Extract from the Autobiography of Thomas Jefferson Coolidge


During this year the war continued in all its force, but we were gradually breaking down the Confederate strength and preparing for their surrender in April, 1865. The financial condition of the country became appalling, gold reaching at one time two hundred and seventy-six, and the English bank rate standing at nine and one-half, but with that was united the greatest extravagance everywhere and in everything, and the firmest determination to see the war out unto the final extermination of slavery. The capture of Fort Pillow in April, and the murder in cold blood of three hundred negroes who surrendered, excited justly the indignation of the whole country. Grant pressed Lee in Virginia with a total disregard of life, so that when the campaign was ended we had probably lost seventy thousand men. The Confederate loss was enormous, though not equal to ours; but the attrition on both sides ended, of course, in the destruction of the least numerous battalions. In September Sherman took Atlanta and started across the South for Savannah, and Farragut gained immortal fame by destroying the enemy’s fleet and taking the Mobile forts. Sheridan defeated Early in the valley of Virginia, and all these victories led to the reëlection of Lincoln by immense majorities November 8, 1864. The greatest victory of the whole war was gained by Thomas at Nashville and resulted in the complete destruction of Hood’s army. . . .

. . . At a dinner, we had Major Anderson, who was on Foster’s staff. He was sent by his chief to give Sherman any information he might want about roads and rivers in North Carolina. He found, however, that the general knew more than he did. The Western army was full of spirits and had some contempt for the Army of the Potomac, which had always been beaten, while they had universally succeeded. The discipline was lax, the officers being on familiar terms with their men. At a review the privates would cry out to Sherman, “Uncle Billy, ain’t you going to give us a change of base?” Sherman was an immense talker and easily influenced by women. When in Savannah the clergymen asked him if they should preach on Sunday. “Yes,” said he, “I want all the churches run tomorrow and I will assure you an attentive audience.” “But,” said one of them, “we have instructions from the Bishop to pray for Jefferson Davis.” “I should advise you,” answered the general, “not to do so in public, as my troops might take offence; but when you get home, pray for him with all your heart and for the devil too. They need prayers more than any persons I know.”

As Foster was making his way up the Ogeechee he met three or four dug-outs filled with Northern troops. The major stepped on deck and hailed them. “Who are you?” “Sherman’s foragers. Who are you?” “This is Major-General Foster’s staff boat.” “Damn Major-General Foster and his boat. We have a hundred major-generals in the army and no hardtack.”

The foragers of Sherman’s army in his great campaign from Atlanta consisted of picked men from each regiment. It was considered an honourable service and any cowardice or fault was punished by sending the guilty party back to his regiment. They were ordered to go ten and twenty miles on each side, never to give way but to fight any militia they met. Ten were always to go together; whenever they heard shots they were to rally to the sound. This was done so well that General Howard, wishing to get some pigs that were too wild to be caught, had them shot, and within half an hour the few guns that were fired brought three to four hundred foragers around the farmyard.

Sherman relied much on General Jeff C. Davis and Logan. He told many stories of them. At councils of war they were always opposing what he suggested, but when it came to fighting he found they did it all. They were both proslavery Democrats. Logan stumped Illinois for Lincoln at the last election. His principal argument was, “Come in, fill up the armies, and you can have all the lands.” His disgust was great when the Sea Islands were given to the negroes. He considered the finest lands in the country as justly belonging to his white men. Sherman says he has no black Republicans in his army, meaning negroes.

Published in The Autobiography of T. Jefferson Coolidge, 1831–1920 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1923), 45–9.
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Thomas Jefferson Coolidge
Date Range
January 1, 1864 to December 31, 1864
Autobiography of T. Jefferson Coolidge