Of course it is difficult, if not impossible, for any military system to be devised which will counteract such plots, but it is well to be warned and authorize the necessary remedies.
I would have no hesitation in authorizing steam-boat captains who find among their crews one or more such mischievous characters to drop them overboard and let them find the bottom in their own way. Self-preservation, being a law of nature, will justify any means of prevention, and our prisons and courts should not be embarrassed by men who would resort to such means of carrying on war. It is not war, and the rules of war do not apply to such criminals, and the only question is to the proof necessary to establish a case.
I will justify any steam-boat captain that finds on board as crew or passenger a man found attempting to fire his boat or in supplying it with powder-charged coal or wood who kills him on the stop in his own way.
I am, &c.,
W. T. SHERMAN,
HDQRS. MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI,
Nashville, Tenn., April 23, 1864.
Honorable E. M. STANTON,
Secretary of War, Washington:
SIR: Pursuant to your orders two officers are now engaged in taking affidavits and collecting testimony as to the Fort Pillow affair. They are ordered to send you direct a copy of their report and one to me.
I know well the animus of the Southwern soldiery, and the truth is they cannot be restrained. The effect will be of course to make the negroes desperate, and when in turn they commit horrid acts of relation we will be relieved of the responsibility. Thus far negroes have been comparatively well behaved, and have not committed the horrid excesses and barbarities which the Southern papers so much dreaded.
I send you herewith my latest newspapers from Atlanta, of the 18th and 19th instant. In them you will find articles of interest and their own accounts of the Fort Pillow affair.
The enemy will contend that a place taken by assault is not entitled to quarter, but this rule would have justified us in an indiscriminate slaughter at Arkansas Post, Fort De Russy, and other places taken by assault. I doubt the wisdom of any fixed rule by our Government, but let soldiers affected make their rules as we progress. We will use own logic against them, as we have from the beginning of the war.
The Southern army, which is the Southern people, cares no more for our clamor than the idle wind, but they will heed the slaughter that will follow as the natural consequence of their own inhuman acts.
I am, &c.,
W. T. SHERMAN,