William Tecumseh Sherman

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War is hell.

William Tecumseh Sherman (8 February 182014 February 1891) was a Union Army general during the American Civil War. He succeeded General U.S. Grant as commander of the Western Theater of that war in the spring of 1864. He later served as Commanding General of the U.S. Army (1869–1883). He is best known for his "March to the Sea" through the U.S. state of Georgia that destroyed a large amount of Confederate infrastructure. He is widely regarded by historians as an early advocate of "Total War".

Quotes[edit]

You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it.
Those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out.
You have heretofore read public sentiment in your newspapers, that live by falsehood and excitement; and the quicker you seek for truth in other quarters, the better.
I know I had no hand in making this war, and I know I will make more sacrifices to-day than any of you to secure peace. But you cannot have peace and a division of our country.
It is only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded and lacerated … that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation.
I will not accept if nominated, and will not serve if elected.
I did not want them to cast in our teeth what General Hood had once done at Atlanta, that we had to call on their slaves to help us to subdue them. But, as regards kindness to the race, I assert that no army ever did more for that race than the one I commanded at Savannah.
You are bound to fail. Only in your spirit and determination are you prepared for war. In all else you are totally unprepared, with a bad cause to start with.
Last year they could have saved their slaves, but now it is too late. All the powers of earth cannot restore to them their slaves, any more than their dead grandfathers.

1860s[edit]

  • You people of the South don't know what you are doing. This country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end. It is all folly, madness, a crime against civilization! You people speak so lightly of war; you don't know what you're talking about. War is a terrible thing! You mistake, too, the people of the North. They are a peaceable people but an earnest people, and they will fight, too. They are not going to let this country be destroyed without a mighty effort to save it … Besides, where are your men and appliances of war to contend against them? The North can make a steam engine, locomotive, or railway car; hardly a yard of cloth or pair of shoes can you make. You are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical, and determined people on Earth — right at your doors. You are bound to fail. Only in your spirit and determination are you prepared for war. In all else you are totally unprepared, with a bad cause to start with. At first you will make headway, but as your limited resources begin to fail, shut out from the markets of Europe as you will be, your cause will begin to wane. If your people will but stop and think, they must see in the end that you will surely fail.
    • Comments to Prof. David F. Boyd at the Louisiana State Seminary (24 December 1860), as quoted in The Civil War : A Book of Quotations (2004) by Robert Blaisdell. Also quoted in The Civil War: A Narrative (1986) by Shelby Foote, p. 58.
  • Vox populi, vox humbug.
    • Letter to his wife (2 June 1863), as quoted in "The Oxford Dictionary of American Quotations" (2005) edited by Hugh Rawson and Margaret Miner.
  • I regard the death and mangling of a couple thousand men as a small affair, a kind of morning dash — and it may be well that we become so hardened.
  • I can make this march, and I will make Georgia howl!
    • Telegram to General U.S. Grant (1864), as quoted in Conflict and Compromise : The Political Economy of Slavery, Emancipation, and The American Civil War (1989) by Roger L. Ransom.
  • I am a damned sight smarter man than Grant. I know more about military history, strategy, and grand tactics than he does. I know more about supply, administration, and everything else than he does. I'll tell you where he beats me though and where he beats the world. He doesn't give a damn about what the enemy does out of his sight, but it scares me like hell. … I am more nervous than he is. I am more likely to change my orders or to countermarch my command than he is. He uses such information as he has according to his best judgment; he issues his orders and does his level best to carry them out without much reference to what is going on about him and, so far, experience seems to have fully justified him.
    • Comments to James H. Wilson (22 October 1864), as quoted in Under the Old Flag: Recollections of Military Operations in the War for the Union, the Spanish War, the Boxer Rebellion, etc Vol. 2 (1912) by James Harrison Wilson, p. 17.
  • I confess, without shame, that I am sick and tired of fighting — its glory is all moonshine; even success the most brilliant is over dead and mangled bodies, with the anguish and lamentations of distant families, appealing to me for sons, husbands, and fathers … it is only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded and lacerated … that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation.

Dispatch to Stephen A. Hurlbut (July 1862)[edit]

  • No rebels shall be allowed to remain at Davis Mill so much as an hour. Allow them to go, but do not let them stay. And let it be known that if a farmer wishes to burn his cotton, his house, his family, and himself, he may do so. But not his corn. We want that.

Letter to R.M. Sawyer (January 1864)[edit]

  • If they want eternal war, well and good; we accept the issue, and will dispossess them and put our friends in their place. I know thousands and millions of good people who at simple notice would come to North Alabama and accept the elegant houses and plantations there. If the people of Huntsville think different, let them persist in war three years longer, and then they will not be consulted. Three years ago by a little reflection and patience they could have had a hundred years of peace and prosperity, but they preferred war; very well. Last year they could have saved their slaves, but now it is too late.
    All the powers of earth cannot restore to them their slaves, any more than their dead grandfathers. Next year their lands will be taken, for in war we can take them, and rightfully, too, and in another year they may beg in vain for their lives. A people who will persevere in war beyond a certain limit ought to know the consequences. Many, many peoples with less pertinacity have been wiped out of national existence.

