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Chapter 15:

Attacks upon dead men may fairly be called one of the features of General Sherman's Memoirs. Thomas, McPherson, and Stanton, with others less prominent, are in turn rudely and unjustly assailed in their graves. In writing history it would have been not only allowable for an honorable author to set down exact truth in regard to these noted actors in the war, even though it were unpalatable to their friends, but his bounden duty to do so. But when an author of General Sherman's position writes of his famous associates, having close at hand and conveniently arranged for reference all means of ascertaining the exact facts about every question which could arise, he stands without excuse before his countrymen if he wrongfully writes disgrace over graves where he should strew laurel.

On page 243, Vol. II, of his Memoirs, General Sherman relates that he was instructed by Mr. Stanton to transfer the cotton captured in Savannah to an agent of the Treasury. This General Sherman did by an order dated January 12, 1865. He then continues as follows, charging that Mr. Stanton's action in this matter caused great loss to the Government:

‘Up to this time all the cotton had been carefully guarded, with orders to General Easton to ship it by the return vessels to New York for the adjudication of the nearest prize court, accompanied with invoices and all evidence [199] of title to ownership. Marks, numbers, and other figures were carefully preserved on the bales, so that the court might know the history of each bale. But Mr. Stanton, who surely was an able lawyer, changed all this, and ordered the obliteration of all the marks, so that no man, friend or foe, could trace his identical cotton. I thought it strange at the time, and think it more so now, for I am assured that claims real and fictitious have been proved up against this identical cotton of three times the quantity actually captured, and that reclamations on the Treasury have been allowed for more than the actual quantity captured, viz., thirty-one thousand bales.’

Here General Sherman, once a practicing attorney, forgot both his law and the facts, for cotton thus captured would not fall within the jurisdiction of a prize court, and the records show that what he charges upon Mr. Stanton never occurred.

As there were nearly forty thousand bales of this cotton, in view of the high price then prevailing and the necessities of the Treasury, the proper care and handling of this most valuable capture were matters of the greatest importance to the Government. That Mr. Stanton was fully aware of all this, that he caused the business to be promptly and properly attended to, and that every reflection made upon him by General Sherman in the above extract is utterly unfounded, will now be made to appear.

Secretary Stanton's first dispatch, upon learning of the capture of Savannah, related to the care of this cotton, and a copy of it was immediately sent to General Sherman and its receipt acknowledged by him. It was as follows:

War Department, Washington, December 26, 1864.
Lieutenant-General Grant, City Point.
I wish you a merry Christmas if not too late, and thank you for the Savannah news. It is a sore disappointment that Hardee was able to get off his fifteen thousand from Sherman's sixty thousand. It looks like protracting the war while their armies continue to escape. I hope you will give immediate instructions to seize and hold the cotton. All sorts of schemes will be got up to hold it under sham titles of British and other private claimants. They should all be disregarded; and it ought not to be turned over to any Treasury agent, but held by the military authorities until a special order of the department is given for the transfer. Thomas has been nominated for Major-General.

Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War.


The part relating to cotton was sent by General Grant to General Sherman, and was thus answered by the latter:

headquarters Military division of the Mississippi, in the field, Savannah, Ga., January 2, 1865.
Hon. E. M. Stanton, Secretary of War, Washington, D. C.
I have just received from Lieutenant-General Grant a copy of that part of your telegram to him of December 26th relating to cotton, a copy of which has been immediately furnished to General Easton, Chief Quartermaster, who will be strictly governed by it.

I had already been approached by all the consuls and half the people of Savannah on this cotton question, and my invariable answer was that all the cotton in Savannah was prize of war, belonged to the United States, and nobody should recover a bale of it with my consent; that, as cotton had been one of the chief causes of this war, it should have to pay its expenses; that all cotton became tainted with treason from the hour the first act of hostility was committed against the United States some time in December, 1860, and that no bill of sale subsequent to that date could convey title.

My orders were that an officer of the Quartermaster's Department, United States Army, might furnish the holder, agent, or attorney a mere certificate of the fact of seizure, with description of the bales, marks, etc., the cotton then to be turned over to the agent of the Treasury Department to be shipped to New York for sale. But since the receipt of your dispatch I have ordered General Easton to make the shipment himself to the quartermaster at New York, where you can dispose of it at pleasure. I do not think the Treasury Department ought to bother itself with the prizes as captures of war.

