William Tecumseh Sherman to Ellen Sherman, November 23, 1860, in Walter L. Fleming, ed., General W. T. Sherman as College President... (Cleveland: Arthur H. Clark Co., 1912), 305-308.
Transcription adapted from General W. T. Sherman as College President (1912), edited by Walter L. Fleming
Adapted by Michael Blake, Dickinson College
The following transcript has been adapted from General W. T. Sherman as College President... (1912).
Alexandria, Nov. 23, 1860.
. . . We are having a cold raw day and I avail myself of it to do a good deal of indoor work. I was out for some hours directing the making of the fence around our new house, but the work within proceeds very slowly indeed. Our house is all plastered and the carpenters are putting in the doors, windows, and casings. Also the painter is thinkering around, but at present rate the building will not be ready before Christmas. I now have all arrangements made for your coming down about that time, but prudence dictates some caution as political events do seem portentous.
I have a letter from the cashier that he sent you the first of exchange, the second I now enclose to you for two hundred ninety dollars. But by the very mail which brought it came the rumor that the banks are refusing exchange on the North, which cannot be true; also that goods were being destroyed on the levee at New Orleans and that the Custom House was closed. I also notice that many gentlemen who were heretofore moderate in their opinions now begin to fall into the popular current and go with the mad foolish crowd that seems bent on a dissolution of this confederacy.
The extremists in this quarter took the first news of the election of Lincoln so coolly, that I took it for granted all would quietly await the issue; but I have no doubt that politicians have so embittered the feelings of the people that they think that the Republican Party is bent on abolitionism, and they cease to reason or think of consequences.
We are so retired up here, so much out of the way of news, that we hear nothing but stale exaggerations; but I feel that a change is threatened and I will wait patiently for a while. My opinions are not changed.
If the South is bent on disunion of course I will not ally our fate with theirs, because by dissolution they do not escape the very danger at which they grow so frantically mad. Slavery is in their midst and must continue, but the interest of slavery is much weaker in Missouri, Kentucky, Virginia, and Maryland than down here. Should the Ohio River become a boundary between the two new combinations, there will begin a new change. The extreme South will look on Kentucky and Tennessee as the North, and in a very few years the same confusion and disorder will arise, and a new dissolution, till each state and maybe each county will claim separate independence.
If South Carolina precipitate this Revolution it will be because she thinks by delay Lincoln's friends will kind of reconcile the middle, wavering states, whereas now they may raise the cry of abolition and unite all the Slave States. I had no idea that this would actually begin so soon, but the news from that quarter does look as though she certainly would secede, and that Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and Texas would soon follow. All these might go and still leave a strong, rich confederated government, but then come Mississippi and Louisiana. As these rest on the Mississippi and control its mouth I know that the other states north will not submit to any molestation of the navigation by foreign states. If these two states go and Arkansas follows suit then there must be war, fighting, and that will continue until one or the other party is subdued.
If Louisiana call a convention I will not move, but if that convention resolve to secede on a contingency that I can foresee, then I must of course quit. It is not to be expected that the state would consent to trust me with arms and command if I did not go with them full length. I don't believe Louisiana would of herself do anything; but if South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas resolve no longer to wait, then Louisiana will do likewise. Then of course you will be safer where you are. As to myself I might have to go to California or some foreign country, where I could earn the means of living for you and myself. I see no chance in Ohio for me. A man is never a prophet in his own land and it does seem that nature for some wise purpose, maybe to settle wild lands, does ordain that man shall migrate, clear out from the place of his birth.
I did not intend to write so much, but the day is gloomy, and the last news from New Orleans decidedly so, if true. Among ourselves it is known that I am opposed to disunion in any manner or form. Prof. Smith ditto, unless Lincoln should actually encourage abolitionism after installed in office. Mr. Boyd thinks the denial to the southern people of access to new territories is an insult to which they cannot submit with honor and should not, let the consequences be what they may. Dr. Clarke is simply willing to follow the fortunes of the South, be what they may. Vallas and St. Ange, foreigners, don't care, but will follow their immediate self interests.
Thus we stand, about a fair sample of a mixed crowd; but'tis now said all over the South the issue is made, and better secession now when they can than wait till it is too late. This is a most unfortunate condition of things for us, and I hardly know how to act with decency and firmness, and like most undecided men will wait awhile to see what others do; if feeling in South Carolina continues they must do something, else they will be the laughing stock of the world, and that is what they dread. For of all the states they can least afford to secede, as comparatively she is a weak and poor state. This on the contrary is destined to be a rich and powerful one. . .