During a lazy summer—in which the only major cultural topic seemed to be why the NEA supports obscene art—a minor flap developed at the Grand Army Plaza, at Fifth Avenue and Central Park South, in New York City. This involved the restoration, by a coalition of benefactors working with the City Arts Commission, of an equestrian statue of General William Tecumseh Sher man. It was erected in 1903 by Augustus Saint-Gaudens.
What caused the dust-up—mostly played out in articles and letters in The New York Times—was the restoration of a layer of bright yellow gilding that lighted up the dingy statue like a New York City taxicab. Garish and vulgar, said some. No, said others, the new patina perfectly re-creates the effect that Saint-Gaudens was after: three layers of thin gilt against a background of green trees. Some insist that Saint-Gaudens had the color toned down before the installa tion of the work. Never mind, others say, New York Citys polluted air will tone it down rapidly enough. Not so, according to one of the benefactors: a heavy coat of protective gelatin will cover the gold patina, which will be maintained, in perpetuity, in all its aureate splendor.
Whether the tourists in the park, or the lounging office workers on the plaza, could identify William Tecumseh Sherman—or even, for that matter, say exactly who is buried in Grants Tomb—is anybodys guess. But with the publication of The Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman and Ulysses S. Grant: Memoirs and Selected Let ters, the Library of America now offers in a convenient format two of the most im portant historical documents touching on the American Civil War.1 If anyone wants to know who these superb generals were or what they accomplished as military leaders, there could be no better introduction to their lives than these two volumes. Apropos of the genre of the military memoir, each deals mainly with the historic events and the role of each general in the design of strategy and the command and deployment of North ern troops. Little enough of personal sen sibility, private thought, or subjective feeling is exposed. Nevertheless, the mind and character of both men, their courage and conviction, their strengths and weaknesses, come through in these volumes, which the Library has now added to its treasury of our national literature.
WilliamTecumseh Sherman (1820-1891) was descended of English immigrants who arrived in 1634 and settled in Connecticut; the family line included many soldiers, as well as Roger Sherman, a signer of the Declara tion of Independence. Shermans father Charles, a lawyer, saw an opportunity in the West and moved his family to Ohio, where William was born. (Impressed by the exploits of the great chief of the Shawnees, Charles gave his son that remarkable middle name of Tecumseh.) Sherman, in any case, grew up with a sense of the nations history and des tiny and of his familys role in it. The death of his father, by then a judge of the Ohio Supreme Court, left the family impover ished. But their standing made it possible for young Sherman to enter West Point and for his abolitionist brother Charles eventually to become a Senator from Ohio, a post he held during the Civil War.
Sherman graduated from the academy in 1840, sixth in a class of forty-three, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. In his early career he had various military assign ments: capturing and removing Florida Seminoles to the Indian Territory; conducting legal business for the Army in various parts of the South; scouting the West with the ex plorer General John C. Frémont; and report ing to Washington on the new gold fields in California. Because of his service in the Far West, however, Sherman missed the Mexi can War campaigns, a sure route to military advancement. Thinking his army future a bleak one, he resigned his commission in 1853 and became a bank agent in California.
Later, when the bank closed in 1857, Sher man opened a law firm in Kansas, then went into farming in Ohio, and finally, in 1859, accepted the superintendency of the newly created Louisiana Seminary of Learning and Military Academy. This institution, with five instructors, sixty cadets, and no furniture, was meant to become a Southern West Point; in fact, it later evolved into Louisiana State University. During 1859-60, as the South was mobilizing for secession, Colonel Sherman advised Louisiana state officials that, in his opinion, "secession was treason, was war." It was therefore no surprise that, when Louisiana state militiamen seized the federal arsenal in Baton Rouge on January 10, 1861, months before the April attack on Fort Sumter that commenced the war, Sher man resigned his academic post and headed north.
Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) was born in Point Pleasant, Ohio, to a much less distin guished family. His father, who operated a tannery and sold cut wood, educated the boy at various schools and seminaries before Grant matriculated at West Point in 1839. He graduated in 1843, twenty-first in a class of 223. With the outbreak of the Mexican War, he was assigned to the command of General Zachary Taylor and fought with distinction at Palo Alto, Resaca de la Palma, and Monter rey. Later, under General Winfield Scott, Grant took part in the siege of Vera Cruz and Mexico City. After the war, Grant served in various parts of the country, in various com mands, rising to the rank of captain. But, like Sherman, he found army pay insufficient to support his family, and he resigned his com mission in 1854.
Grants career in the 1850s, like that of Sher man, was financially problematic. He farmed for a while, sold cut wood, dabbled in real estate, and clerked in his fathers leather-goods store. He had seen no future for him self in the army, but the outbreak of the Civil War enflamed his ardor for service. As he re marked in a letter to Frederick Dent on April 19, 1861,
I know it is hard for men to apparently work with the Republican party but now all party distinctions should be lost sight of and every true patriot be for maintaining the integrity of the glorious old Stars & Stripes, the Constitu tion and the Union. The North is responding to the Presidents call in such a manner that the rebels may truly quaik.
Grant volunteered and was appointed com mander of an Illinois regiment by Governor Richard Yates. In the first year of the war, he organized and led troops throughout Mis souri, Illinois, and Kentucky.
In early 1862, Grants genius for command emerged when his army took Fort Henry and Fort Donelson in the West. Unfortunately, shortly thereafter, he fell afoul of his supe rior, General H. W. Halleck. While Grant was on raids up the Tennessee River, to disrupt Confederate railroads, Hallecks tele grams, demanding to know his strength and whereabouts, were not delivered. Nor were Grants dispatches to Halleck received. Con sequently, Halleck told Commanding Gen eral McClellan, out of anger and perhaps jealousy, that
he had repeatedly ordered me to give the strength of my force, but could get nothing out of me; that I had gone to Nashville, beyond the limits of my command, without his authority, and that my army was more demoralized by victory than the army at Bull Run had been by defeat. General McClellan, on this information, ordered that I should be relieved from duty and that an investigation should be made into any charges against me. He even authorized my arrest. Thus in less than two weeks after the victory at Donelson, the two leading generals in the army were in correspondence as to what disposition should be made of me, and in less than three weeks I was virtually in arrest and without a command.
Grant of course requested a transfer from Hallecks command and was disgusted enough to consider retirement, a move from which Sherman wisely dissuaded him. Short ly thereafter Halleck reinstated Grant, as win ning combat officers were in short supply.
The prior military experience of Grant and Sherman before the Civil War meant that each man already knew many of the officers, Northern and Southern, who would play a major role in the conflict. Sherman had known Braxton Bragg, O. C. Ord, Halleck, P. G. T. Beauregard, and D. C. Buell, among others. Grant wrote that
Graduating in 1843,1 was at the military acade my from one to four years with all cadets who graduated between 1840 and 1846—seven class es. These classes embraced more than fifty officers who afterwards became generals on one side or the other in the rebellion, many of them holding high commands. All the older officers, who became conspicuous in the rebellion, I had also served with and known in Mexico: Lee, J. E. Johnston, A. S. Johnston, Holmes, Hebert, and a number of others .... The acquain tance thus formed was of immense service to me in the war of the rebellion—I mean what I learned of the characters of those to whom I was afterwards opposed.
Among other things, if a large part of the country clothed R. E. Lee with "almost super human abilities," Grant could remark that "I had known him personally, and knew that he was mortal; and it was just as well that I felt this."
Sometimes, however, an accurate knowl edge of what these generals were up against proved them too pessimistic for Washington. Although the disastrous defeat of Federal forces at Bull Run in July 1861 should have convinced Washington that this would not be a ninety-day war (the usual term of enlist ment), Shermans belief in massive recruit ment for a long war went largely unheeded. And when he told General McClellan in Washington that he would need up to two hundred thousand men to clear the Con federates from Kentucky, the advice was printed in the public press and Sherman was denounced in The Cincinnati Commercial as "insane . .. stark mad." Northern politicians and newspapermen did not want to hear that the war would be long and costly. Thus Sher mans immediate superior, General Halleck, put Sherman on medical leave for twenty days and told McClellan that Sherman was unfit for duty. Thus, both Sherman and Grant had to contend with backstabbing by Washington politicians and by a hostile press.
