April 29, 1865: Sherman says it would be foolish to chase Davis

General William Tecumseh Sherman

Sherman is still seething about his treatment by Stanton and the press, and he writes again, this time to Grant’s adjutant Rawlins. He gives leave for publication of his previous letter, and points out that it’s ludicrous to say that he is letting Davis escape with the Confederate treasury. Davis can hardly be carrying a vast weight of gold, and in any case, catching one man in hostile country would be impossible.

Official Records:


GOLDSBOROUGH, April 29, 1865-3 a. m.
General RAWLINS:

DEAR GENERAL: I worked all day at Raleigh and am now here, en route to Charleston, where I will instruct Gilmore to send a garrison to Augusta to open communication with Wilson at Macon. I wish you would have the inclosed letter* copied carefully and send a copy to Mr. Stanton, and say to him I want it published. The tone of all the papers of the 24th is taken up from the compilation of the War Department of the 22nd, which is untrue, unfair, and unkind to me, and I will say undeserved.

There has been at no time any trouble about Joe Johnston’s army. It fell and became powerless when Lee was defeated, but its dispersion when the country was already full of Lee’s men would have made North Carolina a pandemonium. I desired to avoid that condition of things. The South is broken and ruined, and appeals to our pity. To ride the people down with persecutions and military exactions would be like slashing away at the crew of a sinking ship. I will fight as long as the enemy shows fight, but when he gives up and asks quarter I cannot go further.

This state of things appeals to our better nature, and it was an outrage to torture my forbearance into the shape the Secretary has done. He has either misconceived the whole case or he is not the man I supposed him. If he wants to hunt down Jeff. Davis or the politicians who had instigated civil war, let him use sheriffs, bailiffs, and catch-thieves, and not hint that I should march heavy columns of infantry hundreds of miles on a fool’s errand. The idea of Jeff. Davis running about the country with tons of gold is ridiculous. I doubt not he is a beggar, and who will say that if we catch him he will be punished. The very men who now howl the loudest will be the first to intercede.

But all this is beneath the dignity of the occasion, and I for one will not stoop to it. We must, if possible, save our country from anarchy. I doubt not efforts will be made to sow dissension between Grant and myself on a false supposition that we have political aspirations, or, after killing me off by libels, he will next be assailed. I can keep away from Washington, and I confide in his good sense to save him from the influences that will surround him there.

I have no hesitation in pronouncing Mr. Stanton’s compilation of April 22 a gross outrage on me, which I will resent in time. He knew I had never seen or heard of that dispatch to General Grant till he sent it to me a few days ago by General Grant himself, and the deduction from Stoneman’s order is exactly the
reverse of the fact and truth, as an inspection of the map will show. Davis was supposed to be cached, somewhere about Greensborough, and Stoneman was at Statesville, to the west of Greensborough, and I could not communicate with him because Johnston had more cavalry than I. By getting him to me at Chapel hill I would have had superior cavalry, and on the renewal of hostilities I could have broken up Hampton, Butler, and Wheeler, and pursued Davis.

But even Grant would not say that we had any interest to hunt up Davis. Look at the hunt after Booth, with $100,000 reward, at your very capital, and in a friendly country. What would be the chances after Davis with all the Carolinas and Georgia to hide in?

I will be with Gillmore for four or five days. He will be re-enforced by two brigades from here, and can occupy Augusta and Orangeburg. I can then return to Morehead City, whence I can learn how Schofield progresses at Greensborough, when I will go to Petersburg to meet my marching columns, which ought to reach Richmond about May 12 or 14; thence I will report for orders.

If the Northern papers take up, as they will, the lead Stanton has given, I will be obliged if you will send a copy of my letter to General Grant and this to John Sherman, who will vindicate me. I cannot neglect current business and events. If, however, General Grant thinks I have been outwitted by Joe Johnston, or that I have made undue concession to the rebels to save them from anarchy and us the needless expense of military occupation, I will take care not to embarrass him.

Believe me, truly, your friend,
W. T. SHERMAN.

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