W. T. Sherman, Major-General.

Soon after Mr. Stanton reached Savannah, and his first order there in regard to the cotton was this:

War Department, Savannah, Ga., January 12, 1865.
Brevet Major-General Meigs, Quartermaster-General U. S. A., Savannah, Ga.
Sir: The Secretary of War directs that you assume the charge of the captured cotton in this city, and provide for its proper care and preservation until further orders.

You will consider yourself charged with the duty of having sufficient guards and precautions for its security, and will apply to the commanding general for any force required.

You will also detail a competent quartermaster for the special duty of seeing to its being turned over and receipted for by the agents of the Treasury Department.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

E. D. Townsend, Assistant Adjutant-General.


In pursuance of this order General Meigs, then in Savannah, issued the following:

[special orders, no. 1.]

Savannah, Ga., January 12, 1865.
The Secretary of War having directed the Quartermaster-General to assume the charge of the captured cotton in this city and provide for its proper care and preservation, and to detail a competent quartermaster for the special duty of seeing to its being turned over and receipted for by the agents of the Treasury Department, Lieutenant-Colonel H. C. Ransom is hereby detailed for this duty.

Brevet Brigadier-General L. C. Easton will place Lieutenant-Colonel Ransom in charge of all the cotton in his possession.

Lieutenant-Colonel Ransom will immediately make a careful inspection of the stores containing the captured cotton, and will make requisition for guards sufficient to prevent all danger of unauthorized persons entering the storehouses or meddling with the cotton.

No person not in the employment of the United States will be permitted to enter into or to loiter about the neighborhood of the buildings.

He will afford every facility for the operations of the Treasury agent, Simeon Draper, collector of the port of New York, who is charged by the Treasury Department with the care and disposition of this captured property.

He will employ competent clerks to attend to the weighing of each bale, who will keep an accurate register of the number and weight of each bale, and will take duplicate receipts in detail from the special agent of the Treasury Department before allowing any of it to leave the harbor. He will forward one copy of these receipts to the Quartermaster-General's office in Washington by the first mail after their execution.

The other copy and the books and all papers containing the records of this business he will himself carry in person to Washington, and will deliver them to the Quartermaster-General.

For the cotton already stored on board vessels, he will take receipts in detail from the special agent, based upon the accounts and invoices of this property prepared by Captain George B. Cadwallader, heretofore in charge of this duty.

In default of such receipts he will order the vessels to proceed to New York, invoicing the cotton to Brevet Brigadier-General Van Vliet, Chief Quartermaster, forwarding with the bills of lading an official copy of this order.

General Van Vliet will transfer the cotton in this case to the special agent of the Treasury in New York, upon receiving such receipts as are herein prescribed.

Lieutenant-Colonel Ransom will collect and register all the information offered to him of claims to the former ownership of this cotton. He will take this information with him to Washington, but will give copies or extracts from it to no one in Savannah but the Quartermaster-General. [202]

The utmost vigilance will be exercised by Colonel Ransom in the execution of this important trust committed to him. He will himself visit the guards, and the presses and storehouses continually. He will see that no fires are lighted near the storehouses, or in the open streets or squares surrounding them. He will report to the officer commanding the guards all neglect or inattention on the part of the guards, and if this does not immediately produce a reform he will report the facts to the commanding officer of the post of Savannah. * * * *

Lieutenant-Colonel Ransom will confer freely with the special agent of the Treasury Department, and will call for such military assistance as may be necessary to discover and place him in possession of all the cotton in the city of Savannah, or within the lines occupied by its garrison. It is all prize of war. * * * *

M. C. Meigs, Quartermaster-General, Brevet Major-General.

Next, in order that there might be no mistake in regard to the responsibility of the various parties charged with these duties, the following memorandum was drawn up, signed, and put on record:

office of the General Agency for captured and abandoned property, Savannah, Ga.
1. Cotton captured in Savannah, that is, all the cotton within the military post of Savannah and its defenses, has been taken possession of and is now held by the Quartermaster-General, under the order of the Secretary of War.

2. The Quartermaster-General has also, under the order of the Secretary of War, detailed Lieutenant-Colonel Ransom, of the Quartermaster Department, to take charge of the cotton personally, to cause it to be weighed and a careful and accurate account to be taken and recorded.

To exclude all persons not employed by the United States and needed in this operation from the warehouses and docks and their vicinity.

