A Fateful Appointment: Abraham Lincoln Makes William T. Sherman a General

August 1, 1861

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A Fateful Appointment: Abraham Lincoln Makes William T. Sherman a General
Autograph Letter Signed
1 page | SMC 566

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      Background

      “The sun rises, but shines not” Walt Whitman wrote the day after the first major land battle of the Civil War. The First Battle of  Bull Run was a Union disaster, about which the best thing was that the Confederates, inexplicably, did not continue with an assault on Washington. As the routed troops flooded into Washington, Lincoln brooded in private, and began to assess what went wrong. Colonel William T. Sherman, having commanded 3,400 troops - who behaved no better and no worse than others on the field – did the same. Although he had performed in an exemplary fashion, he nonetheless felt disgraced. What he wanted was to sneak into a quiet corner, he wrote his wife, following this “mortification of retreat, rout, confusion, and now abandonment by whole regiments.” Lincoln, however, had different plans for the self-denigrating Sherman. Just five days after the battle, in an effort to encourage the troops, Lincoln had visited Sherman’s command and been impressed with the hard-driving Colonel. In fact, when an officer complained to the President that Sherman, just hours before, had threatened to shoot him, Lincoln calmly replied yes, he believed he would do it. Which perhaps explains why Lincoln nominated Sherman a Brigadier General, with this letter, five days later: he needed generals who would push, and hard.

      Sherman did push hard – finally, all the way through Georgia to the sea. That campaign, in the winter of 1864, waged unrestricted warfare against the civilian population. It was a vicious, brutal, and successful raid. When Sherman was done, the South could hold no hope of victory.


      Autograph Letter Signed (“A. Lincoln”), as President, 1 page, octavo, Executive Mansion, August 1, 1861. To Secretary of War Simon Cameron.
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      1861

      Executive Mansion
      August 1. 1861.

      Hon. Sec. of War:

      Let nominations be made out for

      David Hunter 
      Don. Carlos Buell
      James Oakes.
      William T. Sherman.
      [added, in an unknown hand, in pencil: Charles S. Hamilton, Wis.]

      as Brigadier Generals of volunteers -

      Yours truly

      A. LINCOLN