Marching With Sherman

This is a book by Henry Hitchcock, who served on Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s staff as a military secretary, joining Sherman’s group at the end of October, 1864 in Rome, Georgia.  The book consists of letters Hitchcock wrote to his wife along with his campaign diary during the march, so it’s a true primary source that’s cotemporaneous with the events being described, making it a valuable resource for the student of the Civil War.

Hitchcock has this to say about Jefferson Davis: “I hope you have seen and carefully read that speech of Jeff Davis, or if nto that you will do so.  Compare it with Sherman’s letter to the Mayor of Atlanta, which I enclose to you.  J.D. never uttered a more wanton and shameless falsehood,–and that is saying a good deal,–than when he told his rebel subjects that ‘their government had from the first uniformly tried every means to avoid war,’–or words to that effect.  It is amazing, astounding that the arch-conspirator who himself inspired and directed act after act of open war upon the U.S. Government during the ten weeks before Mr. Lincoln was inaugurated,–for if the seizure by armed men in the name of an independent Sovereign Power so-called, of forts, arsenals, stores and munitions, the capture and detention as prisoners of war of U.S. troops, etc., etc., were not acts of war it would not be easy to define what are such–should have had the hardihood to make such an assertion.” [p. 36]

In his campaign diary, Hitchcock was careful to note all the instances of destruction and “outrages” he came across.  On November 11, he notes, “B[rig.] G[en.] Corse joined us today from Rome,–burned last night all mills, R.R. buildings, storehouses, etc., of use to enemy.  Tells me special care taken to prevent outrages and destruction of any dwellings, and heard nor knew of any; save that one house across the river accidentally burned.  No violence to any citizen that he knows of.  Heartily glad of it.  The necessary and legitimate destruction of war is bad enough.” [p. 49]

On November 13 we find, “In Marietta by 11 or 12 M [noon].  Entering square, saw our men with fire engine front of Court House, pumping hard, and man inside with hose.  Stopped an hour or so at large hotel on Public Square–furniture gone, but house not vandalized.  Fires appear sundry places, and again in Court House, and at last this breaks out, and fairly burning.  All our staff and all other officers I heard, regret and condemn.  Inquired–Nobody knew how set on fire: but found that Kilpatrick’s aid, Capt. J. S. McRea, had three times put it out and tried hard to save it: but ’twas kindled in the lathes under the plaster and ’twas no use.  This soon blazed furiously, and this set other buildings on fire, across the street, and opposite hotel.  Elsewhere on Square large stores etc., begun to burn, and spread.  Large buildings opposite left of hotel showed smoke.  this was put out by Maj. McCoy of our staff, and was saved.  Found that up to this morning there were guards around these buildings, but they had gone on with column, and thus in unguarded interval fire was set without orders.  But Gen. S. ordered burning of large steam mill–found ’twas done, Col. E. [Charles Ewing] and H.H. [Hitchcock] going to see ‘connections’ and save neighboring buildings.” [p. 52]  At this time, Hitchcock speaks with Sherman about the destruction: “When Court House fairly broke out, H.H. remarked–‘ ‘Twill burn down, Sir.’  ‘Yes, can’t be stopped.’  ‘Was it your intention?’  ‘Can’t save it–I’ve seen more of this sort of thing than you.’  ‘Certainly, Sir.’  Went out then together to house (at head of street on left of hotel, or right as you face it) taken for Headquarters.–Passing some soldiers–‘There,’ said Sherman, ‘are the men who do this.  Set as many guards as you please, they will slip in and set fire.  That Court House was put out–no use–dare say whole town will burn, at least the business part.  I never ordered burning of any dwelling–didn’t order this, but can’t be helped.  I say Jeff. Davis burnt them.’  H.H.: ‘Pardon, but if liberty, spoke because anxious you not be blamed for what you did not order.’  ‘Well, I suppose I’ll have to bear it.’  H.H. has said all he could to restrain this destruction and is not guilty of any, even what is legitimate by laws of war.  What a sad and fearful necessity–how terrible the guilt of those who forced this war and its unavoidable horrors!” [pp. 52-53]