Eventually reassigned to support the as sault on Fort Donelson in the Cumberlands, Sherman met up with Grant and thus com menced one of the most effective one-two military combinations in this or any other war. Grant took Fort Donelson on Februrary 16, 1862, and moved immediately against Corinth and various other Confederate strongholds, preparatory to an all-out assault on Vicksburg, Mississippi. Vicksburg was well defended and, in terms of river geog raphy, virtually impregnable. But, after repeated assaults, Grant, the commanding general, and Sherman, his right hand, took the city on July 4, 1863, capturing thirty thousand troops. The significance of this victory could hardly be overestimated. As Sherman put it,
The value of the capture of Vicksburg, how ever, was not measured by the list of prisoners, guns, and small-arms, but by the fact that its pos session secured the navigation of the great central river of the continent [the Mississippi], bisected fatally the Southern Confederacy, and set the armies which had been used in its con quest free for other purposes; and it so hap pened that the event coincided as to time with another great victory which crowned our arms far away, at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. That was a defensive battle, whereas ours was offensive in the highest acceptation of the term, and the two, occurring at the same moment of time, should have ended the war; but the rebel leaders were mad, and seemed determined that their people should drink of the very lowest dregs of the cup of war, which they themselves had prepared.
Perhaps the Vicksburg and Gettysburg campaigns should have ended the war, but these Southern defeats did not seem, at the time, so decisive. Confederate generals like Lee, Hood, Hardee, and their fellows had political and military resources still under estimated by the North. And the Northern victories could, just as often, have turned the other way—owing to accidents and variables that could hardly be anticipated. It is well to remember that these campaigns were fought in what would now be thought primitive conditions.
Communications, whether by messenger or telegraphy, were always problematic. Transportation was slow. Rains and the tramping feet of thirty-thousand-man armies could turn roads into a sodden quicksand of mud. Melting snows made swollen rivers unfordable. The whereabouts of the enemy was often in doubt. Often only the flashing of bayonets in the sun, in the far distance, told the generals where the enemy lay. There were long delays between the issuance of battle orders and the execution of them. Sometimes only the faraway puffs of smoke from muskets indicated the onset of hos tilities. Often armies blundered into each other, without meaning to, and what seemed at first to be a mere skirmish "rose to the dig nity of a full-scale battle." In fact, most of the Norths successes could have been called Southern victories, except that each succeed ing battle weakened Lee and his lieutenants, and it became only a matter of time before superior Northern manpower and material overwhelmed the South.
As the war dragged on, political considera tions made it imperative that Lincoln remove General McClellan from overall command of the Union armies. The simple fact is that McClellan was dithering in Washington, un willing to leave the Capital and take the field against Lees Army of Northern Virginia. But even Halleck, who replaced McClellan, was not decisive enough. Both Grant and Sherman, who evince no love for Halleck in their memoirs, regarded him as timid. Hence, the successes of the Western armies, under Grant, induced Congress to revive the rank of lieutenant-general—for the sole pur pose of making Grant the highest-ranking officer in the army and therefore inevitably Hallecks replacement. Grant was made general-in-chief on March 10,1864. On the eve of his departure for Washington he wrote to Sherman:
While I have been eminently successful in this War, in at least gaining the confidence of the public, no one feels more than me how much of this success is due to the energy, skill, and har monious putting forth of that energy and skill, of those who it has been my good furtune to have occupying a subordinate position under me. There are many officers to whom these remarks are applicable to a greater or less de gree, proportionate to their ability as soldiers, but what I want is to express my thanks to you and McPherson as the men to whom, above all others, I feel indebted for whatever I have had of success. How far your advice and suggestions have been of assistance you know. How far your execution of whatever has been given you to do entitles you to the reward I am receiving you cannot know as well as me. I feel all the grati tude this letter would express, giving it the most flattering construction.
