In June 1861, William T. Sherman Writes Secretary of War Simon Cameron, Seeking to Form His First Regiment, Stating that It Ought to Consist of “mountain and prairie men, accustomed to all sorts of camp life”

Early war letters of Sherman are incredible rarities; public sale records show only 4 letters from Sherman in 1861 having reached that market, and none relating to forming his regiment

Purchase $18,000

This letter has been in a private collection for generations and is offered for sale here for the first time in at least 50 years

In November 1860 Abraham Lincoln was elected President. William T. Sherman was teaching at a military academy in Louisiana at the time. He thought secession a bad...

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In June 1861, William T. Sherman Writes Secretary of War Simon Cameron, Seeking to Form His First Regiment, Stating that It Ought to Consist of “mountain and prairie men, accustomed to all sorts of camp life”

Early war letters of Sherman are incredible rarities; public sale records show only 4 letters from Sherman in 1861 having reached that market, and none relating to forming his regiment

This letter has been in a private collection for generations and is offered for sale here for the first time in at least 50 years

In November 1860 Abraham Lincoln was elected President. William T. Sherman was teaching at a military academy in Louisiana at the time. He thought secession a bad idea promulgated by hotheads, but he was not against slavery. He kept aloof from politics and hoped the storm would blow over. By December 15, he wrote his wife that he had little doubt that “Louisiana will quit the Union” in January, and that he would not stay in his job if that proved true. Just a few days later he wrote her more urgently, reaffirming that he would not remain in Louisiana and castigating the Buchanan Administration for failing to reinforce Major Anderson in Charleston harbor.

Sherman famously broke with the South and joined the Union cause, and his decision to head North proved to be a monumental one. On May 8, 1861, he wrote to Secretary of War Simon Cameron, “I hold myself now, as always, prepared to serve my country in the capacity for which I was trained. I did not and will not volunteer for three months, because I cannot throw my family on the cold charity of the world. But for the three-years call, made by the President, an officer can prepare his command and do good service. I will not volunteer as a soldier, because rightfully or wrongfully I feel unwilling to take a mere private’s place, and, having for many years lived in California and Louisiana, the men are not well enough acquainted with me to elect me to my appropriate place. Should my services be needed, the records of the War Department will enable you to designate the station in which I can render most service.”

Sherman’s memoirs provide the best narrative of the events that follow. “On May 14th, I received a dispatch from my brother Charles in Washington, telling me to come on at once; that I had been appointed a colonel of the Thirteenth Regular Infantry, and that I was wanted at Washington immediately…. I was assigned in Washington City, by an order of Lieutenant-General Winfield Scott, to inspection duty near him on the 20th of June, 1861.

“The temper of Congress and the people would not permit the slow and methodical preparation desired by General Scott; and the cry of “On to Richmond!” which was shared by the volunteers, most of whom had only engaged for ninety days, forced General Scott to hasten his preparations, and to order a general advance about the middle of July. McDowell was to move from the defenses of Washington, and Patterson from Martinsburg. In the organization of McDowell’s army into divisions and brigades, Colonel David Hunter was assigned to command the Second Division, and I was ordered to take command of his former brigade, which was composed of five regiments in position in and about Fort Corcoran, and on the ground opposite Georgetown. I assumed command on the 30th of June, and proceeded at once to prepare it for the general advance.

But first Sherman had to build his regiment, the 13th Infantry. What type of soldier Sherman needed spoke much to his own experience and the type of war he saw his regiment fighting. It also speaks to his skill in finding great soldiers.

Autograph letter signed, Washington, June 27, 1861, to Cameron. “Sir, I am anxious that my Regiment should have two good companies of mountain and prairie men, accustomed to all sorts of camp life. With this purpose I most urgently offer the name of Frederick Van Vliet of Wisconsin, a young gentleman of good education and habits and family. He has been several seasons on the Plains to Pikes Peak, New Mexico, etc., and from my personal acquaintance I write as above. He is about 24 years old, a good horsemen, writes a bold, plain hand, and really I would like such as he is for Lieutenant of the 13 Infantry.”

In the meantime, Sherman’s force headed South. His memoirs continue the narrative. “We lay in camp at Centreville all of the 19th and 20th, and during that night began the movement which resulted in the battle of Bull Run, on July 21st. Of this so much has been written that more would be superfluous; and the reports of the opposing commanders, McDowell and Johnston, are fair and correct. It is now generally admitted that it was one of the best-planned battles of the war, but one of the worst-fought. Our men had been told so often at home that all they had to do was to make a bold appearance, and the rebels would run; and nearly all of us for the first time then heard the sound of cannon and muskets in anger, and saw the bloody scenes common to all battles, with which we were soon to be familiar.”

Van Vliet received his Lieutenant’s commission on August 5, 1861, and by the end of the Civil War was a breveted lieutenant colonel. He fought at Ft. Gibson, Jackson, Vicksburg, was wounded at Bayou Coteau, participated at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Petersburg. After the war, he accompanied his regiment to the New Mexico and Arizona Territories. He transferred North to join the U.S. 3rd Cavalry and participated in the Black Hills and Yellowstone Campaigns during the 1870s.

This letter has been in a private collection for generations and is offered for sale here for the first time in at least 50 years.

Purchase Now $18,000

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