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Incredible William T. Sherman re Robert Anderson and Start of Civil War in Kentucky
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Sherman recounts the events in Kentucky at the start of the Civil War, and pays tribute to fellow general Robert Anderson, in a touching letter to Anderson’s widow. The letter offers insights into both Anderson’s and Sherman’s lives and careers.

WILLIAM T. SHERMAN. Autograph Letter Signed, January 6, 1878, to Eliza Anderson, the widow of General Robert Anderson, Washington, 12 pp., 7¾ x 9¾ in.

Inventory #23842       Price: $12,500

Complete Transcript

Headquarters Army of the United States,

Washington, D.C. January 6 1878

Mrs E. B. Anderson

New York City.

Dear Mrs. Anderson,

            I was absent at St Louis (where you know I have established my family as a sort of harbor of refuge from the political storms and tempests to which I must continue to be subject) when your letter of Dec 31. was received. Else it should have had more prompt answer.

            It is but natural that at this holiday period of the year, your thoughts and intense feelings should revert to that awful time when the angry passions of men had aroused the demon of war, had arrayed father against son, brother against brother, and as in your case brothers against sister & husband, and <2> though I would like to banish these thoughts from memory. At your command I will endeavor in the few minutes of leisure now at hand to recall some of the incidents that you desire to secure. It would take many sheets to paint the picture of our country in the early autumn of 1861. You were spending the season at Cresson, [Pennsylvania]. Washington was a vast camp of soldiers gathering from all points of the compass to defend the Capitol against a bitter enemy. and organizing under General McClellan to assume the offensive. But the cause of war covered the whole continent and President Lincoln was forced to give some of his thought to other parts of the county. In like manner at St Louis Missouri was gathering the elements of an army under the leadership of Fremont, but the Great Center, or Middle had as yet been overlooked. Then the state of Kentucky, a slave state <3> whose people were divided by patriotic sentiment and slave interest was endeavoring to maintain a state of neutrality between the angry sections North and South. But Mr. Lincoln knew that such a condition was, or soon would become an impossibility, and determined to anticipate the public enemy by securing military possession of that part of the Grand Theatre of Action. He wanted a Leader. and all men naturally turned to General Robert Anderson, a native of Kentucky, a thorough soldier, a pure man, and one whose courage & patriotism had already been tested in the first act of war, with which the Drama opened. He was summoned to Washington, and soon after wrote me a note to meet him I think at Willards Hotel. I was then commanding a Brigade of the Army of the Potomac at Fort Corcoran. opposite Georgetown. <4> We met as appointed, and Mr Lincoln with several Gentlemen from Kentucky were present. The whole subject was discussed, and the result agreed on was substantially that the Region was to be made a military Department with Genl Robert Anderson in command with Head Qrs in Louisville, that he was to proceed there with extraordinary powers to raise troops and commission officers, and that meantime the Kentucky Gentlemen then present who were ardent Union men should go in advance to check political action until the necessary military preparations could be completed.

