Sherman vs. Stanton (Part I)
Our story begins with a grudge match. The two antagonists were Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and General William T. Sherman. It is my belief that the grudge grew out of a letter Stanton received from Sherman, giving the latter’s reasoning for not employing African-Americans as soldiers during the Civil War.
“[I]f Negroes are to fight,” Sherman wrote Stanton on October 24, 1864, during his March to the Sea , “they, too, will not be content with sliding back into the status of slave or free Negro. I much prefer to keep Negroes yet for some time to come in a subordinate state, for our prejudices, yours as well as mine, are not yet schooled for
One can imagine Stanton’s outrage not only at Sherman’s insubordination, but also his presumption that his superior was as racist as he. Perhaps he did not know of Stanton’s rearing by strongly anti-slavery parents or his childhood adulation of William Lloyd Garrison, the leader of the abolitionist movement. But Sherman was politically wired; his brother William was a moderate Republican Senator representing Ohio. Surely the general knew of Stanton’s quiet alliance with the congressional Radical Republicans, who championed the kind of “absolute equality” Sherman admitted he could “not yet” abide.
Yet Stanton, a man who could normally hold a grudge better than his tongue, took no immediate action against Sherman. No doubt the secretary considered the general a necessary evil to win the war. Besides, Sherman reputedly had just saved President Lincoln’s job with his smashing victory at Atlanta in September. No, in devotion to a greater cause, Stanton had to put his feelings aside…for now.
i. Maj. George B. Davis, USA, Leslie J. Perry and Joseph W. Kirkley. (1892.) p. 428. War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Part II—Correspondence, Etc. Washington: Government Printing Office.