absent-minded man in the world. He told him that the failure to offer him a drink was the highest compliment that could have been paid to the masterly arguments with which he had pressed the Union commander to that state of abstraction.

“Ah!” protested the big Kentuckian, half sighing, half grieving, ” no Kentucky gentleman would ever have taken away that bottle. He knew we needed it, and needed it badly.”

The story was well told, and I did not make it public until after General Johnston s death. On one occasion, being intimate with General Sherman, I repeated it to him. Laughing heartily, he said: “I don t remember it. But if Joe Johnston told it, it s so. Those fellows hustled me so that day, I was sorry for the drink I did give them,” and with that sally he broke out into fresh laughter.

Burke Davis on Sherman

My sizeable collection of Civil War books expands regularly without me making much of a contribution to the “read” shelf, so I’m making an effort to read more this year.

First up was Burke Davis’ Sherman’s March. It may seem contradictory to start a reading campaign with a title I’ve already read, but in my defense, I was on a Sherman kick and this was the book that introduced me to my favourite manic-depressive, redheaded demolition expert. (Also, in a nice little coincidence, my inscription on the inside cover indicates that it’s exactly 20 years since I bought and read it.)

Davis’ style is easy, and his presentation is heavily reliant on first-person accounts – letters and diaries of soldiers and Southerners. As such, he had a wealth of terrific anecdotes to draw from, and these are presented in short blocks of text that make for a breezy read. He imparts a great image of exactly how big a “pleasure excursion” this was for the troops, how devastating it was for the natives, and how Sherman truly earned his outsized reputation from both camps. The army exhibits its own personality, too:

It was an absurb caricature of an army, with hardly a complete uniform in its ranks. Half the men were barefoot or wore wrappings of old blankets or quilts. Socks had disappeared months before. There was a sprinkling of rebel uniforms, and thousands were in civilian clothes – battered silk top hats, cutaway coats and tight-legged breeches of the Revolutionary era. Some wore women’s bonnets. Trousers were tattered; many wore ony breechclouts. Sleeves had been torn from coats to make patches for trousers, crudely stitched with white cotton twine. Faces were still smudged from pine smoke and gunpowder. Lank hair protruded from ruined hats; many of the hatless wore handkerchiefs around their heads. Hundreds were without shirts, bare to the waist. The 81st Ohio came by with all its shoeless and hatless men merged into one company, men who seemed to march more proudly than all the rest.

I was worried, from the opening few chapters, that Davis – a Southerner himself – harboured a pro-Confederate/anti-Sherman leaning, but he quickly settled into a very pragmatic and even-handed narrative. Sherman’s and his army’s good deeds are chronicled alongside the misdeeds, and he points out that the Confederate forces have never gotten their fair share of blame in the depredations.

As often happened in such moments, Confederates committed outrages as readily as the most undisciplined of Sherman’s troops. This disposition to looting, though rarely recorded in early American history, was to become a familiar phenomenon in many large cities in 20th century America. The young men of the 1860’s, who had grown up in an era when strict morality was the rule, had been guided by standards of social acceptance and decorum – but now, freed of restraint and invited to do their worst, many soldiers defied all authority

My fond memories of the book were justified; this is easily one of my favourites in my collection. Well worth picking up for your own library, too.