General James B. McPherson was killed in the Battle of Atlanta in July of 1864.
Sherman warned Grant against trying to command the Union armies from a base in Washington, urging him to remain in the West so as to avoid the politicians, spies, and hostile newspapermen. But Grants reading of the military situation led him to take command of the Washington-based Army of the Potomac, so as to defeat Lee. He gave the West to Sherman, who was ordered to assault the armies of Confederate generals John ston, Hood, and Hardee. This plan Grant kept secret from the Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, and President Lincoln. In the prosecution of this plan, Grant ordered Sher man to attack Hood, who withdrew into At lanta. Sherman assaulted the city and took it on September 2, 1864. He evacuated it of civilians, largely burned it, and made it forever after unfit to support a Confederate army.
Shermans order that all civilians evacuate Atlanta outraged Southern politicians and newspapermen. Confederate General J. B. Hood told Sherman that "the unprece dented measure you propose transcends, in studied and ingenious cruelty, all acts ever before brought to my attention in the dark history of war." But in driving women and children out of Atlanta and sacking the city, Sherman was merely following a policy Grant had determined on. After the Battle of Shiloh, Grant had given up any idea of saving the Union except by complete conquest. This necessarily involved the confiscation or destruction of whatever supported the South ern war machine. Atlanta was full of factories, munitions plants, and storehouses for the Confederate armies. Thus Sherman pro ceeded to lay it waste with Grants approval. In responding to General Hood, Sherman pointed out that Southern commanders had frequently evacuated Unionist civilians and burned their houses and property. And he went on:
I say that it is kindness to these families of Atlanta to remove them now, at once, from scenes that women and children should not be exposed to, and the "brave people" should scorn to commit their wives and children to the rude barbarians who thus, as you say, violate the laws of war, as illustrated in the pages of its dark history.
In the name of common-sense, I ask you not to appeal to a just God in such a sacrilegious manner. You who, in the midst of peace and prosperity, have plunged a nation into war— dark and cruel war—who dared and badgered us to batde, insulted our flag, seized our ar senals and forts that were left in the honorable custody of peaceful ordnance-sergeants, seized and made "prisoners of war" the very garrisons sent to protect your people against negroes and Indians, long before any overt act was com mitted by the (to you) hated Lincoln Govern ment; tried to force Kentucky and Missouri into rebellion, [in] spite of themselves; falsified the vote of Louisiana; turned loose your privateers to plunder unarmed ships; expelled Union families by the thousands, burned their houses, and declared, by an act of your Congress, the confiscation of all debts due Northern men for goods had and received! Talk thus to the marines, but not to me, who have seen these things…
Such tactics led Sherman to be called the first "modern" general, one for whom war was an all-out enterprise of destruction. But these generals produced other novelties. Military strategy, prior to Grant, largely favored the constant protection of an armys rearguard, of the lifeline that supplied the food, ammunition, and forage needed for an armys survival. Much of military history is therefore a repetitious record of flanking and encircling movements to cut off an enemys supply line, the destruction of roads and rail roads, the burning of supply wagons, am munition trains, and provisions. These mem oirs are no different in that respect. Yet Grant had learned through his victory at Fort Donelson that his army could subsist off provisions taken from the land traversed.
Consequently, Grant and Sherman de vised an unheard-of plan, according to which Sherman would strike out eastward from Atlanta, living off the crops and livestock of Georgia and the Carolinas. His destina tion—Savannah, Charleston, Raleigh, Wil mington—would be a secret, even from Washington, so there could be no doubt about the confusing effects of his movement. Neither Lee nor the Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston was in a position to stop him as Sherman swung eastward. Eventually, of course, Sherman intended to come up through the Carolinas into Virginia, to get behind Lee and the Army of Northern Vir ginia, and combine with Grant to crush them.
