June 17, 1863: Sherman’s response to McClernand

William Tecumseh Sherman

Sherman notes that McClernand’s self-congratulatory order was inaccurate in many ways, and accuses McClernand of making a false claim to have taken several forts at Vicksburg, leading Sherman to send troops needlessly to their deaths.

Official Records:

HEADQUARTERS Fifteenth ARMY CORPS, Camp on Walnut Hills, June 17, 1863.
Lieutenant Colonel John A. RAWLINS,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Department of the Tennessee:

SIR: On my return last evening from an inspection of the new works at Snyder’s Bluff, General Blair, who commands the SECOND DIVISION of my corps, called my attention to the inclosed publication in the Memphis Evening Bulletin of June 13, instant, entitled “Congratulatory Order of General McClernand,” with a request that I should notice it, lest the statements of fact and inference contained therein might receive credence from an excited public. It certainly gives me no pleasure or satisfaction to notice such a catalogue of nonsense – such an effusion of vain-glory and hypocrisy; nor can I believe General McClernand ever published such an order officially to his corps. I know too well that the brave and intelligent soldiers and officers who compose that corps will not be humbugged by such stuff.

If the order be a genuine production and not a forgery, it is manifestly addressed not to an army, but to a constituency in Illinois, far distant from the scene of the events attempted to be described, who might innocently be induced to think General McClernand the sagacious leader and bold hero he so complacently paints himself; but it is barely possible the order is a genuine one, and was actually read to the regiments of the Thirteenth Army Corps, in which case a copy must have been sent to your office for the information of the commanding general.

I beg to call his attention to the requirements of General Orders, Numbers 151, of 1862, which actually forbids the publication of all official letters and reports, and requires the name of the writer to be laid before the President of the United States for dismissal. The document under question is not technically a letter or report, and though styled an order, is not an order. It orders nothing, but is in the nature of an address to soldiers, manifestly designed for publication for ulterior political purposes. It perverts the truth to the ends of flattery and self-glorification, and contains many untruths, among which is one of monstrous falsehood. It substantially accuses General McPherson and myself with disobeying the orders of General Grant in not assaulting on May 19 and 22, and allowing on the latter day the enemy to mass his forces against the Thirteenth Army Corps alone. General McPherson is fully able to answer for himself, and for the Fifteenth Army Corps I answer that on May 19 and 22 it attacked furiously, at three distinct points, the enemy’s works, at the very hour and minute fixed in General Grant’s written orders; that on both days we planted our colors on the exterior slope and kept them there till nightfall; that from the first hour of investment of Vicksburg until now my corps has at all times been far in advance of General McClernand’s; that the general-in-chief, by personal inspection, knows this truth; that tens of thousands of living witnesses beheld and participated in the attack; that General Grant visited me during both assaults and saw for himself, and is far better qualified to judge whether his orders were obeyed than General McClernand, who was nearly 3 miles off; that General McClernand never saw my lines; that he then knew, and still knows, nothing about them, and that from his position he had no means of knowing what occurred on this front. Not only were the assaults made at the time and place and in the manner prescribed in General Grant’s written orders, but about 3 p. m., five hours after the assault on the 22nd began, when my storming party lay against the exterior slope of the bastion on my front, and Blair’s whole DIVISION was deployed close up to the parapet, ready to spring to the assault, and all my field artillery were in good position for the work, General Grant showed me a note from General McClernand, that moment handed him by an orderly, to the effect that he had carried three of the enemy’s forts, and that the flag of the Union waved over the stronghold of Vicksburg, asking that the enemy should be pressed at all points lest he should concentrate on him. Not dreaming that a major-general would at such a critical moment make a mere buncombe communication, I instantly ordered Giles A. Smith’s and Mower’s brigades to renew the assault under cover of Blair’s DIVISION and the artillery, deployed as before described, and sent an aide to General Steele, about a mile to my right, to convey the same mischievous message, whereby we lost, needlessly, many of our best officers and men.

I would never have revealed so unwelcome a truth had General McClernand, in his process of self-flattery, confined himself to facts in the reach of his own observation, and not gone out of the way to charge others for results which he seems not to comprehend. In cases of repulse and failure, congratulatory addresses by subordinate commanders are not common, and are only resorted to by weak and vain men to shift the burden of responsibility from their own to the shoulders of others. I never make a practice of speaking or writing of others, but during our assault of the 19th several of my brigade commanders were under the impression that McClernand’s corps did not even attempt an assault.

In the congratulatory order I remark great silence on the subject. Merely to satisfy inquiring parties, I should like to know if McClernand’s corps did or did not assault at 2 p. m. of May 19, as ordered. I do not believe it did, and I think General McClernand responsible.

With these remarks I leave the matter where it properly belongs, in the hands of the commanding general, who knows his plans and orders, sees with an eye single to success and his country’s honor, and not from the narrow and contracted circle of a subordinate commander, who exaggerates the importance of the events that fall under his immediate notice, and is filled with an itching desire for ” fame not earned. ”

With great respect, your obedient servant,
Major-General, Commanding.

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