April 28, 1865: Sherman’s response to Grant

William Tecumseh Sherman

Sherman, having seen his misstep with Johnston’s surrender broadcast in the New York Times, is not at all happy. He makes his displeasure clear to Grant and protests that he has never been insubordinate.

Official Records:

In the Field, Raleigh, N. C., April 28, 1865.
Lieutenant General U. S. GRANT,
General-in-Chief, Washington, D. C.:

GENERAL: Since you left me yesterday I have seen the New York Times of the 24th, containing a budget of military news authenticated by the signature of the Secretary of War, which is grouped in such a way as to give very erroneous impressions. It embraces a copy of the basis of agreement between myself and General Johnston of April 18, with commentaries which it will be time enough to discuss two or three years hence, after the Government has experimented a little more in the machinery by which power reaches the scattered people of the vast area of country known as the South; but in the meantime I do think that my rank, if not past services, entitled me at least to the respect of keeping secret what was known to none but the cabinet until further inquiry could have been made, instead of giving publicity to documents I never saw and drawing inferences wide of the truth.

I never saw or had furnished me a copy of President Lincoln’s dispatch to you of the 3rd of March until after the agreement, nor did Mr. Stanton, or any human being, ever convey to me its substance or anything like it. But, on the contrary, I had seen General Weitzel’s invitation to the Virginia legislature, made in Mr. Lincoln’s very presence, and had failed to discover any other official hint of a plan of reconstruction, or any ideas calculated to allay the fears of the people of the South, after the destruction of their armies and civil authorities would have them without any government at all. We should not drive a people into anarchy, and it is simply impossible for our military power to reach all the recesses of their unhappy country. I confess I did not wish to break General Johnston’s army into bands of armed men, roving about without purpose and capable only of infinite mischief. But you saw on your arrival that I had my army so disposed that his escape was only possible in a disorganized shape, and, as you did not choose to direct military operations in this quarter, I infer you with the military situation. At all events, the instant I learned what was proper enough, the disapproval of the President, I acted in such a manner as to compel the surrender of General Johnston’s whole army on the same terms you prescribed to General Lee’s army when you had it surrounded and in your absolute power.

Mr. Stanton, in stating that my orders to General Stoneman were likely to result in the escape of “Mr. Davis to Mexico or Europe,” is in deep error. Stoneman was not at Salisbury then, but had gone back to Statesville. Davis was supposed to be between us, and therefore Stoneman was beyond him. By turning toward me he was approaching Davis, and had he joined me as ordered I would have had a mounted force, greatly needed for that and other purposes. But even now, I don’t know that Mr. Stanton wants Davis caught, and as my official papers, deemed sacred, are hastily published to the world, it will be imprudent for me to state what has been done in that respect.

As the editor of the Times has (it may be) logically and fairly drawn from this singular document the conclusion that I am insubordinate, I can only deny the intention. I have never in my life questioned or disobeyed an order, though many and many a time have I risked my life, my health, and reputation in obeying orders, or even hints, to execute plans and purposes not to my liking. It is not fair to withhold from me plans and policy, if any there be, and expect me to guess at them, for facts and events appear quite different from different stand-points. For four years I have been in camp dealing with soldiers, and I can assure you that the conclusion at which the cabinet arrived, with such singular unanimity, differs from mine. I conferred freely with the best officers in this army as to the points involved in this controversy, and strange to say they were singularly unanimous in the other conclusion, and they will learn with pain and amazement that I am deemed insubordinate and wanting in common sense; that I, who, in the complications of last year, worked day and night, summer, and winter, for the cause and the Administration, and who have brought an army of 70,000 men in magnificent condition across a country deemed impassable, and placed it just where it was wanted almost on the day appointed, have brought discredit on our Government. I do not wish to boast of this, but I do say that it entitled me to the courtesy of being consulted before publishing to the world a proposition rightfully submitted to higher authority for proper adjudication, and then accompanied by other statements which invited the press to be let loose upon me.

It is true that non-combatants, men who sleep in comfort and security whilst we watch on the distant lines, are better able to judge than we poor soldiers, who rarely see a news-paper, hardly can hear from our families, or stop long enough to get our pay. I envy not the task of reconstruction, and am delighted that the Secretary has relieved me of it. As you did not undertake to assume the management of the affairs of this army, I infer that on personal inspection your mind arrived at a different conclusion from that of the Secretary of War. I will therefore go on and execute your orders to their conclusion, and when done, will with intense satisfaction leave to the civil authorities the execution of the task of which they seem to me so jealous. But as an honest man and soldier, I invite them to follow my path, for they may see some things and hear some things that may disturb their philosophy.

With sincere respect,
Major-General, Commanding.
P. S. -As Mr. Stanton’s singular paper has been published I demand that this also be made public, though I am in no manner responsible to the press, but to the law and my proper superiors.
Major-General, Commanding.

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