On November 15, in Atlanta, Hitchcock relates, “Went down to the corner and looked out over where the R.R. depots were–all covered with smoking and still blazing ruins.  But was rejoiced to find on the way that sentries were posted in front of the two churches near our Headquarters, with orders so strict that on returning with other officers he would not let us go by it on the sidewalk, but ordered us out into the street: and soon after did same to two or three others going down cross street along west side of church.  This is right.  I note these and preceding facts because Gen. S. will hereafter be charged with indiscriminate burning, which is not true.  His orders are to destroy only such buildings as are used or useful for war purposes, whether for producing, storing, or transporting materials, etc., of war: but all others are to be spared and no dwelling touched.  He talked to me again today about this, apparently because of the evidently painful impression I received at Marietta.  Said nothing like excuse, but simply explained the facts.  At table he remarked–‘this city has done and contributed probably more to carry on and sustain the war than any other, save perhaps Richmond.  We have been fighting Atlanta all the time, in the past: have been capturing guns, wagons, etc., etc., marked ‘Atlanta’ and made here, all the time: and now since they have been doing so much to destroy us and our Government we have to destroy them, at least enough to prevent any more of that.’ ” [pp. 57-58]

Hitchcock labels November 16 as the “First day’s march out” and writes, “Going out of town, passed through burnt district, still smoking.  Saw no dwelling destroyed, and outside of central business part of town comparatively little damage.  Should say 1/4 of area of town destroyed but this the largest and best built business part.” [p. 60]  Later that same evening he writes of a conversation he had with an elderly slave of a man named Latimore who was fighting in the confederate army: “Two best ‘boys’ ran off to ‘Yanks,’ and he heard that one of them was killed at Jonesboro: understood the Y’s at Jonesboro made the negro soldiers go in front, and so they were either shot in front by the rebs or from behind by the Yanks if they failed to go on.  It is part of the rebel system to lie thus, it seems.  Our servants will help dispel these stories, and must, says Sherman.” [p. 61]  Hitchcock also writes of this evening, “As we passed Latimer’s house not a straggler from the ranks going by.  I rejoiced that though deserted, it escaped.  Since we camped, before dark, first a thick smoke, then ruddy glow over tree tops, now a lesser one, signals its destruction by those behind us.  Probably some soldier discovered its master’s whereabouts also, and so goodbye to his house.  Sorry for it–yet who can be surprised, and how to help it?  Two minutes’ work of one unnoticed straggler.  Talked with Ewing,–condemned it as against ‘Special Field Order No. 120’–he agrees, but says impossible to control unless by power to kill for it, vested with General in the field, and that now all such things must first go to Washington, and there they refuse to sanction punishment by death.  It is a great mistake.  Such ‘mercy’ damages us.” [p. 62]

On November 17 he encountered another piece of propaganda by the rebels: “Halted 1-1/2 hours at Mrs. Scott’s–widow, say thirty-five, civil and disposed to talk.  She told Aundenried that at Atlanta we had shot, burned and drowned negroes, old and young, drove men into houses and burned them, etc., etc.: first said she believed it, then admitted she did not, but said they wanted the negroes to believe it.” [p. 64]  On that same day, Hitchcock wrote, “Georgia Legislature is in session at Milledgeville.  Jeff D’s message in full–how he does lie about Sherman, and about their ‘successes’ in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, etc!  He lies worst of all about treatment of prisoners held by us.” [pp. 65-66]

On November 18, Hitchcock was able to talk with some more slaves: “We had hardly got into the yard when four or five stout negro men appeared, who had skedaddled this morning early from their ‘kind masters’ four or five miles off to join and go with us.  Quizzed them a little about how we treat negroes.  Asked them if they knew how the negroes fared at Atlanta.  ‘Oh, yes, white folks tole us you burned the men in the houses and drowned the women and children.’  ‘Well, did you believe it?’  ‘No, Sir!!  We didn’t believe it–we has faith in you!’ ” [pp. 69-70]  And in further talking he learned, ” ‘Dey don’t thinkn nothing ’bout here of tying up a feller and givin’ him 200 or 300 with the strap.’  Another of them explained his presence by his having heard ‘the white folks’ last night talking about the Yankee’s approach, and their own intention to run off their negroes this morning down to Macon and thence to Florida (!).  He was ordered to have the horses, etc., all harnessed up early this morning; but instead rose very early and came over to the Yanks himself.  It is most striking and touching, the faith in us these people show.” [p. 70]  He tells us, “Judge Harris is a prominent man hereabouts.  Nichols had a long talk with his negro driver and came back full of indignation.  The women say that their master, though an elderly man, and with a family, obliges them to submit to him, and straps them if they refuse.  One fine looking old darky has but one leg: his story, confirmed by the others, is that the white women shot him–years ago–deliberately, first picking a quarrel about the way he planted some potatoes, and so he lost his leg.” [p. 72]

