April 24, 1865: The Times criticizes Sherman


The New York Times editor castigates Sherman. The fifth clause of Sherman’s agreement with Johnston, mentioned here, reads “The people and inhabitants of all the States to be guaranteed, so far as the Executive can, their political rights and franchises, as well as their rights of person and property, as defined by the Constitution of the United States and of the States, respectively.”

Gen. Sherman’s Extraordinary Negotiation for Peace.

The loyal public will read with profound surprise the terms which Gen. SHERMAN tendered to the rebel government, as represented by its only uncaptured commander, Gen. JOHNSTON, as the basis of peace. In reading the provisions of this remarkable compact — which was signed on the 18th of April, four days after the assassination of President LINCOLN — one is at a loss to know which side agreed to surrender. JOHNSTON certainly could have intended nothing of the kind. He evidently believed himself to be negotiating with an equal — dictating terms, rather than receiving them — and laying the basis of a new government based on a theory of State rights as absolute and complete as CALHOUN ever dreamed of.

No plea need be sought to justify the rebellion and all the atrocious acts that have followed in its train, beyond that which is found in this scheme of pacification. The title of the “Confederates” to an equal status with the national authorities is conceded in the first article of the agreement: and that infamous concession is staunchly supported in the second article, which instead of providing for the surrender of the rebel arms and munitions of war to the United States Government, expressly provides for their deposit in the State arsenals under the keeping, and subject to the orders, of any new league of conspirators that may arise hereafter.

In his wildest flights of imagination, in his boldest schemes of burglary, FLOYD himself never conceived a plan or basis for a new rebellion superior to this. A difficulty between the United States Government and some foreign power would be the signal to every unarmed rebel to hie to the State arsenal and equip himself for a new attempt to throw off the authority of the government, and realize the dream of a slave Confederacy.

The fifth article in the agreement is intended not only to secure full amnesty for every class of rebel offenders, but to open the way for the reestablishment of slavery in all the seceded States. It is a provision running in the face of the most important legislative enactments and executive decrees that have come into force since the rebellion commenced. It changes, at one stroke, the whole policy of the National Government. It substitutes for the formal resolutions of Congress, and the solemn decisions of the National Executive, the compromises of a military subordinate with a rebel leader. It carries the nation back to the very source and fountain of the calamities which were sprung upon it when the guage of battle was first thrown down by the conspirators. It undoes all that has been found politic in asserting the supreme authority of the government; all that has been esteemed righteous and humane in the discomfiture of slavery; all that has been considered essential to justify the honor and uphold the justice of the national cause before the world.

And to each separate clause of this ignoble instrument, which, by the connivance of a weak and recreant Executive, might have become the Magna Charta of American slavery, Gen. SHERMAN gave the sanction of his name, as the immediate representative of the military power of the United States.

The act, viewed in its purely military bearings, must be regarded as one of most dangerous insubordination. Had there been no express orders to direct Gen. SHERMAN, the terms of surrender accorded by Lieut.-Gen. GRANT to LEE were available as a guide to the subordinate General. The prime feature of that surrender was illustrated in the brief and emphatic report of GRANT to the War Department: “There has been no relaxation in the pursuit during its pendency.” How did the subordinate in this case follow the example of his superior? By a prompt concession of an armistice to his crafty opponent — a concession which, as it was the first eager thought of LEE, was naturally likewise the prime consideration with JOHNSTON and his illustrious mentors, DAVIS and BRECKINRIDGE. On that concession depended all the hopes of personal safety of these fugitives from justice. On that concession depended their ability to show the “sympathizing” outside community that, before they resigned their posts as Confederate leaders, the status of the Confederacy was formally acknowledged by a United States commander, next to the highest in rank in the national army.

But Gen. SHERMAN had more than the example of his immediate Chief to guide him, if he desired to escape the grave charge of insubordination. He had before him the direct injunctions of the late President, which directly forbade the discussion of political terms of settlement between military commanders and rebel leaders. So long ago as the 3d of March — the very closing day of President LINCOLN’s first term — Secretary STANTON was instructed to write to Gen. GRANT that the President desired him “to have no conference with Gen. LEE, unless it be for the capitulation of LEE’s army, or on some minor and purely military matter.” If a transcript of this absolute injunction was not made, textually, for SHERMAN’s guidance, the injunction itself was perfectly known to him, and he was well aware that powers of negotiation were not denied to the Lieutenant-General to be conceded to one of his subordinates.

We fear that this most unfortunate step of Gen. SHERMAN has already led to results of serious detriment to the national cause. It has probably allowed DAVIS and BRECKINRIDGE, with their prominent and responsible confederates in the rebellion, to secure their personal safety, and there is some reason also to apprehend that it may have allowed JOHNSTON to remove his army beyond the immediate reach of his late antagonist. Its worst effects, however, were averted by the prompt and peremptory intervention of the President, and we hope that the presence of the Lieutenant-General, who set out for North Carolina before midnight on Friday, may obviate all the serious evils which it was calculated to involve.

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