Letter to James Guthrie (August 1864)[edit]

Letter to James Guthrie (14 August 1864), Georgia.
  • I regret exceedingly the arrest of many gentlemen and persons in Kentucky, and still more that they should give causes of arrest. I cannot in person inquire into these matters, but must leave them to the officer who is commissioned and held responsible by Government for the peace and safety of Kentucky. It docs appear to me when our national integrity is threatened and the very fundamental principles of all government endangered that minor issues should not be made by Judge Bullitt and others. We cannot all substitute our individual opinions, however honest, as the test of authority. As citizens and individuals we should waive and abate our private notions of right and policy to those of the duly appointed agents of the Government, certain that if they be in error the time will be short when the real principles will manifest themselves and be recognized. In your career how often have you not believed our Congress had adopted a wrong policy and how short the time now seems to you when the error rectified itself or you were willing to admit yourself wrong.
  • I notice in Kentucky a disposition to cry against the tyranny and oppression of our Government. Now, were it not for war you know tyranny could not exist in our Government; therefore any acts of late partaking of that aspect are the result of war; and who made this war? Already we find ourselves drifting toward new issues, and are beginning to forget the strong facts of the beginning. You know and I know that long before the North, or the Federal Government, dreamed of war the South had seized the U.S. arseuals, forts, mints, and custom-houses, and had made prisoners of war of the garrisons sent at their urgent demand to protect them 'against Indians, Mexicans, and negroes'.
  • I know this of my own knowledge, because when the garrison of Baton Bouge was sent to the Rio Grande to assist in protecting that frontier against the guerrilla Cortina, who had cause of offense against the Texan people, Governor Moore made strong complaints and demanded a new garrison for Baton Rouge, alleging as a reason that it was not prudent to have so much material of war in a parish where there were 20,000 slaves and less than 5,000 whites, and very shortly after this he and Bragg, backed by the militia of New Orleans, made 'prisoners of war' of that very garrison, sent there at their own request.
  • You also remember well who first burned the bridges of your railroad, who forced Union men to give up their slaves to work on the rebel forts at Bowling Green, who took wagons and horses and burned houses of persons differing with them honestly in opinion, when I would not let our men burn fence rails for fire or gather fruit or vegetables though hungry, and these were the property of outspoken rebels. We at that time were restrained, tied by a deep seated reverence for law and property. The rebels first introduced terror as a part of their system, and forced contributions to diminish their wagon trains and thereby increase the mobility and efficiency of their columns. When General Buell had to move at a snail's pace with his vast wagon trains, Bragg moved rapidly, living on the country. No military mind could endure this long, and we are forced in self defense to imitate their example. To me this whole matter seems simple. We must, to live and prosper, be governed by law, and as near that which we inherited as possible. Our hitherto political and private differences were settled by debate, or vote, or decree of a court. We are still willing to return to that system, but our adversaries say no, and appeal to war. They dared us to war, and you remember how tauntingly they defied us to the contest. We have accepted the issue and it must be fought out. You might as well reason with a thunder-storm.
  • War is the remedy our enemies have chosen. Other simple remedies were within their choice. Yon know it and they know it, but they wanted war, and I say let us give them all they want; not a word of argument, not a sign of let up, no cave in till we are whipped or they are.

Telegram to Abraham Lincoln (September 1864)[edit]

Letter to Henry W. Halleck (September 1864)[edit]

  • If the people raise a howl against my barbarity and cruelty, I will answer that war is war, and not popularity-seeking. If they want peace, they and their relatives must stop the war.

Letter to the City of Atlanta (September 1864)[edit]

  • You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. I know I had no hand in making this war, and I know I will make more sacrifices today than any of you to secure peace. But you cannot have peace and a division of our country. If the United States submits to a division now, it will not stop, but will go on until we reap the fate of Mexico, which is eternal war. The United States does and must assert its authority, wherever it once had power; for, if it relaxes one bit to pressure, it is gone, and I believe that such is the national feeling.
  • You might as well appeal against the thunder-storm as against these terrible hardships of war. They are inevitable, and the only way the people of Atlanta can hope once more to live in peace and quiet at home, is to stop the war, which can only be done by admitting that it began in error and is perpetuated in pride.
  • We do want and will have a just obedience to the laws of the United States. That we will have, and, if it involves the destruction of your improvements, we cannot help it.
  • You have heretofore read public sentiment in your newspapers, that live by falsehood and excitement; and the quicker you seek for truth in other quarters, the better. I repeat then that, by the original compact of government, the United States had certain rights in Georgia, which have never been relinquished and never will be; that the South began the war by seizing forts, arsenals, mints, custom-houses, etc., etc., long before Mr. Lincoln was installed, and before the South had one jot or tittle of provocation. I myself have seen in Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi, hundreds and thousands of women and children fleeing from your armies and desperadoes, hungry and with bleeding feet. In Memphis, Vicksburg, and Mississippi, we fed thousands and thousands of the families of rebel soldiers left on our hands, and whom we could not see starve. Now that war comes to you, you feel very different. You deprecate its horrors, but did not feel them when you sent car-loads of soldiers and ammunition, and moulded shells and shot, to carry war into Kentucky and Tennessee, to desolate the homes of hundreds and thousands of good people who only asked to live in peace at their old homes, and under the Government of their inheritance. But these comparisons are idle. I want peace, and believe it can only be reached through union and war, and I will ever conduct war with a view to perfect an early success.

