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Sherman Dishes on Lincoln & Thomas, Meade, Sheridan, Halleck & Grant
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Sherman clarifies promotions of some of the Union’s most iconic generals, going back to the Civil War, and when U.S. Grant assumed the presidency and Sherman came to command the entire army.

WILLIAM TECUMSEH SHERMAN. Autograph Letter Signed, to General Henry Cist. Washington, D.C., November 7, 1879, 12 pp., 5 x 7¾ in. On “Headquarters Army of the U.S.” stationery.

Inventory #23562.04       Price: $5,500

Partial Transcript

“I ...am glad to know we agree substantially in the matter of General Grants attendance at the Ceremonies in Washington, of unveiling the Equestrian Statue of General Thomas.  Since his dispatch to me from San Francisco saying that we should meet in Chicago Novr 12-13, and could there determine this matter he has <2> not communicated with me, nor do I expect him to, until we meet in Chicago. And like yourself I propose to have him perfectly free to act according to his own judgment, and to stand by him no matter what his conclusion may be.... 

When I was summoned from St. Louis to Washington in March 1869 with notice that I should succeed Genl Grant, as General <3> of the army, on the 4th, as soon as he was installed as President, I found General Thomas here on a Court of Inquiry (the Dyer Case). He had a room in the same building which now composes “Wormley’s Hotel”.... Almost every day on my way to General Grants … I stopped to see “Tom” as he was familiarly called by his class mates, and we discussed every possible question which then agitated our <4> minds. General Grant explained to me that he intended to nominate Sheridan as Lt General, and that he had promised Gen Meade to create for him the Division of the Atlantic with Headquarters at Philadelphia where Meade owned a home....  I know and appreciate both Meade’s and Thomas claims to promotion, and tried to start a place to make three Lt Genls so as to give deserved promotion to all three of these most meritorious officers, but soon discovered that Congress was in no mood to do so generous an act, that it was not even safe to raise the question, and that we were forced <5> to accept the Law as it then stood; vis one General, one Lt. General, Five Maj. Generals, and ten Brigadiers. ...

The rule of seniority would have made Meade Lt General but Genl Grant explained to me that he Meade by nature, habits, and antecedents was not suited to the Great Command of the Indian Country which composed the next command after that of General but that Sheridan was eminently so. <6> that of his own knowledge Sheridan had been nominated first as Major General of the Army for his battle of Winchester, that he Grant was holding back Meade’s nomination so as to connect his promotion with some marked event of the campaign such as the Capture of Richmond, but when Sheridan was nominated by Mr Lincoln he Grant then suggested the propriety of nominating Meade, and Sheridan himself by letter asked that Meade’s confirmation should be “first in order”, and this was <7> done. This simple fact he thought gave Sheridan an equitable title to promotion over Meade and Meade was partially made content by the promise of the command of the Atlantic Division.

Whilst discussing these changes contemplated before the Inauguration of President Grant, Thomas complained to me, that he had all his life been kept in the Far West, banished from civilization, and he thought he had better claims to this Eastern Command <8> than Meade.... He also thought that being an officer much older in the Army than Sheridan and with large experience with Indians his claims to promotion ought to have been more considered, ...

General Grant authorized me to say to Thomas the he would order for him a Division to be made of the whole South and allow Thomas to have his Headquarters in Nashville, <9> Louisville, Newport Ky. indeed almost any place he would indicate,  or me might take the Division of the Pacific then held by Halleck. Thomas said he was tired of the South, that being himself a native of the south he was too often offended by sneering remarks, and that the everlasting growling & complaints of the People of the South had become extremely odious to him. He had himself been in California, and knew much about it, and finally notified me that <10> he preferred California....

[Sherman goes on to discuss the deaths of Thomas, Halleck, and Meade, and eulogies for Thomas in a joint session of Congress.]  

            I think I have answered your question fully, and am perfectly willing that you should say as much as you please and even use this letter for the purpose of giving the true relation of events at the time named.

                                                With great respect / Your friend

                                                W. T. Sherman

Historical Background

After General Ulysses S. Grant was inaugurated President in 1869, he made his longtime friend General Sherman the Commanding General of the Army. In this position, he and Grant worked together to organize military staff and the ranking of Generals. The American military, so shortly after the Civil War, was still needed to fight the Indian Wars and protect settlers and railroad construction on the frontier.  Sherman, for the most part, had good relationships with three of the most important US Generals of the Civil War—George Meade, Philip Sheridan, and George Henry Thomas. Meade and Sherman, however, were slight rivals; when Meade was promoted to Major General by Grant in 1864 (after Sherman was promoted to the same rank) Meade felt somewhat slighted. Sherman admired Sheridan, who was by far the youngest of these famed Generals—Sheridan’s scorched-earth tactics in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, which led to a significant defeat of the Confederates there—inspired Sherman’s tactics in his famous “March to the Sea.”

Sherman’s relationship with Thomas was the best of all, as evidenced in the letter by Sherman’s concern for Thomas’ being stationed in a region suitable to him. Sherman and Thomas had actually been roommates as West Point. Thomas’ success in Tennessee, in the Battles of Franklin and Nashville, sufficiently drew away Confederate forces, especially those under General John Bell Hood, to allow Sherman’s largely unopposed and devastating march through Georgia. Thomas even named his horse, “Billy,” after General Sherman. As Commanding General, Sherman made sure to keep his friend from being stationed in the South, where, as a native Virginian, he was considered a traitor. Sherman successfully had Thomas made Commander of the Military Division of the Pacific, where he died in 1870.

Generals Halleck and Sherman had been friends and allies within the Union cause during the War, with the brainy Halleck (who served as Lincoln’s and Stanton’s military advisor) supporting scorched-earth tactics. During Sherman’s time of mental instability, it was Halleck who finally relieved him of command and sent him home; after recuperation, Sherman went back to work under Halleck in the Department of the Mississippi. Before the writing of this letter, Sherman and Halleck had a falling out over Sherman’s perceived leniency to former Confederates. Sherman, by all accounts, did not take well to the politicking involved with being Commanding General of the Army; he was never interested in political power and choosing one candidate over another for promotion always made him feel uncomfortable.

William T. Sherman (1820-1891), a West Point graduate and Mexican War veteran, served as a corps commander under General Grant in successful campaigns down the Mississippi and in Tennessee. He then took command of the western armies when Grant was reassigned to the Virginia theatre. He was both recognized and criticized for his tactics of “scorched earth” and “total war,” evidenced by his capture of Atlanta and “March to the Sea” through Georgia. He followed this feat by a swift campaign north through the Carolinas to force the surrender of the last major Confederate army. Sherman served as Commanding General of the U.S. Army from 1869-1883, during a period of Westward expansion and Indian Wars.


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