WHY GENERAL SHERMAN’S NAME IS DETESTED.
BY COL. W. D. PICKETT, LEXINGTON, KY.
I desire to supplement the article in the July VETERAN with the above title by answers to criticisms made and doubts cast upon the charges therein.
As to the charge that at the burning of the large cotton mills at Roswell, Ga., General Sherman caused all the operatives of those mills (a few men, but mostly women and children over twelve years) to be collected, loaded onto freight trains, transported to Louisville, and dumped out at the freight yards without food or money and with few husbands or fathers to look after them: On making inquiry recently from old residents of Louisville and Lexington, Ky., these charges are corroborated in every detail, these operatives having been dumped out from freight cars, it is charged, to the number of nearly one thousand, the number probably being overestimated.
These facts were published in the papers at the time, and the charitable people of Louisville and all the contiguous region of Kentucky responded nobly to this sudden tax on their charity. It is said that H. D. Newcomb and Nicholas Coleman, of Louisville, owning cotton mills in Kentucky or Indiana, took quite a number of them, giving them employment. The noble Sisterhood of Nuns of Nazareth, near Bardstown, Ky., came over there and took many of the children. The remainder were distributed throughout the country wherever homes could be found. The fathers and husbands and brothers of these unfortunates were at the time in the Confederate army, and could not look up their children until peace came. As an instance, one of these fathers came to Lexington in search of his child, but up to that time had been unsuccessful. He had followed a clue up into Vermont and had found one of these children; but it was not his, but a child of his brother.
Supposing the destruction of the Roswell mills was within the usages of civilized warfare, can there be given one valid reason for the sudden deportation of these unfortunates from the comforts and protection of home? The act being that of one who was a father himself can only have had its origin in a bad heart. Was it too much to say, “These acts will be forever a stain upon the character of the Federal commander,” Sherman?
Some doubt has been cast as to my authority for making other charges contained in that article, and it is simply necessary to state that during all the operations connected with these events I was a staff officer of Lieut. Gen. W. I. Hardee. I heard the first shell thrown by the Federal artillery into Atlanta, and am familiar with the correspondence between General Hood and General Sherman in regard thereto, as also in regard to the depopulation of Atlanta. It so happened that while this depopulation was going on I was at General Hood’s headquarters as a member of a court of inquiry, and was familiar, through the staff officer having the matter in charge, with each day’s progress with that movement. Soon after the fall of Atlanta General Hardee was, at his request, relieved by the President of the command of his old corps in the Army of Tennessee and given the command of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. I was transferred with him, and was present at all the operations around Savannah and, on its evacuation, at the transfer of its small army to the vicinity of Charleston. I had charge of the flag of truce on the steamer that met the transport steamer off the harbor of Charleston containing the officers’ wives and refugees, sent around by sea by General Sherman (about five hundred souls). During their transfer and for several days thereafter, until they scattered to their several destinations, I mingled freely with them. They all agreed as to the threats freely published by General Sherman as to what would be done when South Carolina soil was reached and as to the time of his leaving Savannah. That these threats came from Sherman’s headquarters is proven by the fact that the threats were literally carried out.
On the advent of Sherman’s army on its northerly march through South Carolina it became a matter of the utmost importance to prognosticate its destination. On the solution of this problem depended the policy of the evacuation of Charleston and its defenses or the contrary. From the latter part of January to the 12th of February I was kept almost continuously in Sherman’s front, reporting any information obtained by myself or from Wheeler’s Cavalry by telegraph each day. More than once my reconnoissance was so close to Sherman’s front that his position could be closely located by those black pillars of smoke. In some cases families, in terror from the threats sent out from Savannah, would desert their plantations, in which case they were almost invariably fired. From the accounts of refugees there were few dwellings saved. The most of them were burned, and even in the presence of weeping women and children. On the approach of Sherman’s army to the vicinity of Orangeburg, S. C., its destination was sufficiently developed to justify the evacuation of all the defenses around Charleston, for which preparations had been made, and the transfer of the small army under Hardee to North Carolina, his rear guard skirmishing with the advance of Sherman’s army on the evacuation of Cheraw, S. C.
Your correspondent from Georgia thinks my commendation of General Grant as to his soldierly and gentlemanly bearing toward noncombatants was misplaced, as he gave Sheridan positive orders by telegraph to devastate the Shenandoah Valley in the manner it was done. Your correspondent is certainly mistaken. Sheridan acted from his own heart and brain. If his savagery in that matter is correctly outlined in that famous “crow-fly” dispatch of exultation to Grant, his name should be coupled with that of Sherman, and both names should go down in history coupled with that of Hanan, that Austrian general who made reputation along the same lines in the war between Austria and Hungary, and who on his first appearance in London was mobbed by the bakers. A friend “would suggest Attila instead of Hanan.” But I say no. Attila was a savage. The horde of Asiatics and Slavs he precipitated upon Central Europe were savages, and it was to be expected that they were to carry on war as savages. Not so with these two officers. Born and reared under Christian influences, they were graduates from West Point, an institution not excelled by any institution of its age in the world in the number of distinguished soldiers it has turned out from its portals—distinguished alike for their valor and ability in command of armies, as well as for all the qualities that adorn the Christian gentleman.
