William Tecumseh Sherman Vents Anti-Semitic Prejudices, Discusses Runaway Slaves, & Sketches Total War

November 2, 1862

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William Tecumseh Sherman Vents Anti-Semitic Prejudices, Discusses Runaway Slaves, & Sketches Total War
Autograph Letter Signed
4 pages | SMC 259

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      Background

      In this perceptive and prophetic war-date letter, Sherman is able to see beyond everything but his anti-Semitism: “A great deal of smuggling is going on in the Holly Spring Army,” he reports in passing, “but this is mostly by Union men and Jews instigated by a sense of gain.” This pervasive prejudice would, soon enough, give rise a month later to Grant’s notorious General Order No. 11, whereby Jews "as a class" were to be driven from his area of control – although the Order would be countermanded immediately, on the hearing of it, by Lincoln.

      Sherman’s splenetic anti-Semitism, albeit telling, is only part of the tale told here, however.  Grant, he says, has offered him any command he wants – but he wants to stay put, at the “main stem of the Mississippi” where, “by striking right & left [we] could make our presence so destructive and offensive as to produce some effect.” The South, he continues, so hates the North, that “there is no middle course. If love of money, property or other motives will make Southern people submit to law then they should enjoy prosperity, otherwise all should be taken away. It is a Revolution where the strongest must prevail. They must subdue us, or we them.” So he would then, if need be, with the runaway slaves he is using in Memphis, “displace the disloyal masters and let the Negroes have the houses, & cleared land. It is useless to talk about Constitutional means for a condition never contemplated by any Constitution.” This same adamancy dictates, too, his treatment of Guerillas: “Whenever our Boats are attacked, or our Scouts attacked from ambush I order the contiguous property to be destroyed.” Guerillas, he explains, “are fast degenerating into Robbers, and sooner or later… the country people who have hitherto pretended to call them defenders… are fast learning that Guerillas are more to be dreaded than Yankee armies.” In this assessment, however, he would prove only partially right. It was himself - and the nascent doctrine of total war he proposes here - that the South would come to fear and hate the most, during the war, and for generations after.


      Autograph Letter Signed (“W.T. Sherman”), of war-date, 4 pages, recto and verso, quarto, Memphis, November 2, 1862. To his brother-in-law, Philemon B. Ewing.
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      Memphis.  Nov 2. 1862.

      Dear Phil .

      I wrote you once or twice whilst Ellen was coming here as I was really alarmed at the length of her trip.  This was all accounted for when she arrived having come down the Ohio River in the same boat which brought the Battalion of Regulars.  She & Tommy are regularly enlisted in this Cause, and are accordingly concerned when the Regulars fall into the tender mercies of my Police Guard or Volunteers.  Charley is now safely delivered from the States prison and ought to be content.

      Ellen viewing things from her stand point will be better able to carry to you an idea of affairs than I could.  Grant has offered me any Command in his Department, but I feel the importance of the Main Stem of the Mississippi that I prefer it to a larger command at Corinth.  If all the forces were concentrated we could soon open the Mississippi and then by striking right & left could make our presence so destructive and offensive as to produce some effect.  But as to our attempting to Convert the South that seems more & more impossible.  The depth & intensity 

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      of their hatred to the Yankees, Abolitionists &c can only be understood to one who comes in contact with their families.  I am exerting all my power & influence to build up our Union Party here, but can only draw in the laboring classes, now numbering about 1200 & increasing.  The farmers too and small planters are getting tired of having their cotton burned, and their corn consumed by Guerillas and in some instances from their way in to market.  A great deal of smuggling is going on to the Holly Spring Army, but this is mostly managed by Union Men & Jews instigated by a sense of gain.  It is no use shutting our eyes to the fact that the entire South is united against us.

      About 6000 Run away negros are here – We employ about 800 on the Fort, some 300 by the Quarter Master and about 1000 as cooks & teamsters.  To all these Rations are issued, and the Law allows $10 the month but no provision thus far has been made for the payment of any except the Engineer force.  I have sent none to the North.  Indeed I think it preferable to keep them here, and if violence must be done, displace the disloyal masters and let the negros have the houses, & cleared land.  It is useless 

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      to talk about Constitutional means for a condition of things never contemplated by any Constitution.  It is a Revolution where the strongest must prevail.  They must subdue us, or we them.  There is no middle course.  If love of money, property or other motives will make Southern people submit to Law then they should enjoy prosperity, otherwise all should be taken away.

      Whenever our Boats are attacked, or our Scouts attacked from ambush I order the contiguous property to be destroyed.  There is no other way to reach the Case.  These Guerillas are fast degenerating into Robbers, and sooner or later we will be called on to protect the farmers against them.  Now I dont [sic] pretend to care what they do, as they are a pest to the country people who have hitherto pretended to call them defenders of homes & fireside against the Yankees.  They are fast learning that Guerillas are more to be dreaded than Yankee Armies.    A large Confederate Army is collecting at Holly Springs 50 miles S E. of this but whether designed for offensive or defensive operations I cannot tell.  I have here my own division about 8000 strong, and can defend the place, but Grant promises me another Brigade of 4 or 5 new Regiments.

      At Ellen's instance I have written to the 

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      Adjutant Genl at Washington recommending you for appointment as a Judge Advocate with the Rank of Major.  I still feel a repugnance to urging people to embrace the military service, though convinced that sooner or later every man at the north capable of bearing arms must take part.  We must become a Military nation for this war is not a temporary thing.  the issues involve the lives of millions & the property of half a Continent.  In two years we have made hardly any progress, indeed the issue of the war is not yet made up --  personal ambition or rather notoriety has not yet given place to a real love of Country.   The People of the North seem more intent on building up or pulling down personal reputations than in founding an Empire.

      Ellen will write fully.

      As ever yrs,

      W.T. SHERMAN