Straw Already Threshed: Sherman on Shiloh

 William Tecumseh Sherman was enjoying retired life in New York City when just before Christmas in 1889 he was presented with an article written by John Cockerill, a former drummer boy in the 24th Ohio who was visiting his father Colonel Joseph Cockerill of the 70th Ohio of Sherman’s division when the Battle of Shiloh began. Cockerill’s article, originally published in the New York Journalist and later featured in the January 1893 issue of Blue & Gray Magazine, Sherman later pronounced as “the best war story ever written” and the truest account of Shiloh.

          On New Year’s Day 1890, General Sherman composed the following letter to his friend Marshall P. Wilder thanking him for sending along Cockerill’s article and giving his own explanation of Shiloh. “This to me is straw already threshed for we have fought this battle on paper several times, a much more agreeable task than to fight with bullets,” he concluded. “When in England some years ago I was gratified to listen to veterans fighting Waterloo and Sebastopol over again. So, I infer that our children will continue the fight of Shiloh long after we are dead and gone.”

          General Sherman’s letter was reprinted in the April 29, 1891, edition of the Western Veteran.

 

Upon his retirement from the army in February 1884, Sherman moved to New York City where he maintained an active presence both on the speaking circuit and in various veterans' organizations. He died of pneumonia on Valentine's Day 1891 just a few days shy of his 71st birthday. Famously, General Joseph E. Johnston, his opponent during  much of the last two years of the Civil War, served as one of Sherman's pallbearers and refused to wear his hat to protect himself from the cold. "If I were in Sherman's place and he were in mine, he would not put on his hat." Johnston subsequently took a bad cold which developed into pneumonia and ended his life on March 21, 1891. General Sherman is buried at Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri. 

73 West 71st Street, New York, New York

January 1, 1890

 

My dear friend,

          I thank you for sending me the printed paper containing the observations and experiences of a friend about the battle of Shiloh or Pittsburg Landing. Having leisure this New Year’s Day, I have read every word of it and from his standpoint as a boy in the rear of where the hard fighting was done, his account is literally true. His father (a noble gentleman) and I were fighting for time because our enemy for the moment outnumbered us and we had good reason momentarily to expect Lew Wallace’s division, only six miles off, and Buell’s whole army, only 20 miles away. By contesting every foot of ground, the enemy was checked until night. Our reinforcements came and, on the 7th, we swept on in front and pursued a retreating enemy ten miles and afterwards followed up to Corinth, Memphis, Vicksburg, etc. to the end.

          That bloody battle was fought April 6th and 7th 1862. After we had actually driven our assailants back 26 miles to Corinth, we received the St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Louisville papers from which we learned that we were “surprised,” bayonetted in our beds with blankets to the ground and disgracefully routed. These reports were heard back at the riverbank and from steamboats under high pressure to get well away and such is history.

          In the rear of all battles there is a mass of fugitives. We had at the time 32,000 men, of whom say 5,000-6,000 were at the steamboat landing but what of the others? A braver, finer set of men never existed on earth. The reporters dwell on the fugitives because they were of them, but who is to stand up for the brave men at the front? We had no reporters with us. Like sensible men, they preferred a steamboat bound for Paducah and Cincinnati whence they could describe the battle better than we who were without pen or ink.

          This to me is straw already threshed for we have fought this battle on paper several times, a much more agreeable task than to fight with bullets. When in England some years ago I was gratified to listen to veterans fighting Waterloo and Sebastopol over again. So, I infer that our children will continue the fight of Shiloh long after we are dead and gone. Wishing you a happy new Year, I am, sincerely yours,

W.T. Sherman

To learn more about the controversy at Shiloh, particularly Sherman’s letter writing campaign against Lieutenant Governor Benjamin Stanton of Ohio, please check out “Surprised at Shiloh? Hell no, said Sherman.”

 Source:

“Not Surprised at Shiloh,” Western Veteran (Kansas), April 29, 1891, pg. 7

Comments

Most Popular Posts

Arming the Buckeyes: Longarms of the Ohio Infantry Regiments

Dressing the Rebels: How to Dye Butternut Jeans Cloth

Bullets for the Union: Manufacturing Small Arms Ammunition During the Civil War

The Cannons are Now Silent: The Field of Death of Tupelo

The Vaunted Enfield Rifle Musket

Federal Arms in the Stones River Campaign

Federal Arms in the Chickamauga Campaign

The Legend of Leatherbreeches: Hubert Dilger in the Atlanta Campaign

In front of Atlanta with the 68th Ohio