To transfer the cotton to the special agent of the Treasury Department, taking duplicate receipts therefor in detail, said receipts specifying the number and weight of every bale thus transferred to the special agent of the Treasury Department.

To allow none of the cotton to leave the harbor until said receipts are given to him by the agent aforesaid. * * * *

4. The original instructions of the Secretary of the Treasury of 28th December, 1864, designated Simeon Draper, Esq., as the special agent to take charge of the captured cotton, and to give receipts therefor as provided by law.

The instructions of the. 7th January to Albert G. Browne, special agent, communicated also to Simeon Draper, Esq., direct that Mr. Browne shall receive from the military authorities who are in possession of the cotton, [203] and give receipts therefor in the form prescribed by the Treasury regulations. * * * *

M. C. Meigs, Q. M. Gen., Brevet Major-Gen. U. S. A. Albert G. Browne, Supervising Special Ag't Treas. Dep't. S. Draper, Treasury Agent. S. H. Kauffman.

In addition to the above, Mr. Draper carried special instructions from Secretary Fessenden, and approved by the President, for his ‘government in the examination of marks and numbers, former ownership, as near as it can be ascertained, and its shipment.’

Among many other details these instructions provided that:

The marks and numbers must be carefully recorded, not only such as are complete, but also such as have been in part obliterated, as nearly as can be ascertained.

‘These directions you will cause to be carefully observed, that the records may be complete in regard to any bales, or package, or number of packages, belonging to the same lot, so that any package or lot, or the proceeds thereof, may be clearly identified should any question in relation thereto hereafter be brought before the Court of Claims.’

These various extracts from the open records are quite sufficient to show that, so far from ordering any marks obliterated, directions were given to have the greatest care exercised to obtain a full record of them. The single paragraph in the order given by Mr. Stanton, directing all receipts to be given in the form prescribed by the Treasury regulations, insured the preservation of every mark.

As a matter of fact, the records in Washington which relate to this cotton are very complete. Every bale captured was fully and carefully registered, and the military officers in charge received and filed a receipt from the Treasury agents for every pound of it. These receipts are on file in the War Department and in the Treasury, and accessible to all who desire information, and they have been constantly consulted by counsel of the United States and of claimants in all cases yet tried or prepared for trial. In a few instances, in [204] repressing and repairing torn covering, some of the marks were unavoidably defaced.

The officers charged with preserving all means of identification, employed a force of citizen clerks, who had long been engaged in the cotton warehouses of Savannah, to superintend the re-pressing and shipping of the cotton, and they selected the books and blanks in common use for this purpose, and copied into and upon these all marks by which the merchants of Savannah and the shippers from that port had been accustomed to insure the perfect identification of cotton.

Aside from the records thus made, and forwarded afterward to Washington, there existed in each of the great cotton warehouses of Savannah a full record and description of each bale on hand when General Sherman's army took possession of the city, and these have been accessible to all interested.

Of the existence and completeness of the records here, General Sherman could have satisfied himself in a very few moments on any occasion. He could have ascertained all the above facts any day, and in less time than it must have taken him to compile the page of errors concerning the matter which his book contains.

If these records had been filed away among the musty documents pertaining to the war, there would have been a slight show of excuse for General Sherman; but what shall be said for him in view of the fact that he wrote thus recklessly about Secretary Stanton, with these records open to all men, in the War Department, with duplicates of them in the Treasury, in the Court of Claims, and in the printed files of Congress. They are records of the most public character. They have been consulted by the parties to every suit in which this cotton was involved. The War Department had furnished transcripts of the marks for seventy-seven cases to the Court of Claims, and the Government had printed them. Congress had called on the War Department for the entire record, embracing all the orders and directions which were given, and the receipts in full taken by Colonel Ransom, setting forth all [205] the marks collected by the officers detailed for the duty by Mr. Stanton's order, and had printed the whole of it, and furnished copies to the War Department, and the completed history of the matter was at Sherman's elbow in the very building where he wrote.

The statement of the Memoirs that the Treasury Department has allowed claims for more than the total amount of cotton captured, and that claims have been proved up amounting to three times the whole capture, is without the least foundation.

The following is a statement prepared at the Treasury Department in regard to this Savannah cotton:

The Treasury Department has not passed upon a single claim for cotton captured at Savannah, nor has it paid out a dollar on such claims, except upon judgments of the Court of Claims, under the act of March 12th, 1863.

