May 8, 1865: “I… march with my troops, and prefer we should not meet” No love lost between Sherman and Halleck

As the Armies of the Military Division of the Mississippi (the Armies of the Tennessee and Georgia) neared Richmond in May 1865, they were ordered into camps at Manchester, south of the James River.  The ultimate destination for these troops was Alexandria, Virginia.  And to reach that point, the troops would need to cross the James River at some point.  Richmond was the best place to accomplish that.

The Army of the Potomac was itself just leaving Richmond, also on their way north to Alexandria.  The commander of the Military Division of the James, Major-General Henry Halleck, had kept the Army of the Potomac on a tight leash during their passing.  The last thing Halleck wanted was some uncontrolled mob running loose in Richmond.  So soldiers were restricted to camps, unless issued passes.  And when the Army of the Potomac moved, it did so along defined routes.

On May 8, 1865, Halleck had issued similar instructions to the Armies of the Tennessee and Georgia.  But as Major-General William T. Sherman was somewhat a peer, based on the level of command, Halleck offered a personal invite:

General Slocum’s army will leave Richmond on the morning of the 10th and General Howard’s will soon follow.  Can’t you meet them as they pass through?

Then later:

When you arrive here come directly to my headquarters. I have a room for you, and will have rooms elsewhere for your staff.

But Sherman was not having any of this.  He was, to say the least, holding a grudge against Halleck for the events which transpired in April:

After your dispatch to the Secretary of War of April 26 I cannot have any friendly intercourse with you.  I will come to City Point to-morrow and march with my troops, and prefer we should not meet.

No love lost there.

Sherman played things cool, and strictly by the book.  He inquired to Lieutenant-General Grant on the next day in regards to changes of his command, and specifically about orders for the march to Alexandria.   Sherman was looking for that official piece of paper so as to have in hand when dealing with Halleck.  Sort of a “I’ve got my orders, so please leave me and my men alone” sort of stance.  In the meantime, Major-General Jefferson C. Davis had planned to review the Fourteenth Corps in Richmond as part of the move north.  This put Sherman in a bit of a bind, as that could escalate things with Halleck.  So he called that review off.  Writing to Halleck on May 9, from Manchester:

I have the honor to report my arrival and that I have assumed immediate command of this army and await General Grant’s orders. If you have any general orders, relating to the march of the armies northward, I will be obliged for a copy.  The review ordered by Major-General Davis in Richmond will not take place.

So Halleck responded with a strict “facts only” message, relating that no orders from Grant had arrived, but instructions were to move Sherman’s forces (with or without him) through Richmond as soon as resupply had been completed.  Nothing but dry conversation, without frivolous cordiality. In a later message (sent on May 9, or at least early on May 10), Halleck attempted to break the ice:

You have not had during this war nor have you now a warmer friend and admirer than myself. If in carrying out what I knew to be the wishes of the War Department in regard to your armistice I used language which has given you offense it was unintentional, and I deeply regret it. If fully aware of the circumstances under which I acted I am certain you would not attribute to me any improper motives. It is my wish to continue to regard and receive you as a personal friend. With this statement I leave the matter in your hands.

Well… with that, Sherman had enough.  So he responded in kind… and then some:

I received your cipher dispatch last evening, and have revolved it in my mind all night in connection with that telegraphic message of April 26 to Secretary Stanton, and by him rushed with such indecent haste before an excited public. I cannot possibly reconcile the friendly expressions of the former with the deadly malignity of the latter, and cannot consent to the renewal of a friendship I had prized so highly till I can see deeper into the diabolical plot than I now do. When you advised me of the assassin Clark being on my track I little dreamed he would turn up in the direction and guise he did, but thank God I have become so blasé to the dangers to life and reputation by the many vicissitudes of this cruel war, which some people are resolved shall never be over, that nothing surprises me. I will march my army through Richmond quietly and in good order, without attracting attention, and I beg you to keep slightly perdu, for if noticed by some of my old command I cannot undertake to maintain a model behavior, for their feelings have become aroused by what the world adjudges an insult to at least an honest commander. If loss of life or violence result from this you must attribute it to the true cause–a public insult to a brother officer when he was far away on public service, perfectly innocent of the malignant purpose and design.

Sherman was acting somewhat in a bubble.  He sensed insult and slight from many quarters.  And his reaction to Halleck was, while disturbing, somewhat understandable in that light.  Fortunately this affair did not cause any serious change in the marches or other inconvenience upon the troops.  The generals kept this between them.  Although, Halleck did, on the same day, withdraw his support for Major-General John Schofield in regard to the post of military governor of North Carolina.  In his statement to the War Department, Halleck cited Schofield’s involvement with Sherman’s surrender talks with General Joseph Johnston.  Clearly Halleck was linking Sherman’s subordinates to Sherman’s actions.

The bullets were no longer flying. But the verbal war had not ceased. Now among the leaders of the Federal Armies, “honor” was deemed more precious than all else.  Nobody wanted a tarnish, left over from the last days of the war, following them into the peace.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part III, Serial 100, pages 435, 446, and 454-5.)


Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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