On October 16th of 1861, General William Tecumseh Sherman met with Secretary of War Simon Cameron at the Galt House in Louisville. Sherman was new to his position as Department Commander and wanted to brief his boss on the situation in Kentucky. As Sherman entered the room he was greeted by an entourage of reporters and the Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas. Sherman seemed reluctant to begin his briefing but Cameron told him they were all “family” and he could “speak your mind without restraint.” Sherman did just that. He spread a large map of the United States across a desk and pointed to Northern Virginia. He explained that General McClellan had a front of roughly 100 miles with the enemy and about 100,o00 men at his disposal. He then pointed to Missouri where General Fremont reigned and explained that he also had about 100 miles of frontage with the enemy and about 60,000 men. Meanwhile, Sherman had 300+ miles of frontage with the enemy, from General Johnston in Columbus to General Zollicoffer at Cumberland Gap, and something like 20,000 effective, armed troops to work with. He went on to say that the men of Kentucky were being offered Belgian smoothbore muskets as weapons. These same weapons were being refused by Ohio and Indiana troops in favor of the Enfield rifled musket.
Cameron was shocked. “Great God, where are they to come from?!” he exclaimed from his bed as Sherman mentioned the 200,000 troop number. Clearly, Cameron had no idea of the dire situation facing the middle of his strategic line in this civil war. Cameron immediately had orders issued for more troops to be sent to Kentucky and some better weapons be sent to the department as well. Too little, too late I fear.
The newsies ran with the story at least as far as their journalistic, and decidedly not Military, minds would allow. First in the northern press and then it spread, complete with editorial comment, to the western papers. Sherman was mocked as being “crazy, insane, etc” in the press. On November 11th, Sherman mentions to General George W. Thomas:
My expression of dissatisfaction at the publication of Thomas’ report and request to be relieved from this charge has led to the assignment of General Buell, of whom I have not yet heard.
I have to ask, what part of Thomas’s report to the Secretary of War was substantially different than what Sherman wrote in his Memoirs? I will gladly give the position that the Memoirs were written much later but Sherman himself notes that Thomas J Wood offered a statement as to the accuracy of Sherman’s Memoirs, he being present during the meeting.
I believe that Sherman was wrong labelled by the Newsies of the time. While I haven’t been able to find a copy of a paper calling him “insane, crazy, etc”, he has clearly been slapped with that by history and that is a serious shame. His condition in Kentucky was exactly as he stated. Buell’s incompetence had nothing to do with the success at Perryville. That is solely due to a stubborn defense by Starkweather and a poorly planned attack resulting in exhausted Confederate troops. Had Sherman’s request been at least considered seriously, things may have been quite different. Especially considering the September 1861 meeting between Lincoln, Seward, and Reverend William Blount Carter in Washington…but that is for another post.