Sherman’s March, May 10-13, 1865: The Bummers march through Richmond

Just as my blogging pace has eased as the Civil War Sesquicentennial winds down, Major-General William T. Sherman’s troops moved at a relaxed pace as they proceeded towards Washington, D.C. in the month of May 1865.  Imagine, if you will,  being a soldier in the ranks.  These were warm days and the marches were still very much physical exertions.  At the same time, there must have been a great sense of anticipation just to have the journey end.  Perhaps somewhat like present-day soldiers returning from deployment… though for the present, that anticipation is spent in airport terminals and processing stations.  For the men of Sherman’s armies, every footstep on the road was that much closer to Washington, a big parade, and muster out.

On May 10, 1865, the Armies of the Tennessee and Georgia were camped around Manchester, Virginia.  The force spent several days resupplying in preparation for the last leg of the march, which would move through Richmond, over the Rappahannock River, and thence into camps near Alexandria.  The quartermaster supplied forage, ten days’ full rations, and “400 head of fine beef-cattle for each corps, or about eight days’ rations of fresh beef.” Plenty of protein for those marching.

Special Field Orders No. 69, issued on May 10, placed the Left Wing, under Major-General Henry Slocum, in the lead, crossing over the James on pontoon bridges to Hanover Court-house.  Major-General Oliver O. Howard’s Right Wing would “follow at leisure.”  Sherman himself would accompany the Left Wing through Richmond.  He further specified that “The troops must be marched slowly, not to exceed fifteen miles a day, unless specially ordered by a corps commander.”  Additional orders specified that any sick or lame solders would get a boat ride to Alexandria.

While waiting for the movement, soldier were allowed, on official business, to visit Richmond:

In consideration of the necessity of procuring clothing, mess supplies, &c., for officers, the complete prohibition to enter Richmond by officers and men of this army is removed. Officers and soldiers with their side arms on, and with a pass for each, approved by direction of the corps commander, may visit the city between sunrise and sunset until further orders.

With respect to “sightseeing” in Richmond, Sherman’s troops received allowances not too dissimilar to those afforded the Army of the Potomac a few days earlier.  Speaking of which, another reason for the delay moving Sherman’s force was the wait for Major-General Philip Sheridan’s cavlary to cross the same pontoons.  Around Richmond was a concentration of Federal troops of the likes never seen before.  Yet… it being an administrative movement, we don’t get the sense of the grandness of the passing.

Let me again pull from the Official Atlas to demonstrate the movements of Sherman’s command.  And in this case, I’ll use the “color” version:


The key here is – Fourteenth Corps in green; Twentieth Corps in purple; Seventeenth Corps in red; and Fifteenth Corps in orange.

The Left Wing (Army of Georgia) moved out of Manchester at 7 a.m. on May 11.  In the lead was Fourteenth Corps.  The Twentieth Corps followed at 10 a.m. that morning.  Commanding First Division of that corps, Major-General Alpheus S. Williams recorded:

May 11, the corps marched at 10 a.m. toward Richmond, this division leading. In the village of Manchester the command was received with military honors by General Devens’ division, of the Twenty-fourth Corps, drawn up in line. Crossed over the pontoon bridge at 12 m. and marched through the city in column, with colors displayed and bands playing. The line of march passed the Libby Prison, Castle Thunder, the State capitol, and through the principle streets. The division encamped in a heavy thunder-storm near Brook Creek on the Hanover pike; marched ten miles.

Both corps (and those of the Right Wing to follow) used the same road immediately north of Richmond to reach Hanover Court-house.  Beyond there, the Fourteenth and Twentieth Corps split up to use separate routes.  To cross the Pamunkey River, the Fourteenth Corps brought up the Left Wing’s pontoon bridge on the night of May 11.  The rains mentioned by Williams brought cooler temperatures, but also left the roads muddy.  Although not too terribly difficult, compared to some of those roads of the Carolinas traversed only a few months before.

The Seventeenth Corps passed through Richmond on May 12 without incident, following the path taken by the Left Wing the day before.  That left the road clear for the Fifteenth Corps to march out of Manchester and through Richmond on May 13.  Sherman’s bummers thus crossed the James River and marched past Richmond.  The Right Wing initially followed the route used by the Fourteenth Corps until across the Pamunkey.  North of that river, the corps used separate lines of march towards Fredericksburg.

While this movement transpired, a command change took place. Under special instructions, Howard visited Washington while the armies were camped around Manchester.  On May 12, news of Howard’s next assignment came down – “assigned to duty in the War Department as commissioner of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands.”  In Howard’s place, Major-General John Logan assumed command of the Army of the Tennessee.  Logan had gone from being a volunteer with a musket at First Manassas to commanding a victorious corps marching north in just under four years.

The march of Sherman’s troops through the middle of May traversed many of the battlefields contested by the Eastern Armies during the previous three years.  For some, particularly those of the Twentieth Corps, this was a return to troublesome fields.  For those who’d fought in the west, they had an opportunity to visit some places only read about in the newspapers.  So some sight-seeing was in order.  Among those early “battlefield stompers” was Sherman himself.  As he wrote to Logan on May 12, “I feel anxious to see the ground about Spotsylvania Court-House and Chancellorsville….”

