SHERMAN'S GREAT MARCHES.*
Ala excellent little volume, useful not merely, nor chiefly, to the military student, but useful to the general reader. It is a valuable contribution to history, having the merit of entertaining as well enlightening a contemporary reading public. No one need turn from it fearing to stumble in its pages over military technology, and to yawn over that kind of writing which is often called mili- tary because it is " caviare to the general." There is no necessity why the story of a campaign should be made unintelligible to all persons not educated at the Staff College. Of all pedantry perhaps military pedantry is the most insufferable. There is nothing of the military pedant about Major Nichols. He writes with apparent ease ha at language understood by everybody, and while he does not neglect the broad strategical features of Sher- man's campaigns in Georgia and the Carolinas, he seasons his daily narrative by jotting down an abundance of incidents,—social, political, and picturesque. We have glimpses of the ways and means, sketches of character, and notes of adventure on the road. He shows how the great columns of the army stretched out over a vast front, or folded up into a small, space, were moved as easily by the General as a fan in the hands of a Spanish belle. Not that the book is a set and formal history. It is simply a record, penned at intervals in the bivouac by the camp fire, or in the rarer shelter of quarters. It extends from the beginning of September, 1864, to May, 1865. Major Nichols was sent from the west with orders to report to General Sherman. He found him at Atlanta, just after the capture of that place, and the General at once retained hint on his staff—an act of kindness for which the Major is proportionately grateful. Major Nichols therefore speaks as an eyewitness, and not the least merit of his little book lies in the fact that he records * The Story of the Grezt Mare& From the Diary of a Staff Odle3r. By Brevet-Mayor G. W. Nichols, Aide-de-Camp to General Sherman. With a Map and Illattranous. Loudon : Sampson Low and Co.
chiefly what he saw. This is a merit that will be appreciated at least by the future historians of the war.
The first part of the book treats of the march through Georgia, and the bulk of it must have been published in the newspapers, for to us it is quite familiar. The second part relates to the march through the Carolinas, and this we do not recognize. Both marches are parts of the same scheme. It is commonly thought that when, at the instance of Mr. Davis, Hood crossed the Chatta- hoochee, he took Sherman by surprise. But the disposition of Sherman's forces shows that he kept a keen watch upon the Con- federates, and the readiness with which he applied the means at his command to thwart his opponent shows how well he was pre- pared. For he not only left a guard in Atlanta, he not only followed Hood closely with a superior army, but with the ex- ception of Dalton he was able by the use of signals to anticipate the Confederates at every vital point, and finally, by ex- erting' an irresistible pressure upon Hood, he was able to force that officer completely off the Federal line of communications. When Hood reached Gadsden, Sherman halted, and while he watched him as keenly as ever, he estimated the possible and pro- bable coarse Hood would take, and meditated his own great plans. At the earliest moment he sent Thomas to take care of Tennessee, but it was not until he was certain that Hood had marched to-
wards 'ruscumbia and Corinth that Sherman sent two corps to Thomas. In anticipation of Hood's erratic movement, Sherman
had arranged his own plans for a march to the sea through the heart of Georgia, and had obtained the ready assent of Grant to this bold stroke of sterling military genius. But this was not all. Major Nichols tells us that his hero, from his camp at Gaylesville, while awaiting the development of Hood's design, sketched out the march to Goldsboro'. Seated in front of his tent, towards the end of October, 1864, with his generals around him, and the map of the States spread on his knees, General Sherman ran his finger over the map, and indicated his course to Savannah. Then, after pondering on the snap of South Carolina, his finger rested on.
Columbia, and looking up, he said :—" Howard, I believe we can.
go there without any serious difficulty. If we can cross the Salkahatchie, we can capture Columbia,"—a striking instance of strategic insight. From Columbia, passing his finger quickly over rivers, swamps, and cities to Goldsboro', North Carolina,— " 7'hat point is a few days' march through a rich country. When
we reach that .important railway junction—when I once plant
this army at Goldsboro' -- Lee must leave Virginia, or he will be defeated beyond hope of recovery. We can make this march, for General Grant assures me that Lee cannot get away from Richrnead without his knowledge, nor without serious loss to his army." This is a wonderful instance of forecast.
It was all done. On the 15th of November, stripped of every superfluous ounce of baggage, or clothing, or ammunition, the army moved out from Atlanta. On the' 21st of December that army entered Savannah. Oa the 1st of February Sherman moved into South Carolina, on the 17th he entered Columbia, and on the 21st of April he was actually in Goldsboro', having in both.
campaigns executed his marches as he had designed them at Gayleeville in the previous October. If the reader will glance at a good map, he will begin to sea why it is that these, marches are destined to rank with the most striking exploits of the greatest
commanders. What makes them so admirable, what rounds and completes them, is that at no one point was the great conception, marred by faults of execution. This part of the war is as perfect a piece of military work as is to be found in the military annals of any nation. It has three great merits. It was profound in design,—none but a man of genius could have conceived it; it was executed to perfection, and that is a proof of the rare soldier- like qualities of officers and men, as well as of the General-in- Chief ; and it was decisive of the war. General Sherman's own history of it is as clear and unpretending as any history can be. Sherman's despatches indeed are like his exploits, among the best of their kind. But it is volumes like this of Major Nichols which bring out the human interest of the story, and enable us to see not only how the work was done, but the men by whom it was done. There is probably no existing army —for Sherman's army has been mustered out—which could perform a similar amount of work in merely bridging rivers and making roads through swamps.. And if the reader wants to feel what that labour was, let him give a few' hours of leisure to the pages of this little volume.
