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Dear Brother: . . . We have several posts of the Grand Army here, one of which, Frank Blair Post Xo 1. invited me to assist in the dedication of their new hall. I could not well decline, and attended. The hall was well filled, but it is against the customs and rules for reporters to be present. I saw none, but there must have been two at least who reported what little I had to say differently. Still my speech was most imperfect and condensed, emphasizing what I said of Jeff. Davis, and induced somewhat by the regular speaker of the evening, who preceded me.
I congratulated them upon having secured so good a hall in so good a neighborhood; said that I was glad to see the interest manifested ; that it was well for old soldiers thus to meet to interchange the memories of the war, and to impress its lessons on the rising generation; that I noticed a tendency to gloss over the old names and facts; that it was not a "war among the States," a war of "secession," but a "conspiracy" up to the firing on Sumter, and a "Rebellion" afterwards; that, whilst in Louisiana long before Mr. Lincoln was inaugurated, I saw evidences of the "conspiracy," among them the letter written in January by Slidell and Benjamin, then United States Senators under the oath, written on paper dated "United States Senate," etc., addressed to T. 0. Moore, Governor of Louisiana, to seize the United States Arsenal at Baton Kouge ; that afterwards, during the progress of the war, I had seen letters of Mr. Davis a chest full at Jackson, Miss., sent to Washington proving such " conspiracy, " and subsequently I had seen a letter of Mr. Davis showing that he was not sincere in his doctrine of secession, for when some of the States of the Confederacy, in 1865, talked of " separate State action," another name for " secession," he, as President of the Confederacy, would resist it, even if he had to turn Lee's army against it. I did see such a letter, or its copy, in a captured letter-book at Ealeigh, just about as the war was closing.
Mr. Davis, in a card addressed to the " Republican " of this city, published by it and generally copied, pronounced this false, calls on me to produce the identical letter, or to stand convicted of being a slanderer. Of course I cannot for an instant allow Mr. Davis to call on me for any specific document, or to enter up judgment on the statement of a newspaper. Still, I believe the truth of my statement can be established. I will not answer Mr. Davis direct, nor will I publish anything over my signature, but I will collect evidence to make good my statement. The particular letter shown me at Raleigh may be in the public archives at Washington, as I am sure that the box or chest was sent from Jackson, Miss. ; but I apprehend that the papers gathered at Fayetteville, Raleigh, and Chapel Hill University were of those taken in hand by my two adjutants, Generals Sawyer and Rochester, brought to St. Louis, assorted and arranged as part of the records of the "Division of the Missouri," and sent to Chicago at the time General Sheridan relieved me. These records were consumed in the great fire of Chicago, 1871, but of the existence of such a letter I have not a particle of doubt. Of course I cannot recall the words, but the general purport was such as to recall to my mind the old fable of the Farmer and the Ox: "It makes all the difference in the world whether your bull gores my ox or mine yours."
I have made some inquiries of Col. R. N. Scott, in charge of the Rebellion Records, Union and Confederate, and if the correspondence between Mr. Davis and the State Governors is among these records, Mr. Davis will have his letter. I am not the custodian of the records of the war, which fill many buildings in Washington. As to Davis' opinions at that date, January and February, 1865, I can, I think, obtain secondary proof, being promised an original letter from Thad. Stevens 1 to Herschel V. Johnson, captured and still retained by a sergeant in the Union Army.
As to the "conspiracy," the proof is overwhelming. As to Davis' opinions in the winter of 1864-65, I am equally satisfied, but may not be able to prove by his own handwriting. . . .
- William Sherman