            General Anderson told me that he wanted me to go along as his Lieutenant, as I had been his Lieutenant of Company G, 3rd artillery when you were his young wife, and that Mr Lincoln had promised him four Brigadiers of his choice out of the Army of the Potomac. He said he wanted Thomas, Burnside, and Buell. Thomas was then Colonel of Cavalry with General Patterson at or <5> near Winchester. Burnside was here, and Buell was understood to be coming from California. General McClellan could not spare Burnside, but I and General Thomas were ordered to report to Genl Anderson. On a day appointed we met Genl Anderson at Cresson, from which place we then went together to Cincinnati where at the house of his brother Larz Anderson we had another conference with some Gentlemen who had come up from Louisville to meet him. Kentucky was represented as in a ferment, and matters there were rapidly approaching a crisis. There were no Union forces organized for Kentucky but Rousseaus Legion, camped opposite Louisville in Indiana, and a force of Kentucky volunteers under General Nelson at Camp Dick Robinson. I was sent to St Louis to see Genl Fremont, to ascertain <6> his general plans, and what troops he had, and what assistance we might expect from that quarter in case the war in Kentucky should begin before we could possibly be ready. I had hardly reached Saint Louis when I was summoned to Louisville by telegraph, and on arrival found General Anderson overwhelmed with the necessary work forced on him, by a command without adequate force, or official help. The Rebels Sidney Johnson and Zollicoffer had invaded Kentucky from Tennessee, and were actually approaching Louisville. At that moment Genl Anderson was far from being well, and his physical and mental strength was taxed beyond endurance by the thousands of perplexing demands which no man could gratify. Still he labored unceasingly. He had substantially no staff, no Quarter Master, no Commissary, no Ordnance officer, and with few ill organized and ill armed troops to meet the dangers <7> which threatened the National cause on all sides. The Government proceeded on the theory that Kentucky was full of Union men, who only needed arms and a leader to meet and repel any enemy. There were some noble patriotic men in Kentucky then, but they were without arms, without money, and dazed by the noise & clamor of those who owned slaves, and who believed that slavery was essential to the existence of their State. General Anderson did all that man could do, to sweep aside these delusions, and at the same time used every man he could arm to go forth to protect the state against the declared enemies of the Union. General Thomas’ nucleus at which Robinson was strengthened & advanced. I was sent out to Muldroughs hill with Rousseaus Legion & some Home Guards, which were reinforced as soon as possible by some Regiments of Ohio & Indiana volunteers which reached Louisville. I was out at Muldroughs Hill about a month <8> during which time General Anderson remained in Louisville laboring like a horse, anticipating and providing for the wants of the troops and for want of a competent staff compelled to do by his own hand, and by the labor of an overtaxed brain, the thousand and one things that devolved on him as the Commanding General of the Department. No one who was not similarly situated can comprehend the cares of an officer alike situated. General Anderson was particularly sensitive to the terrible hardships of war, the privations of families whose means of existence were in a day suspended by causes they could not comprehend; wives whose husbands had joined one or the other of the armies arrayed against each other, leaving them without food or clothing at the mercy of the cold charity of neighbors, who had their own share of troubles; men whose property was taken by soldiers either unscrupulous, or whose immediate necessities made them forgetful of the rights of property, and still others whose household servants claimed to be free, and who <9> left their former masters & mistresses without one word of notice. All these and many more looked to General Anderson as the only person who could right their wrongs. And spite of all decency these thrust themselves on him already overburdened by public duties and responsibilities and pound into his unwilling ears their tales of distress, that it is not to be wondered at that he felt that Pandemonium had come, and that man was impotent to meet the demands of the occasion.  I remember well that we who were on the outposts felt that these personal grievances were little as compared with the Great matters of state that then hung in the balance; but I have always felt and endeavored to recognize the impossibility of any man, born of woman, <10> with a heart sensitive and alive to the cry of pity, could have escaped the inevitable result. No one better than you knows the corroding effect upon a sensitive heart of these human appeals, but as the Lightning of Heaven does not discriminate between the just, and the unjust, so must war, shut his eyes to human calamity. Had Genl Anderson have a Radetsky[1] he would have closed his doors, his eyes and ears, to the piteous appeals of the widow and the orphans and might then have grappled with the public enemy, and have overcome him as a soldier should—but he was humanhe was Robert Anderson, kind, considerate, anxious to strip war of his hard features and as was feared he broke down, and resigned his Post.

            At this late date it is hard to sit in judgment. I have heard Hell portrayed <11> by eloquent men, with the wide latitude and longitude of an endless universe, but none have described a place that will compare with Louisville in the Autumn & Winter of 1861.

I followed Genl. Anderson in that same office and failed equally. Afterwards I proved equal to bloody Battle Fields, and long arduous campaigns, and were the past to occur again, and were I given the option of such bloody battles as Shiloh, or Vicksburg, or Atlanta, in comparison with Louisville in 1861, I would not hesitate to choose the former with all their chances of wounds death and captivity.

