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Sherman Works to Convince his Friend’s Widow (and Soon-to-be Likely Mistress) that She Just Needs Some Lovin’
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Sherman trashes his wife’s devotion to the Catholic Church, discusses avoiding the great danger of being nominated to run for the presidency, and tries to convince his late chief-of-staff’s widow that she is not crazy, but simply needs a man’s company.

WILLIAM TECUMSEH SHERMAN. Autograph Letter Signed, to Mrs [Mary] Audenried. St. Louis, Missouri, June 9, 1884. 8 pp octavo, On Sherman’s imprinted stationery.

Inventory #23562.08       Price: $6,500

Complete Transcript

912 Garrison Avenue,

St. Louis, Mo., June 9, 1884

Dear Mrs Audenried,

I was pained by and [nauseous] at receiving your letter of the 6th, giving copy of part of Lizzie’s letter. All this has been withheld from me. I know that Ellen took exception to Mrs. Reid using her name to get Florence into the Convent at Manhattanville. I approved of it entirely and so wrote to the Lady Superior, and I had supposed the whole matter had been dropped. Lizzie is a good girl, but sensitive about her mother, and what <2> has passed between you and her I have no knowledge whatever, and do not want to enquire into. With Mrs S the Church is more sacred than the Creator himself, the latter may err, but the former never any allusion to it is like the red flag to the wild bull and she loses all reason and sense. She would sacrifice every thing on earth to the Church, her children even, and she would be made supremely happy if I would give up name, fame, country, everything & become an Irish Catholic drayman. Better let the matter rest, and it will blow over, for she will soon <3> “come round,” and Lizzie will be only too willing to follow suit. On me you can always depend, and I love you as one of my own. Dont insist on Lizzies returning Audenrieds portrait, it is very handsome, and is now hung in my office side by side with those of Thomas, Schofield, McPherson and Sherman, an historic group, where it will be seen & admired by hundreds & thousands of my visitors. Lizzie and I are going tomorrow down to Carthage in South West Missouri for a visit of a week. Please write me from time to time and I will in good time bring <4> about a proper understanding.

            I sometimes get out of patience with Mrs Sherman for these foolish and uncharitable acts resulting from her almost bigoted devotion to the Catholic Church and all its dependances, but it only makes matters worse and I do honestly want to live out the balance of my days in peace. I am sure that Lizzie in this has been made to believe that you have in some way offended her mother. Surely not me, for I know you have never in deed or thought been other than my most devoted <5> friend and admirer, and as we grow older these links of friendship become more precious & valuable. Please do not for this cause or any other cut the cord of sympathy which now binds us, and I promise to increase my attachment in the proportion of what is lost in the others of my family. I want to hear more about Florence, for I feel convinced that each day & week & you will add to her strength of body and of Character. She must even now feel the change from Child to Woman, and must comprehend what that means, and it is <6> wiser for you to change your thoughts from yourself to her, and to the man she will marry, than to dwell in memory on that tomb when your own hopes seem buried. Think of the many who have followed to the same spot, Ewing, Babcock, and I suppose Wheeler soon. It will be a sin against nature if you allow doctors to convince you that your mind or brain is endangered. You are simply a fine healthy young woman, craving sympathy, love, and fellowship with man, all natural and proper, the object for which you were created, and <7> you are no more insane than I am or any other sensible person. You already possess that for which millions toil, and sweat, and kill themselves to obtain. Money. Enough for your own wants, and for those of your only child. Dont mope and mourn, mingle with those of your own class and sex till you voluntarily submit to another, it is likely to be a lower husband, but he will cure you of that foolish thought of insanity.

            I have just escaped a great danger. Certain persons were determined in case the Chicago Convention could not agree as between Blaine & Arthur to nominate <8> me. I could not decline till the nomination was actually made, and could only say that such was my intention.

Fortunately for me Blaine secured the nomination which left me free. So I can now fulfill my purpose to live out my time in comparative peace unless the women folks, who seem to have been at the bottom of all mischief since mother Eve succeed in poisoning the first fruits, and I hope you will prove man enough to keep the devil, suspicion & mistrust out of our small military family till I am decently buried.

                                    Affectionately yours, W. T. Sherman

Historical Background

According to 2014 Sherman biographer Robert L. O’Connell, Sherman led a “tangled” personal life. In 1850, the 30-year-old William T. Sherman married 26-year-old Ellen Boyle Ewing his foster sister. They had four daughters and four sons; the “Lizzie” mentioned here was Mary Elizabeth Sherman, his second child. Sherman’s wife was a devout Roman Catholic, a religion he detested despite having been reared in the faith. He repeatedly ridiculed his wife’s devotion, feeling it dominated her life above all other influences. 

Joseph Audenried was a staff officer with General Grant at Vicksburg and with General Sherman to Atlanta and on the “March to the Sea.” He remained with Sherman for the rest of his life, in the Indian Wars in the West and then on to Washington when Sherman became Commanding General. In 1863, Audenreid married 18-year-old Mary Colket, an independently wealthy socialite. In 1867, they had a daughter, Florence. Audenried sickened and died at age 41 in 1880, leaving Mary in shock and in charge of a teenage daughter. Sherman, by his own admission, became a father figure to Mary and by extension, daughter Florence, who occasionally kept company with Sherman’s daughter Rachel. Mary was adrift, no doubt depressed, and apparently being harassed by doctors who wanted to write off her sanity. Sherman, having had his own bouts of insanity during the war, tries to reassure Mary that she simply is in need of male companionship:

Several biographers have suggested, none more directly than O’Connell, that Sherman and Mary had an affair. We believe that this letter, with its assertions that Mary was not insane, simply a healthy young woman feeling natural urges that could be satisfied by a good man, strengthens the claim. It presents an interesting moment in time, where Sherman, 25 years Mary’s senior, grouses about his wife and her devotion, practically using it as an excuse to have an affair:

Mary was a wealthy Washington widow, making it easy to rendezvous with Sherman. The fact that she was the widow of a former staffer took care of any appearance of impropriety. When Sherman resigned from the army in February 1884, he moved back to St. Louis, where he had lived at various times throughout his life. Instead of the affair petering out, Sherman missed Mary, writing to her that he was “ready to carry you bodily (willingly if possible—violently if necessary) to St Louis.” He went so far as to install Mary in an apartment over his office.

Sherman’s wife Ellen was livid at his lack of discretion, and with daughter Lizzie as an ally, cut Mary out of the family circle, ostensibly for suggesting a Protestant convent for Mary’s daughter, Florence, although as seen in this letter, even a Catholic convent was unacceptable if Audenried needed to use Ellen’s name to get her daughter in.

After pledging his continued devotion to his mistress, Sherman is pleased that he was able to avoid the Republican presidential nomination. Just four days earlier, he had sent a telegram to the nominating convention with his famous statement: “I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected,” a statement so decisive that other, similarly direct, statements are now known as “Shermanesque statements.”

See also Citizen Sherman: A Life of William Tecumseh Sherman (Random House: New York, 1995), in which biographer Michael Fellman writes of an affair between Sherman and Mary Audenried.

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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