April 25, 1865: Sherman responds

William Tecumseh Sherman

Sherman tells Stanton that he recognizes he didn’t have the authority to make an agreement on civil matters, and he also writes to Grant — in both cases he’s trying to justify his position, and is perhaps understandably defensive. He persists in arguing that without amnesty and recognition of the state governments, guerrilla conflict will result.

Official Records:


HDQRS. MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI,
In the Field, Raleigh, N. C., April 25, 1865.
Honorable E. M. STANTON,
Secretary of War, Washington:

DEAR SIR: I have been furnished a copy of your letter of April 21 to General Grant, signifying your disapproval of the terms on which General Johnston proposed to disarm and disperse the insurgents on condition of amnesty, &c. I admit my folly in embracing in a military convention any civil matters, but unfortunately such is the nature of our situation that they seem inextricably united, and I understood from you at Savannah that the financial state of the country demanded military success, and would warrant a little bending to policy. When I had my conference with General Johnston I had the public examples before me of General Grant’s terms to Lee’s army and General Weitzel’s invitation to the Virginia Legislature to assemble. I still believe the Government of the United States has made a mistake, but that is none of my business; mine is a different task, and I had flattered myself that by four years’ patient, unremitting, and successful labor I deserved no reminder such as is contained in the last paragraph of your letter to General Grant. You may assure the President I heed his suggestion.

I am truly,

W. T. SHERMAN,
Major-General.

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HDQRS. MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI,
In the Field, Raleigh, N. C., April 25, 1865.
Lieutenant General U. S. GRANT, Present:

GENERAL: I had the honor to receive your letter of April 21, with inclosure, yesterday, and was well pleased that you came along, as you must have observed that I held the military control so as to adapt it to any phase the case might assume. It is but just that I should record the fact that I made my terms with General Johnston under the influence of the liberal terms you extended to the army of General Lee at Appomattox Court-House on the 9th, and the seeming policy of our Government, as evinced by the call of the Virginia Legislature, and governor back to Richmond under your and President Lincoln’s very eyes. It now appears that this last act was done without consultation with you or any knowledge of Mr. Lincoln, but rather in opposition to a previous policy well considered. I have not the least desire to interfere in the civil policy of our Government, but would shun it as something not to my liking; but occasions do arise when a prompt seizure of results is forced on military commanders not in immediate communication with the proper authority.

It is probable that the terms signed by General Johnston and myself were not clear enough on the point well understood between us; that our negotiations did not apply to any parties outside the officers and men of the Confederate armies, which would have been easily remedied. No surrender of an army not actually at the mercy of an antagonist was ever made without “terms”, and these always define the military status of the surrendered. Thus you stipulated that the officers and men of Lee’s army should not be molested at their homes so long as they obeyed the laws at the place of their residence. I do not wish to discuss the points involved in our recognition of the State governments in actual existence, but merely state my conclusions to await the solution of the future.

Such action on our part in no manner recognizes for a moment the so-called Confederate Government, or makes us liable for its debts or acts. The laws and acts done by the several States during the period of rebellion are void because done without the oath prescribed by the Constitution of the United States, which is a “condition precedent. ” We have a right to use any sort of machinery to produce military results, and it is the commonest thing for military commanders to use the civil Government in actual existence, as a means to an end. I do believe we could and can use the present State governments lawfully, constitutionally, and as the very best possible means to produce the object desired, viz, entire and complete submission to the lawful authority of the United States.

As to punishment for past crimes, that is for the judiciary, and can in no manner of way be disturbed by our acts, and so far as I can I will use my influence that rebels shall suffer all the personal punishment prescribed by law, as also the civil liabilities arising from their past acts. What we now want is the mere forms of law by which common men may regain the positions of industry so long disturbed by the war. I now apprehend that the rebel armies will disperse, and instead of dealing with six or seven States we will have to deal with numberless bands of desperadoes, headed by such men as Mosby, Forrest, Jackson, and others, who know not and care not for danger and its consequences.

I am, with great respect, your obedient servant,
W. T. SHERMAN,
Major-General.

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