            No purer man or Patriot ever existed than General Robert Anderson. Could his fate have been cast in honorable Battle he would have proven himself a noble General, as he illustrated in Mexico, and at Sumpter, but his heart was too tender, his sensibility too great to stand the worry and turmoil <12> of the epoch of our Great Civil War, which preceded the period of actual conflict.

            I have written this to you his wife and widow in the confidence of a Friendship of over thirty eventful years, and beg you will receive it in the spirit it is offered, for as you know I am still in harness, struggling in the mire of politics more baneful, and more disastrous to soldiers, than conflict with armed foes. I cherish the memory of Robert Anderson as of one too good for civil strife, too honorable for factious conflict, suited rather to adorn a period of Real War, or of Real Peace.

            Had he been a few years younger he would have been a Leader that I would have been proud to follow, and who then would have died a soldiers death, or lived to record the emotions of his own lofty soul.

                                                                        Ever with respect

                                                                        your sincere friend,

                                                                        W. T. Sherman

Historical Background

Anderson commanded the Department of Kentucky from May 28, 1861, until his failing health forced his replacement by Sherman in early October 1861.

William T. Sherman (1820-1891) was raised by Thomas Ewing Sr. and his family after Sherman’s father died in 1829. Sherman graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1840. After service in Florida in the Second Seminole War and California during the Mexican War, he married Ellen Ewing, his foster sister, in Washington, D.C. in 1850. Sherman resigned from the army in 1853, and worked in banking in California and New York for the next eight years. From 1859 to 1861, he served as superintendent of a Louisiana military academy. At the outbreak of the war, he moved to St. Louis and was president of a streetcar company before re-entering the army as a colonel. After brief service in the East, he was in the western armies for the balance of the war. Earning praise for his command at the Battle of Shiloh and the siege of Vicksburg, he gained the confidence of Ulysses S. Grant. When Grant rose to overall command of the armies of the United States, he appointed Sherman to succeed him in charge of the western armies. Sherman proceeded into the heart of the South in his Atlanta campaign and then his March to the Sea, ending with the capture of Savannah. Turning north, he pursued Joseph E. Johnston’s army and forced its surrender in North Carolina in April 1865. He served as department commander of the region between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains from 1865 to 1869, when President Grant appointed Sherman to succeed him as Commanding General of the U.S. Army. Sherman published his memoirs in 1875, and resigned as Commanding General in November 1883. He lived most of the rest of his life in New York City. Refusing to be considered as a Republican presidential candidate in 1884, he made one of the most famous political statements of all time: “I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected.”

Eliza Bayard Clinch Anderson (1828-1905) was born at her father’s plantation in Camden County, on the coast of Georgia. Her father was Brigadier General and Congressman Duncan L. Clinch (1787-1849). She married Robert Anderson in 1845, and they had five children. Two of her brothers were Confederate officers during the Civil War. In February 1879, Congress passed an act granting her a pension of $50 per month as the widow of General Anderson. She was buried with her husband at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Robert Anderson (1805-1871), a Kentuckian who sympathized with the South but remained loyal to the Union, was in command of Fort Sumter when the Confederate attack in April 1861 began the Civil War. After a thirty-four hour bombardment, Major Anderson deemed further resistance suicidal and accepted the Confederates’ terms. His spirited defense, after waiting for the Confederates to fire first, helped unify the north.  Anderson was appointed brigadier general in May 1861. After commanding in Kentucky for a short time, he became ill, was relieved in October 1861, and retired in 1863. When Sumter was recaptured in 1865, he was given the honor of re-raising the very same flag that the Rebels lowered. 


Some age toning at edges, and starting separation at horizontal folds.

[1] Joseph Radetzky von Radetz (1766-1858) was an Austrian nobleman and field marshal. He served as chief of the general staff during the later period of the Napoleonic Wars.

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