The following is a statement of the proceeds of said cotton and the claims therefor:

No. bales sold at New York 39,358
No. bales allowed by Court of Claims31,657
No. bales claimed in cases pending in Court of Claims4,901
Net proceeds paid into Treasury$7,259,499 78
Amount allowed by the Court of Claims5,873,159 90
$1,386,339 88
Proceeds claimed in pending cases, 865,678 26
$520,661 62

‘If all pending claims are allowed there will remain two thousand eight hundred bales which are unclaimed, and a balance of $520,661 62 in the Treasury.’

And now it will be interesting, in view of the severe though unjust strictures in which General Sherman indulges upon Mr. Stanton, to see what kind of orders Sherman gave looking to the preservation of the marks upon this cotton, when it was passing from his possession into the hands of the Treasury Department. He had previously preserved the marks, but on transferring it, directed the receipt to be taken in gross. This is the order:

[special field orders no. 10.]

headquarters Military division of the Mississippi, in the field, Savannah, Ga., January 12, 1865.
1. Brevet Brigadier-General Easton, Chief Quartermaster, will turn over [206] to Simeon Draper, Esq., agent of the United States Treasury Department, all cotton now in the city of Savannah, prize of war, taking his receipt for the same in gross, and returning for it to the Quartermaster-General. * * *

By order of General W. T. Sherman.

L. M. Dayton, Aide-de-Camp.

And so it appears that General Sherman's transfer called only for a receipt in gross, and that Mr. Stanton's orders alone secured the full record with which the Government has protected itself against fictitious claims.

There is another instance in which General Sherman attempts, with as little reason and success, to be severe upon Mr. Stanton, which may properly be presented in this connection.

In the second bulletin which the Secretary of War published on April 27th, concerning General Sherman's arrangements with General Johnston, the following paragraphs appeared from a dispatch of General Halleck's, dated Richmond, April 26th, 9:30 P. M.:

The bankers here have information to-day that Jeff. Davis' specie is moving south from Goldsboro, in wagons, as fast as possible. * * * *

‘The specie taken with them is estimated here at from six to thirteen million dollars.’

Commenting upon these paragraphs, General Sherman says:

The assertion that Jeff. Davis' specie train, of six to thirteen million dollars was reported to be moving south from Goldsboro in wagons as fast as possible, found plenty of willing ears, though my army of eighty thousand men had been at Goldsboro from March 22d to the date of his dispatch, April 26th; and such a train would have been composed of from fifteen to thirty-two six-mule teams to have hauled this specie, even if it all were in gold. I suppose the exact amount of treasure which Davis had with him is now known to a cent; some of it was paid to his escort when it disbanded at and near Washington, Georgia, and at the time of his capture he had a small parcel of gold and silver coin, not to exceed ten thousand dollars, which is now retained in the United States Treasury vault at Washington, and shown to the curious.

‘The thirteen millions of treasure with which Jeff. Davis was to corrupt our armies and buy his escape, dwindled down to the contents of a hand valise! To say that I was merely angry at the tone and substance of these published bulletins of the War Department, would hardly express the state of my [207] feelings. I was outraged beyond measure, and was resolved to resent the insult, cost what it might.’

This ridicule of Halleck is based upon a perfectly evident misprint of ‘Goldsboro’ for ‘Greensboro’ in transmitting Halleck's dispatch of the 26th April, as it was through the latter place the rebel Cabinet passed.

How little reason he had for this outburst upon the question of Jeff. Davis' gold, will appear from the fact that the day before this telegram of Halleck's was written, General Sherman had himself telegraphed substantially the same thing to Admiral Dahlgren, and also to General Gillmore. The following is Sherman's gold dispatch:

Raleigh, N. C., April 25, 1865.
Major-General G. A. Gillmore, Commanding Department of the South, and Real-Admiral John A. Dahlgren, Commanding S. A. B. Squadron.
I expect Johnston will surrender his army. We have had much negotiation, and things are settling down to the terms of Lee's army. Jeff. Davis and his Cabinet, with considerable specie, is making his way toward Cuba. He passed Charlotte, going south, on the 23d, and I think he will try to reach the Florida coast either at Cedar Keys or lower down. It would be well to catch him. Can't you watch the East coast, and send word round to the West coast?

W. T. Sherman, Major-General.

The facts presented from the records in this chapter, are quite sufficient to show the totally unreliable character of what the General of the army has written reflecting upon the great War Secretary.

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