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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      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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