Hitchcock’s next observation is from November 19.  He tells us, “Last night I read to him [Sherman] A. H. Stephens’s most remarkable letter to ‘Senator’ Sumner of Louisiana, dated November 5/64, and sent by A.H.S. to the Augusta Constitutionalist, in which we received it.  [It’s actually Senator Semmes, and you can see it here]  What an electioneering document for Lincoln, had it been published North before the election!  As it is, it will utterly destroy the remnant of the ‘Peace party’ with us who are not real rebels and in favor of separation per se: and will seat ‘old Abe’ more firmly than ever.  One paragraph in that letter completely vindicates the Emancipation policy of the Government with all but real pro-slavery men.  The General was greatly interested, but made few or no comments.  I remarked on H.H.S.’s idea that separation would secure ‘permanent peace’ and his talk about the ‘ultimate absolute sovereignty of the States.’  Said the General, ‘Stephens is crazy on the States Rights question,.  This war is on our part a war against anarchy.’  This is his frequent and favorite expression, and intense conviction.  He got into a talking mood afterwards by the camp-fire, spoke of his plans, though not so fully as when we were alone (Nichols having joined us there) and said among other things, ‘I wish they were separated from us and a foreign Government–we’d whale ’em all the time.’ ” [p. 74]  He also writes, “Several men were arrested for entering houses in Newborn–but it is impossible to wholly prevent it.  I am very glad, however, having particularly inquired, to find that so far as I can learn there have been no dwellings burned nor violence even offered to any one.” [p. 75]  And still, “Mr. Pitts told us today that the Confederates were a great deal worse than our men, that they pillaged and plundered everybody, and the inhabitants dreaded their coming.” [pp. 75-76]

His November 20 entry includes, “I have observed closely so far as I could, and repeatedly inquired of the staff of XIV [XIV Corps]: I cannot learn of any outrage to the person of any one, nor the burning of any dwelling.  It is impossible to prevent straggling–I now see why and how: equally so to enforce literally the Special Field Order No. 120 prohibiting soldiers from entering houses.  To do so would require a guard for every house, and we cannot stop for that.  Col. McClurg, (J.C.D[avis].’s A.A.G. [Assistant Adjutant General] assured me today that he knew of no outrage, etc.: and told of J.C.D.’s lighting on two soldiers just coming out of a house, each with a dress in hand.  He arrested both, turned them over to his Provost Marshal, and presently each was tied and walking behind a wagon, wearing his dress with ‘stolen’ marked on it, amid shouts of laughter from comrades.  Good!  McClurg, by the way, is a very gentlemanly nice fellow.  Yesterday as we passed one house, the yard full of soldiers, pigs, chickens, cattle, and fodder rapidly disappearing, an elderly lady seeing Gen. S. pass, ran out to gate and begged for a guard.  General answered, not roughly but firmly, couldn’t do it, army was marching and couldn’t stop men: but she could apply to Gen. D[avis] as he came by, etc.  At night as he sat by camp fire, I only near him, he said, ‘I’ll have to harden my heart to these things.  That poor woman today–how could I help her?  There’s no help for it.  The soldiers will take all she has.  Jeff Davis is responsible for all this:’ etc., etc.  I confess I see no help for it.  It is–or was–implied in the damnable conspiracy which brought on this war.  Either we must acknowledge the ‘C.S.A.’ or we must conquer them: to conquer, we must make war, and it must be war, it must bring destruction and desolation, it must involve plundering, burning, killing.  Else it is worse than a sham.–Shall we then quit and acknowledge the C.S.A.?  No, for that is simply to ensure the same thing hereafter, for separation means ceaseless war.  God help us!” [pp. 76-77]  He says they “stopped for lunch at house of Mrs. Farrar, six miles N. of E[denton] Factory. Mrs. F. at home–young woman, would be pretty if less slatternly.  Never saw a Yankee farmer’s wife but would be ashamed to look so.  Yet he has a good place, probably twenty negroes, certainly I saw ‘quarters’ for so many or more.  He is at Milledgeville–‘gone there last week to help in the breastworks, and to fight,’ said the darkies.  Mrs. F. said he was in the rebel army from choice–the first woman who has not declared her husband was forced to go.  General talked to her in his usual strain–kind tone, but declaring that unless they obey laws all will be utterly ruined, etc.  The negroes here (F.’s) say they have been habitually punished by flogging not only with strap, but with hand-saws and paddles with holes–and salt put in the wounds.  They also told us of a famous ‘track-hound’ (blood-hound) at the next house, nearby, used to hunt runaways.  As we went by that house, Nichols had gone there (by General’s permission) and had the hound shot by a soldier: he was a large red dog: we heard the shot and the dog’s dying howls.  N. says the darkies there were in great glee over it.  No wonder.” [p. 78]  That evening, “Camp is on Mr. —-‘s place, wife and child at home, he is in the rebel army, she says, ‘conscripted.’ She too appealed to General–had plenty, now soldiers taking everything.  He told Col. Beckwith to give her something to eat.  It does seem terribly hard.  But how is it with those whom her husband is fighting?  And if he was really conscripted–why didn’t he and the Union men of Georgia in 1860-61 then fight those who ‘bullied them into secession’?  They and their families must pay the penalty–no help for it.  Saw one house, perhaps two, but think ’twas the same one seen from different points–in flames, probably one mile south of road.  Looked like gin house: not dwelling. so far as could judge.  This is the only fire since we left railroad–Except as follows:  General sent Capt. Poe (Ch. Engineer) ahead to burn Edenton Cotton Factory, which he did, also say 100 bales of cotton. [p. 79]