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, page 605; Part II, Serial 100, pages 455, 456, and 477. )

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.)


May 6, 1865: Sherman and Chase and suffrage for the freedmen

Earlier today, Allen Gathman, on his blog Seven Score and Ten, posted a letter from Chief Justice Salmon Chase to Major-General John Schofield, which was addressed 150 years ago today (May 7, 1865).  The important passage of Chase’s letter spoke of specific rights for the freedmen – the right to vote:

I have, since his accession had several conversations with President Johnson, and think myself authorized to say that he desires the earliest possible loyal reorganization of the late insurgent States. He thinks that this reorganization should be the work of the people themselves, acting in their original sovereign capacity, and would be willing to aid their action in any proper way, as, for example, by the enrollment of all the loyal citizens, preparatory to the election of delegates to a convention. in this enrollment he would prefer that the old constitutional rule in North Carolina which recognized all freemen as voters, should be followed, rather than the rule the new constitution, which excludes all freemen of color.

Consider the addressee here.  Here 150 years later, would Chief Justice John Roberts directly address General John F. Campbell over in Kabul, Afghanistan?  Perhaps, but not on policy matters, I would venture to guess.  I would offer, however, that Schofield in 1865 and Campbell here in 2015 are both involved with “reconstruction” efforts to some degree. Both are dealing with questions of how to implement suffrage (perhaps less so in 2015 as we were in 2004). The major difference between lay in the object of reconstruction.  Schofield was a military commander orchestrating the reconstruction of a state in OUR country… not attempting to repair some other country.

At the same time Chase was conversing with Schofield, he also had similar correspondence with Major-General William T. Sherman.  That commander wrote a letter to Chase only a day before, May 6.  And the contents were not exactly in agreement with Chase’s opinion.  Let me offer it here in whole, instead of dicing Sherman’s words:

Dear Sir: On reaching this ship late last night I found your valued letter, with the printed sheet, which I have also read, but not yet fully matured.  I am not yet prepared to receive the negro on terms of political equality for the reasons that it will arouse passions and prejudices at the North, which superadded to the causes yet dormant at the South, might rekindle the war whose fires are now dying out, and by skillful management might be kept down. As you must observe, I prefer to work with known facts than to reason ahead to remote conclusions that by slower and natural laws may be reached without shock. By way of illustration, we are now weather bound; is it not better to lay quiet at anchor till these white-cap breakers look less angry and the southwest wind shifts? I think all old sailors will answer yes, whilst we, impatient to reach our goal, are tempted to dash through, at risk of life and property. I am willing to admit that the conclusions you reach by pure mental process may be all correct, but don’t you think it better first to get the ship of state in some order, that it may be handled and guided? Now at the South all is pure anarchy. The military power of the United States cannot reach the people who are spread over a vast surface of country. We can control the local State capitals, and it may be slowly shape political thoughts, but we cannot combat existing ideas with force. I say honestly that the assertion openly of your ideas as a fixed policy of our Government, to be backed by physical power, will produce new war, and one which from its desultory character will be more bloody and destructive than the last.

Our own armed soldiers have prejudices that, right or wrong, should be consulted, and I am rejoiced that you, upon whom devolves so much, are aiming to see facts and persons with your own eye. I believe you will do me the credit of believing that I am as honest, sincere, true, and brave as the average of our kind, and I say that to give all loyal negroes the same political status as white “voters” will revive the war and spread its field of operations. Why not, therefore, trust to the slower and not less sure means of statesmanship? Why not imitate the example of England in allowing causes to work out their gradual solution instead of imitating the French, whose political revolutions have been bloody and have actually retarded the development of political freedom? I think the changes necessary in the future can be made faster and more certain by means of our Constitution than by any plan outside of it. If, now, we go outside of the Constitution for a means of change, we rather justify the rebels in their late attempt, whereas now, as General Schofield tells us, the people of the South are ready and willing to make the necessary changes without shock or violence. I, who have felt the past war as bitterly and keenly as any man could, confess myself “afraid” of a new war, and a new war is bound to result from the action you suggest of giving to the enfranchised negroes so large a share in the delicate task of putting the Southern States in practical working relations with the General Government.

With great respect,
W. T. SHERMAN,  Major-general.

I think with full 150 years of hindsight, we can agree Sherman was on the wrong side of this issue.  But at the same time, we would do dis-service to generalize and paint Sherman into some corner of history with just this letter in hand.  Perhaps it is best to just let Sherman’s written words speak for him, instead of trying to impose what we think he must have thought.

Regardless of where you want to place Sherman … or Chase… or Schofield at this point in time, the issue of suffrage for the freedmen was one clearly identified as a central topic, if not THE central topic, for Reconstruction.  And reading the correspondence you can see this topic was not as clean and clear such as we might consider, with our view 150 years removed.

History is often a story of simple ideas being applied to a complex reality.  We should embrace that complexity, for with it comes true understanding of what transpired.  And I would offer that no more genuine and simple idea was more complex in implementation as universal suffrage.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part III, Serial 100, pages 410-1 and 427.)