Shermans "March to the Sea" was one of the most controversial strategies of the Civil War, inasmuch as his army of sixty-five thousand men, marching in a sixty-mile swath, traversed 425 miles from Atlanta to Goldsboro, North Carolina, devastating farmlands and cities along the way. Southern newspapers and politicians raged at Sherman as an infamous barbarian who had "changed the rules of war." Shermans memoirs defend his armys conduct and the policy on which it was based, but there can be no doubt that the consequences for the South were vastly destructive. But as Sherman had told the Mayor of Atlanta, "You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it." (Sherman is perhaps best remembered for two sayings. To prevent the Republicans from nominating him for the presidency, he told them in 1884, "I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected." The other saying is "War is hell." What he actually said, on the occasion of a veterans reunion in 1880, was this: "There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but, boys, it is all hell.")
In any case, the "March to the Sea" worked. As Grant moved toward and be sieged Richmond, the Confederate capital, Lee was faced with a dilemma: to stand and fight Grants army or to withdraw south ward, link up with Joseph Johnstons troops, intercept Sherman, and try to defeat his army. During this phase of operations Lee was simply brilliant in devising maneuvers and attacks that kept Grants army off balance. But with every skirmish, every battle, even if victorious, Lee lost men and material that would make defeat only a mat ter of time. As the siege of Richmond con tinued, many Southern troops became demoralized and deserted. Lee hesitated, suffered serious losses of supplies from the rear, then withdrew from Richmond. The evacuation of the city produced chaos, as Lees army seemed to disappear. But General Phil Sheridan sent Grant a dispatch indicat ing that
the whole of Lees army is at or near Amelia Court House, and on this side of it. General Davies, whom I sent out to Painesvilte on their right flank, has just captured six pieces of artillery and some wagons. We can capture the Army of Northern Virginia if force enough can be thrown to this point, and then advance upon it. My cavalry was at Burkesville yesterday, and six miles beyond, on the Danville Road, last night. General Lee is at Amelia Court House in person. They are out of rations, or nearly so. They were advancing up the railroad towards Burkesville yesterday, when we intercepted them at this point.
Grant had heard before that Bobby Lee was in a trap, but he personally rode forward to the site of the encampment, reconnoitered the positions, and deployed the troops so as to engage Lee and prevent him from escaping southward to join forces with Johnston.
This was to be the great battle, the final showdown between them that would per haps settle the fate of the Union—and per haps of Grant himself. As he rode back and forth, consulting his division commanders as to placement and strategy, Grant was largely unprepared for the note he received from Lee, in early April 1865, proposing a discus sion of the surrender of his army. But they agreed to meet at the nearby town of Ap pomattox Court House. Lee, according to Grant, appeared "in a full uniform which was entirely new, and was wearing a sword of considerable value." Grant, on the other hand, had not expected the capitulation and appeared in a privates uniform, spattered from his riding through the lines, absent a sword, with only the shoulder straps of a lieutenant general to indicate his rank. (Of course, his enemies said that he had once again been drinking; but modern historians have cast doubt on Grants legendary bibulations.) Of the scene of Lees surrender at Ap pomattox, Grant later wrote that
What General Lees feelings were I do not know. As he was a man of much dignity, with an impassible face, it was impossible to say whether he felt inwardly glad that the end had finally come, or felt sad over the result, and was too manly to show it. Whatever his feelings, they were entirely concealed from my observation; but my own feelings, which had been quite jubilant on the receipt of his letter, were sad and depressed. I felt like anything rather than rejoic ing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.
Grants surrender terms were generous, as befitting Lincolns wish to bind up the wounds of war, and Lees men were sent home with their horses to begin the spring planting.
The surrender of R. E. Lee found Sherman moving up through North Carolina, and he was immediately redirected to find the Confederate army of Joe Johnston and de stroy it. But Johnston knew the end was at hand and moved to surrender. In view of Shermans reputation for merciless punition, the tentative terms he offered him, though submitted to Washington for approval, were immediately denounced by President An drew Johnson and Secretary Stanton (Lincoln had just been assassinated). Sher man was ordered to offer only what Grant had offered Lee. Stanton broadcast Sher mans overgenerous blunder and insinua tions were made about his loyalty to the Union. This seems incredible today, but such were the passions of war and of political preferment that for some weeks Shermans reputation was under a cloud. Grant and other defenders eventually redeemed it, but Stanton was ever thereafter an enemy of Sher man. Later, of course, Grant went on to be come President, a task for which he was largely unfitted, and Sherman followed him as commanding general of all the armies.