On November 21, Hitchcock stopped for lunch at the home of a woman whose husband was in the confederate army and, she claimed, had been conscripted.  “Saw a very smart negro woman at that (lunch) house who had a child, almost white, by her master.  Didn’t hear her talk much, but Beckwith, Nichols, et al. talked with her–smart as a steel trap.  She hid and fed three of our men, escaped prisoners: knew about Burnside, McClellan, and Sherman, also the fall of Atlanta, and even the recent unsuccessful rebel attack there.  They pointed out Gen. S. to her in the door of the house–they were in an outbuilding.  ‘Dar’s de man dat rules de world!’ she exclaimed.  She was about twenty-five, a common hand, negro brogue strong, but very quick and smart.  Spoke most bitterly of her mistress, who she says has treated her most cruelly.  Mistress never had a child: Sarah and Hagar case only worse.  Mistress about forty-five or fifty, heavy sort of woman, sullen and slow, but civil to us: was in great trouble about ‘perishing.’  Soldiers ‘foraged liberally’–took all her peanuts drying on roof of shed: and, as we left the house, after riding some distance, saw her barn, old and rickety, on fire.  Think it caught from fire made near it by soldiers to warm themselves.  Little or no shooting today–orders out forbidding.”  [pp. 81-82]

Hitchcock has several incidents just like the above that he chronicles throughout the book.  Along with those he gives us personal glimpses of Sherman and his staff as well as his immediate subordinates.  He was revolted by the violence white southerners perpetrated against their slaves just as he was revolted by the wanton destruction by Union stragglers who stole, burned, and destroyed against Sherman’s orders but, according to him and to Sherman, couldn’t be stopped.  Indeed, both Hitchcock and Sherman laid the blame for that squarely on the shoulders of those who led the rebellion.  If they hadn’t rebelled against the US Government, there would have been no war and thus those soldiers wouldn’t have been there, in the view of both Hitchcock and Sherman.

This book is very valuable because Hitchcock was a keen observer and a careful, meticulous chronicler of what he saw and with whom he spoke.  He gives us insight into Sherman’s thinking and also into the characteristics of Sherman and his officers.  All serious students of the war need to have this book.

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2 comments

  1. As for Sherman’s March diaries/first hand accounts, I am partial to James Connolly’s “Three Years in the Army of the Cumberland.” Not a slight of Hitchcock, but Connolly was at the right place to make some really gritty observations, serving on division staff. But would agree Hitchcock’s is essential for any study of the campaign.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Craig. Connolly is on the docket to be read here.

      By the way, I urge folks to visit Craig’s blog for some first-rate history posts.

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