Not the least interesting portions of the diary are the passages, and they are numerous, which throw a light on the character of its hero. One is struck at once by the confidence he had won from officers and men. As to that of the latter, it was boundless. " Their faith in Sherman," we read in an early page, " is beyond all description. ' He can't make a mistake,' they say. ' Wher- evar he puts us in, we're going in, and we're just deal sure to beat the Rebs. every time — sure." Marching towards the Chattahoo- chee, the soldiers saw pillars of smoke rising along the banks. "Sail one, hitching his musket on his shoulder in a free and easy way, ' I say, Charley, I believe Sherman has set the river on fire.'
Reckon not,' replied another, with the same indifference ; if he has, it's all right.' " When the army entered South Carolina the men understood that they were bound for Richmond. " How and when wa were to reach that point were the questions discussed throughout the camp, but our men said that ' while Uncle Billy
lied the matter in his hands it was sure to go " Depend upon it, that when soldiers give their whole confidence to a commander it is not without good foundation. The unques- tioning obedience of the general officers is proof enough of their reliance on the genius of their leader. Attention to detail, promptitude in decision, order, and unfailing prudence are other characteristics of this great captain. . If you look narrowly into his system of war, you will find him ever alert and watchful. Riding first with one column, then with another, a diligent student of "reports," with a widely glancing and deeply piercing eye, Sherman knew everything that was going on in his army, and a great deal about a great -many of whom it was composed. We find it recorded that, like other great soldiers, his " memory is marvellous. The simplest incidents of friendly intercourse, the details of his campaigns, events, dates, names, faces, remain fresh in his mind." Rigorous in his mode of making war, he was so on principle ; as he himself explained, he was not actuated by feelings of vengeance. Gentle and considerate for others, it is said that during his stay at Savannah little children came to him at once, and that "his head-quarters and private room became the playground of hosts of little ones, upon whom the door was never closed, no matter what business was pending." Another trait of his character is his integrity. Honest and disinterested himself, he hated the men who were interested in the war only to make money by it, and would not suffer speculators, landsharks, and crimps in his quarters. Before the fall of Atlanta he refused a commission of major-general in the regular army, saying, "These positions of so much trust and honour should be held open until the close of the war. They should not be hastily given. Important cam- paigns are in operation. At the end, let those who prove their capacity and merit be the ones appointed to these high honours." A moat honourable and rare reply. Again, "In answer to the request of one nearly allied to him that he would give his son a position on his staff, the General's reply was curt and unmistakable,—' Let him enter the ranks as a soldier, aid carry a musket a few years.' " He, for his part, shared to the full the privations of the private soldier in his campaigns ; slept in a tente d'abri or in the open air, as the chance befell, had no cumbrous baggage—his menage was a roll of blankets and a havre- sack full of " hard tack "—and thus he set an example of that primitive mode of life so essential to speed in war.
" In person," writes Major Nichols, " General Sherman is nearly six feet in height, with a wiry, muscular, and not ungraceful frame. His age is only forty-seven years, but his face is furrowed with deep lines, indicat- ing care and profound thought. With surprising rapidity, however, these strong lines disappear when he talks with children and women. His eyes are of a dark brown colour, and sharp and quick in expression. His forehead is broad and fair, sloping gently at the top of the head, which is covered with thick and light brown hair, closely trimmed. His beard and moustache, of a sandy hue, are also closely cat. His constitution is iron. Exposure to cold, rain, or burning heat seems to produce no effect upon his powers of endurance and strength. Under the most harassing conditions I have never known him exhibit any symptoms of fatigue. In the field he retires early, but at midnight he may be found pacing in front of his tent, or sitting by the camp fire smok- ing a cigar. His sleep must be light and unrestful, for the galloping of a courier's horse down the road instantly wakes him, as well as a voice or movement in his tent. He falls to sleep as easily and as quickly as a little child,—by the roadside or upon wet ground, on the hard floor or when a battle rages near him. His mien [? bearing] is never clumsy nor common-place, and when mounted upon review he appears in every way the great captain he is."
Such is Sherman. Since he is human, he must have his faults of character ; but he plainly has great virtues, and none can now deny his country the credit of having produced not merely a great commander, but a man of real military genius.