The style of these two memoirs is better than we have a right to expect, coming as they do from two such men of action. Both works detail at great length the relentless sequence of skirmishes, battles, sieges, and other en gagements. Both volumes illustrate the text with copies of battlefield orders, maps, com mand rosters, body counts, and the like. Sher mans record is perhaps the livelier of the two, expressing certainty, self-confidence, and joie de vivre. Yet there is a particular modesty in Shermans memoir. He does not tell us, for example, what Grant remarks about Shermans conduct at the Battle of Shiloh:
A casualty to Sherman that would have taken him from the field that day would have been a sad one for the troops engaged at Shiloh. And how near we came to this! On the 6th [of April, 1862] Sherman was shot twice, once in the hand, once in the shoulder, the ball cutting his coat and making a slight wound, and a third ball passed through his hat. In addition to this he had several horses shot during the day.
Of the two books, Grants is the better. In fact, it holds its own with every other military history written by a commanding general, going back to Caesars Gallic wars, so far as I have read them. Matthew Arnold sniffed at Grants bad grammar, nearly driving Mark Twain wild, for Twain had arranged the books publication. But Edmund Wilson was more nearly right in praising the Memoirs as a striking instance of the transition from a flowery Victorian style into a style of direct, straightforward realism. Perhaps no passage will illustrate this style more clearly than Grants account of the Battle of the Wilder ness, fought in May of 1864:
At 4:15 in the afternoon Lee attacked our left. His line moved up to within a hundred yards of ours and opened a heavy fire. This status was maintained for about half an hour. Then a part of Motts division and Wards brigade of Birneys division gave way and retired in disorder. The enemy under R. H. Anderson took ad vantage of this and pushed through our line, planting their flags on a part of the intrenchments not on fire. But owing to the efforts of Hancock, their success was but temporary. Car roll, of Gibbons division, moved at a double quick with his brigade and drove back the enemy, inflicting great loss. Fighting had con tinued from five in the morning sometimes along the whole line, at other times only in places. The ground fought over had varied in width, but averaged three-quarters of a mile. The killed, and many of the severely wounded, of both armies, lay within this belt where it was impossible to reach them. The woods were set on fire by the bursting shells, and the conflagra tion raged. The wounded who had not strength to move themselves were either suffocated or burned to death. Finally the fire communicated with our breastworks, in places. Being con structed of wood, they burned with great fury. But the battle still raged, our men firing through the flames until it become too hot to remain longer.
Grant would probably never have written these memoirs had not disastrous invest ments threatened to ruin his family. They were completed as he was dying, facing the specter of bankruptcy, and show, toward the end, traces of his fatigue. But the work re mains an essential record of Union military history. He died in 1885, shortly after com pleting it, and was eventually interred north of the Grand Army Plaza, in a marble tomb overlooking the Hudson River. William Tecumseh Sherman died six years later. At his funeral procession in New York City, at tended by President Harrison and former presidents Hayes and Cleveland, one of the pallbearers was former Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston. The weather was bit terly cold. Although eighty-four years old, General Johnston refused to cover his head, as a mark of respect for Sherman, his old foe. A month later Johnston died of pneumonia. Sherman was buried in St. Louis, at the Calvary Cemetery, near his family.
1. William Tecumseh Sherman: The Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman, edited by Charles Royster; The Library of America, 1,136 pages, $35. Ulysses S. Grant: Memoirs and Selected Letters, edited by Mary Drake McFeely and William S. McFeely; The Library of America, 1,199 pages, $35. The two books are also available as Civil War Memoirs, a special boxed set, at $70.
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