General William T. Sherman on President Abraham Lincoln: The two men who played such a crucial role in the Union victory

The depth of Sherman's feelings: “It would take more than this slip of paper for me to record my sentiments of the life and service of Abraham Lincoln”

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From the Oliver Barrett collection, offered for sale for the first time since the middle of the 20th century; The only document of Sherman on his feelings about Lincoln we have found ever reaching the market

In November 1860 Abraham Lincoln was elected President. William T. Sherman was teaching at a military...

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General William T. Sherman on President Abraham Lincoln: The two men who played such a crucial role in the Union victory

The depth of Sherman's feelings: “It would take more than this slip of paper for me to record my sentiments of the life and service of Abraham Lincoln”

From the Oliver Barrett collection, offered for sale for the first time since the middle of the 20th century; The only document of Sherman on his feelings about Lincoln we have found ever reaching the market

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. However, Sherman later wrote, “The election of Mr. Lincoln fell upon us like a clap of thunder.” 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. His attitude toward President Lincoln was complicated. “General William T. Sherman had Mr. Lincoln’s respect – but not his friendship,” wrote Pennsylvania journalist Alexander K. McClure. They met briefly in the spring of 1861 before Sherman returned to the Union Army, and once again that summer. In that first meeting, Sherman was disgusted by the President’s naive attitude toward the South’s secession. “There is no doubt that Lincoln’s earliest impressions of Sherman were quite as unfavorable to Sherman as were Sherman’s early impressions of Lincoln,” wrote McClure. For the next four years, however, they did not cross paths – until shortly before the end of the war.

With a brilliant mind and incredible memory, Sherman became the top aide to General Ulysses S. Grant in the Western theater of war, and succeeded him when Grant took charge of the Army of the Potomac in 1864. Sherman carried with him the stigma, however of being charged with insanity by newspapers in December 1861. In response, Sherman’s wife Ellen wrote President Lincoln: “As the minister of God to dispense justice to us and as one who has the heart to sympathize as well as power to act. I beseech you by some mark of confidence to relieve my husband from the suspicions now resting upon him.” In May 1862 Sherman wrote his brother: “I think Mr. Lincoln is a pure minded, honest and good man. I have all faith in him.

As commander in the West, Sherman led his troops to a series of important victories. His famed march to Atlanta culminated in its siege and capture in September 1864, saving President Lincoln’s re-election bid. His march through Georgia and South Carolina devastated those regions and illuminated the weakness of the South. Sherman was beyond Union communication links during the march from Atlanta to Savannah, and brother John Sherman recalled that when he met with Mr. Lincoln earlier in December 1864, he said: “I know what he [William T.] went in at, but I can’t tell what hole he will come out of.” When he captured Savannah, Sherman telegraphed Lincoln: “I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah…” In his reply, Mr. Lincoln expressed “many, many, thanks for your Christmas gift” and admitted he had been “anxious, if not fearful” of Sherman’s success.

In the election fall of 1864, Sherman wrote his brother showing that he was a Lincoln supporter, if a lukewarm one: “I got your letter about my being for McClellan. I never said so, or thought so, or gave any one the right to think so. I almost despair of a popular Government, but if we must be so inflicted I suppose Lincoln is the best choice, but I am not a voter.” His attitude toward the President improved, however, after the President praised his capture of Savannah. Sherman wrote Grant: “Please say to the President that I received his kind message through Colonel Markland, and feel thankful for his high favor. If I disappoint him in the future, it shall not be from want of zeal or love to the cause.”

Sherman met with Lincoln outside Richmond a few weeks before his assassination, but never again visited the White House after the spring of 1861.

Sherman took on the job of telling his army of the assassination. Though his army was shocked and saddened by the death of the President, Sherman was relieved that the men did not take out their anger on the civilian population of Raleigh. “I doubt if, in the whole land, there were more sincere mourners over his sad fate than were then in and about Raleigh”, he wrote. “I watched the effect closely, and was gratified that there was no single act of retaliation; though I saw and felt that one single word by me would have laid the city in ashes, and turned its whole population houseless upon the country, if not worse.”

In his memoirs, Sherman would say of the fallen President, “Of all the men I ever met, he seemed to possess more of the elements of greatness, combined with goodness, than any other.”

Lincoln and Sherman were two of the most crucial players in the Civil War, and it was Sherman’s military prowess and Lincoln’s courage and savvy that won the conflict.

In the 1880s, O.H. Oldroyd prepared letterhead with Lincoln’s image on it and wrote to a handful of the men involved in the Civil War, asking their opinion on Lincoln’s legacy. Among them was Sherman.

This letter, written on that Lincoln letterhead, belonged to Lincoln historian and collector Oliver Barrett, whose documents were sold in the middle of the 20th century. This has been in a private collection since that time.

Rather than use the small slip to write something about Lincoln, or throwing it away, he chose to do something different: to highlight the depth of his respect for Lincoln by saying it could not be confined to a snippet.

Autograph letter signed, on stationery with the image of Abraham Lincoln on top, April 26, 1880, to O.H. Oldwyd, in Springfield, IL. “In answer to your letter of April 22, I will state that it would take more than this slip of paper for me to record my sentiments of the life and service of Abraham Lincoln.” Signed “W.T. Sherman, General.”

Our research discloses no other documents of Sherman discussing Lincoln’s legacy ever having reached the market.

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