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1864 October 8: Stern Letter from Sherman to Mayor of Atlanta

October 9, 2014

The following letter by Union General William T. Sherman appeared in both The Polk County Press and The Prescott Journal of October 8, 1864.  Both sets of headlines are used here, the Journal on the left and the Press on the right.  Only the Journal had the introductory paragraph between the headlines and the letter.

Gen. Sherman on the Rebellion.


LETTER TO THE MAYOR OF ATLANTA. He Talks Like a Father to the Georgia Rebels.
Reasons for Sending away the To the Mayor and City Council at Atlanta,
Inhabitants of Atlanta. Responding to the Removal of Citizens.

The Major of Atlanta and two members of the City Council recently addressed a letter to Gen. SHERMAN urging him to revoke his order directing the removal of the people from that city.  The letter set forth in strong terms the great hardships which would follow the execution of the order.  Gen. SHERMAN’S reply, which we give below, is one of the most powerful presentations of the monstrous crime of the rebellion that has ever been made.  It is stern, but its sternness is that of the Surgeon who applies the knife to save the life of his patient :

In the Field, Atlanta, Ga., }
September 12, 1864. }

James M. Calhoun, Mayor, E. E. Rawson and S. C. Wells, representing the City Council of Atlanta:

GENTLEMEN.—I have your letter of the 11th, in the nature of a petition to revoke my orders removing all the inhabitants from Atlanta.  I have read it carefully, and give full credit to your statements of the distress that will be occasioned by it, and yet shall not revoke my order, simply because my orders are not designed to meet the humanities of the case, but to prepare for the future struggles in which millions of good people outside of Atlanta, have a deep interest.  We must have peace, not only in Atlanta, but in all America.  To secure this we must stop the war that now desolates our once happy and favored country.  To stop the war, we must defeat the rebel armies that are arrayed against the laws and Constitution, which all must respect and obey.  To defeat these armies we must prepare the way to reach them in their recesses, provided with the arms and instruments which enable us to accomplish  our purpose.

Now, I know the vindictive nature of our enemy, and that we may have years of military operations from this quarter, and therefore deem it wise and prudent to prepare in time.  The use of Atlanta for warlike purposes is not consistent with its character as a home for families.  There will be no manufactures, commerce or agriculture here for the maintenance of families, and sooner or later want will compel the inhabitants to go.  Why not go now, when all the arrangements are completed for the transfer, instead of waiting till the plunging shot of contending armies will renew the scenes of the past month?  Of course I do not apprehend any such thing at this moment, but you do not suppose that this army will be here till the war is over.  I cannot discuss this subject with you fairly, because I cannot impart to you what I propose to do, but I assert that my military plans make it necessary for the inhabitants to go away, and I can only renew my offer of services to make their exodus in any direction as easy and comfortable as possible.  You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will.

War is cruelty, and you cannot define it ;  and those who brought war on 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 to-day 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 gon on till we reap the fate of Mexico, which is eternal war.  The United States does and must assert its authority wherever it has power ;  if it relaxes one bit to preserve it, it is gone, and I know that such is not the natural feeling.  This feeling assumes various shapes, but always comes back to that of Union.  Once admit the Union, once more acknowledge the authority of the National Government, and instead of devoting your houses and streets, and roads to the dread usages of war, I, and this army at once become your protectors, and supporters, shielding you from danger, let it come from what source it may.  I know that a few individuals cannot resist a torrent of error and passion such as has swept the South into rebellion ;  but you can point out, so that we may know those who desire a government, and those who insist on war and its desolation.

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 this war, which can alone be done by admitting that it began in error and is perpetuated in pride.—We don’t want your negroes or your horses, or your houses or your land, or anything you have ;  but we do want and will have a just obediance [sic] 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 for you.

General William T. Sherman, from the Library of Congress

General William T. Sherman, from the Library of Congress²

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 war by seixing [sic: seizing]  forts, arsenals, mints, custom houses, etc., etc., long before President Lincoln [Abraham Lincoln] was installed, and before the South had one jot or title 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, we fed thousands upon thousands of the families of rebel soldiers left on our hands, and whom we could not see starve.  Now that war comes home to you, you feel very different—you depreciate its horrors, but did not feel them when you sent car loads of soldiers and ammunition and moulded¹ shells and shot to carry war into Kentucky and Tennessee, and desolate the homes of hundreds and thousands of good people, who only ask to ilve [sic: 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 purely with a view to perfect an early success.

But, my dear sirs, when that peace does come, you may call on me for anything.  Then will I share with you the last cracker, and watch with you to shield your homes and families against danger from any vuarter [sic: quarter].  Now, you must go, and take with you the old and feeble ;  feed and nurse them, and build for them in more quiet places proper habitations to shield them against the weather until the mad passions of men cool down and allow the Union and peace once more to settle on your old homes at Atlanta.

Respectfully yours,
(Signed)    W. T. SHERMAN.

1.  We are used to seeing this as “molded,” but this was an acceptable variant spelling.
2.  Both photographs of William T. Sherman are from the Library of Congress. The larger one showing Sherman on the horse was taken in Atlanta in 1864.

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