It is impossible for an army commander to march a large army through a hostile country without more or less hardships to the noncombatant population. My information as to Grant’s campaigns in the Southwest is that he was kind to noncombatants and protected them in their noncombatant rights. So it was with Gen. Don Carlos Buell, General Rosecrans, and General Macpherson. General Buell marched a large army nearly a thousand miles through North Alabama and Tennessee, and, if it were possible, partially demoralized, by his kindness and protection to noncombatants, those people. The death of General Macpherson, on July 22, 1864, was heard of with genuine regret by those Confederate soldiers familiar with his record around Vicksburg. All of these army commanders are remembered with the kindliest feelings by the Southern people. On the contrary, the name of Sherman is recalled with a feeling akin to horror; that of Sheridan only in a lesser degree.
For the sake of the many brave officers and soldiers of Sherman’s army who condemned and deplored those acts of wandalism that famous song, “Marching through Georgia,” so often heard in the past, should be consigned to eternal oblivion. To me and most Southern people conversant with that famous “march” it brings to mind visions of those columns of black smoke against the sky, the gaunt outlines of lonely chimney stacks against the moonlight, reminders of the destruction of happy homes and the weeping of women and children. I shall never forget the last time that famous piece was heard by me and the rebuke that was administered against its performance from the throats of over twenty thousand of the patriotic citizens of New York and surrounding States.
This occurred during the celebration of the centennial of the inauguration of the first President in the vicinity of New York City in the year 1889. The first day was given up to the naval display in the harbor. The second day was given up to the parade and review of the National Guard of most of the States, together with all of the regular army that it was convenient to have present, including the West Point Cadet Battalion. At least forty thousand troops passed in review before the President, as fine a body of soldiery as could be organized in any country, most of whom were thrown into the city within eighteen hours from leaving their barracks. The reviewing stand was on Madison Square, facing Fifth Avenue (I believe). Having been one of the commissioners appointed by Governor Moonlight to represent the then Territory of Wyoming, I was given a good position on this stand near the President, and had an excellent opportunity of seeing the parade as well as everything else that transpired. The sidewalks below as well as the street, as far as the police would allow, were a dense mass of humanity. The opposite block of buildings, five or six stories high, with their awnings, every window, and the roofs of the houses, were
simply black with people. Moreover, that mass of people were fully enthused with the amenities of the occasion. There had not been one allusion to the past. All the pictures in the shops and all the flags displayed were of the Revolution and the Continental army. Patriotism and fraternity were in the air. There had been no allusion to that conflict between the sections. There appeared again a reunited country.
The troops from each State passed as per a regular programme, headed by its Governor, with a full military band preceding him. As it turned out, there had been stationed on the sidewalks a band, cocked and primed by some contemptible character for its rôle. In proper rotation the Georgia Battalion appeared, headed by its Governor, John B. Gordon. As soon as he had advanced far enough to be recognized that band struck up that then well-known air, “Marching through Georgia.” As soon as the situation was realized that vast crowd appeared to be stunned into impenetrable silence. The silence was painful, the intended insult was so marked. Suddenly a band just in the rear of the Georgia troops struck up that soul-inspiring air, “Dixie” (that music that Mr. Lincoln claimed “we have captured”). The tension was broken, and from the twenty-five to thirty thousands of throats there came a roar that shook the earth, accompanied with the waving of flags and handkerchiefs and every demonstration of good fellowship, all indicating a determination to administer a stunning rebuke to the thought that sought to humiliate and insult the guests of a great State and maybe a guest of the nation. These cheers and demonstrations of good fellowship followed Gordon and his men until they disappeared from the reviewing stand. Gordon and his troops thoroughly appreciated this ovation. Gordon, always handsome and graceful, appeared at his best as he gracefully acknowledged the plaudits of that immense and congenial multitude. The President, Mr. Benjamin Harrison, appeared to enter into the spirit of the occasion, and it seemed to me was unusually gracious as he acknowledged Gordon’s salute. I shall always recollect that splendid, patriotic, and enthusiastic multitude. I shall always recall Gordon’s gallant bearing as he acknowledged his thanks.
Then let that song be relegated to oblivion; but let the name of the man who gave cause for its origin be held up in the “lime light” of a Christian civilization until history shall have forced him “to lie in the bed he has made for himself.” Let the children and their children be taught of this name. But, on the other hand, let them be taught to treat with respect and esteem the names of those other army commanders of the West who, soldiers and gentlemen themselves, carried on the war in accordance with the usages and rules of Christian civilization. I speak of Ulysses S. Grant, Don Carlos Buell, William S. Rosecrans, and J. B. Macpherson. But, above all, let them be taught to revere the flag of the now reunited nation.
— Confederate Veteran, vol. XIV, no. 9, September 1906.