General W. T. Sherman's visit to the Misses L------at Canton, Miss., in February, 1864.
By General S. D. Lee's Chief Surgeon.
To render the points of interest in the conversation between General Sherman and the young ladies clearly intelligible, I will mention briefly the events which were the subject of discussion. General Sherman made two campaigns in Mississippi, besides those in which he was under the immediate command of General Grant. In the first, he came down the Mississippi river with thirty-two thousand men, and landing on Yazoo river, on the side next to Vicksburg, in December, 1862, advanced upon that place by way of Chickasaw bayou. He was met about six miles from Vicksburg by General Stephen D. Lee, with twenty-five hundred infantry and eight pieces of field artillery, which were posted in a strong position. After several desperate charges, General Sherman's army was repulsed with considerable loss in killed, wounded and prisoners. This ended the campaign, and he returned up the Mississippi river. The second campaign commenced at Vicksburg. On the 3d of February, 1864, he marched towards Meridian with twenty-seven thousand infantry, artillery and cavalry. He ordered General Smith, who was at Memphis, to march, with eight thousand cavalry and light artillery, by way of Okalona, Mississippi, and join him at Meridian. General Polk, who was at Demopolis with his infantry corps, on hearing that General Sherman's army had reached Meridian and that General Smith was marching to the same place, ordered General S. D. Lee to march with thirty-five hundred cavalry and unite his force with an equal force under General N. Bedford Forrest, who was collecting his cavalry near West Point, Mississippi, to oppose General Smith. When General Smith reached West Point, he found Forrest on his right flank at Sookatouchie creek, four miles west of West Point, and Stephen D. Lee preparing to cross Tibbee creek, four miles south of West Point, which creek was deep and could not be forded. General Smith retreated precipitately, pursued by General Forrest, who was nearest the line of his retreat, and who succeeded in striking General Smith's rear guard a blow at Okalona and capturing six light field pieces. General Sherman had only one brigade of cavalry at Meridian,  and without General Smith's force, he could not keep his communications open with his base of supplies, or subsist his army on the prairie region of East Mississippi; so he was compelled to fall back upon Vicksburg — each division selecting a different route, to gather subsistence from the already impoverished country. He reached Canton, Mississippi, on the 26th of February, without having fired a gun, except in constant skirmishes with Lee's cavalry, both on his advance and retreat. Having burned Canton, he encamped there a few days. While there, some young Federal officers called upon the accomplished Misses L------, celebrated for their conversational powers. While the officers were being amused and entertained by witticisms at the expense of their army, General Sherman walked into the parlor without being introduced. He had on his military great-coat, and quietly took his seat after bowing to those present. Miss L------continued: “I suppose, gentlemen, you went to call on General Polk. I cannot account for your short stay. I hope you had a pleasant time in the hills of Leake county. It is an interesting country. I suppose you came that way to vary the amusement and to pay your respects to fresh corn-cribs. Stock is doubtless scarce along the line of the Vicksburg and Meridian road. Your protracted stay in Canton is very mysterious. But perhaps you are waiting for the wagons from Vicksburg? You need rest, too, after your terrible campaign. I suppose you paid your respects to General S. D. Lee. General Sherman got slightly acquainted with him at Chickasaw bayou.” General Sherman arose abruptly, drew himself up to his full height, threw the collar of his overcoat back, exposing the insignia of his rank, and said: “Miss, you do not know to whom you are talking,” and immediately took his departure without bidding the company good evening. As soon as General Sherman left Canton Lee's cavalry entered the town, and prompted by the same motive which induced the Federal officers to call, I went to see the Misses L and heard from the young ladies this account of the interview. After General Sherman left the parlor, the Federal officers informed the ladies that the person who had just left was General Sherman, and seemed much amused at the occurrence, and enjoyed a hearty laugh as soon as General Sherman was out of hearing.