Signal to John M. Corse (October 1864)[edit]

Telegram to Abraham Lincoln (December 1864)[edit]

  • I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the City of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty guns and plenty of ammunition, also about twenty-five thousand bales of cotton.

Letter to E.D. Townsend (March 1869)[edit]

  • An army to be useful must be a unit, and out of this has grown the saying, attributed to Napoleon, but doubtless spoken before the days of Alexander, that an army with an inefficient commander was better than one with two able heads.

1870s[edit]

  • I hereby state, and mean all I say, that I never have been and never will be a candidate for President; that if nominated by either party I should peremptorily decline; and even if unanimously elected I should decline to serve.
    • Interview in Harper's Weekly (24 June 1871).
  • War is Hell.
    • This quote originates from his address to the graduating class of the Michigan Military Academy (19 June 1879); but slightly varying accounts of this speech have been published:
    • I’ve been where you are now and I know just how you feel. It’s entirely natural that there should beat in the breast of every one of you a hope and desire that some day you can use the skill you have acquired here.
      Suppress it! You don’t know the horrible aspects of war. I’ve been through two wars and I know. I’ve seen cities and homes in ashes. I’ve seen thousands of men lying on the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies. I tell you, war is Hell!
      • As quoted from accounts by Dr. Charles O. Brown in the Battle Creek Enquirer and News (18 November 1933).
    • Variants:
    • There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but, boys, it is all Hell.
    • Some of you young men think that war is all glamour and glory, but let me tell you, boys, it is all Hell!

1880s[edit]

  • I will not accept if nominated, and will not serve if elected.
    • Telegram sent to General Henderson in 1884; quoted in Sherman's Memoirs, 4th ed. 1891. This is often paraphrased: If nominated, I will not run; if elected, I will not serve.
  • It will be a thousand years before Grant's character is fully appreciated. Grant is the greatest soldier of our time if not all time... he fixes in his mind what is the true objective and abandons all minor ones. He dismisses all possibility of defeat. He believes in himself and in victory. If his plans go wrong he is never disconcerted but promptly devises a new one and is sure to win in the end. Grant more nearly impersonated the American character of 1861-65 than any other living man. Therefore he will stand as the typical hero of the great Civil War in America.
  • My aim then was to whip the rebels, to humble their pride, to follow them to their inmost recesses, and make them fear and dread us. 'Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.' I did not want them to cast in our teeth what General Hood had once done at Atlanta, that we had to call on their slaves to help us to subdue them. But, as regards kindness to the race ..., I assert that no army ever did more for that race than the one I commanded at Savannah.
    • As quoted in Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman, 2nd ed., D. Appleton & Co., 1913 (1889). Reprinted by the Library of America, 1990 p. 729.

Quotes about Sherman[edit]

  • He come through Madison on his march to the sea and we chillun hung out on the front fence from early morning unil late in the evening, watching the soldiers go by. It took most of the day…The next week…Miss Emily called the five women that wuz on the place and tole them to stay 'round the house…She said they were free and could go wherever they wanted to.
  • The piety of southerners cannot be disputed, but as Gandhi said of the Boers, it is not clear that they had ever read the New Testament. Even in terms of Old Testament imagery, however, they were at a disadvantage. No southern song could be as moving and poignant as 'Go Down Moses'. The second verse of that song says, 'Thus saith the LORD, bold Moses said, let my people go; If not I'll smite your first-born dead, let my people go.' This is not unlike what the Civil War did to the south. But even a century later, most southerners still did not think of black people as their brothers. Beaten but not chastened, they never did see General Sherman as the wrath of God.
  • U.S. Grant was one of the greatest generals in history. He and his friend, William Tecumseh Sherman, essentially won the Civil War. Grant was the only Union general who would go head to head with Robert E. Lee, the Bishma and Drona of the Confederacy, and not back down. The result was immense slaughter; but we know that when Grant had the chance, he, like Sherman, preferred a war of movement with minimal casualties. It was the greatness of Lee as a general that foiled all of Grant's maneuvers and forced the bloody attempts at breakthrough in 1864, such as at Cold Harbor. The final act, indeed, catching Lee at Appomattox Court House, was the result of the maneuver and rapid movement that cut off Lee's retreat. And, for all the accusations of 'butcher' at Grant, a larger percentage of Lee's soldiers died under his orders–none more terribly and futilely than in Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg. Years later, a bitter Pickett himself reportedly said of Lee, 'That old man had my division slaughtered'.
  • I only wish I could be with Sherman's invincible 'bummers' marching on Washington, to clear out the rats, rather than just Savannah, to free the slaves. Now we must free all of ourselves, black and white.

External links[edit]

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