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1865 June 10: A Decided Difference Between the Army of the Potomac and the “Western” Army

June 12, 2015

This article about Day 2 of the Grand Review in Washington, D. C., when General William T. Sherman’s army marched, comes from the June 10, 1865, issue of The Polk County Press.  The Army of the Potomac had marched the day before.  This reporter’s assessment of the differences between Grants’ army and Sherman’s army echoes what Edwin Levings said in his letter of May 29, 1865.

General Ulysses S. Grant appointed Sherman to succeed him as head of the Military Division of the Mississippi, which entailed command of Union troops in the Western Theater of the War.  His army was not actually called the “Western Army,” which was an easy shorthand for the three combined armies that composed the Military Division of the Mississippi: the Army of the Cumberland, the Army of the Tennessee, and the Army of the Ohio.


Review of Sherman’s Heroes.

Washington Cor. Cla. Commercial.

There was a decided difference between the Armies of the Potomac and the West, apparant [sic] to all spectators.  The Western boys looked hard.  They were dingy, as if the smoke of many battles had dyed their garments and the dust and mud of the sacred of a dozen insurrectionary States had adherred [sic] to them.  Their wool hats, well worn and dirty, gave them a most sombre covering.  The weather-beaten style of the whole army was only the more apparent in the splendor of the unclouded sun.

The boys carried their guns a little carelessly (as compared with the Army of the Potomac), and marched with that long, steady, slashing step, in which alone they have made their tour of the continent.  They had not such a number of fine brass bands as discoursed such eloquent music for the Army of the Potomac, but the deep roll of their drums was eloquent enough.  Those drums had been heard on the banks of the Ohio, and all the way of Sherman’s march down to the sea, and up again to the Potomac ;  and they would beat marches of victory around the globe, if there were orders to do so.

The fixed, stern bearing of General Sherman, his style—which a profane person might denominate his “don’t care a damnativeness”¹—characterized his whole army.  There was a look almost fierce and sullen on nearly every face.  There was a rigidty [sic] of jaw and straightforward scornfullness [sic] of eye in every rank, that no observer could fail to mark.  The great, grim dingy, gloomy masses, marched as if in solemn contempt of all such displays ;  marched with a bitter business-like scowl, as if they might be going to battle.  Evidently, no part of the American people have been converted into soldiers so thoroughly, as these gaunt veterans of Sherman’s army.

It is the army of the desolation of the South that has made its mark of blood and ashes for two thousand miles, littering the whole line of its tremendous march with graves and the ruins of the habitations of its enemies.  These are the men who brought the war home to the South, and brought the first wails of despair from the enemies of American nationality ;  and you can read something of the grand and terrible history of the dark faces of the heroes.

Comparisons between armies may be invidious, but it is impossible not to make them.  At least, there is no man, woman or child in Washington, who has not compared and thought of the difference between the arm which march up Pennsylvania avenue yesterday, and the one which march to-day ;  and it is not because I am a Western man that I write that the verdict is universally and cordially given that the army of the West was most like an army.  The marching of our Western boys was magnificent.  But adjectives fail to tell all it was.  It was glorious to see.  Lord bless you the boys had done it before.  They had marched two thousand miles to the enemy’s country—why shouldn’t they have made a display in the capital of their country, “grand, gloomy and peculiar ?”  They did it.  It was a triumph for them to-day such as has rarely been witnessed upon the earth.  The great solid masses of boys in blue, bristling with steel, moved Pennsylvania avenue, and before the President of the United States, conquerors and heroes of the day.  And there was not an eye friendly to the flag of the nation that did not kindle to see how compact, how splendid and how admirable they were.

1.  Don’t care a damnativeness is an old 19th century term for carelessness, or a total lack of concern.

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