May 24, 1865: Grand Review-Sherman’s Army

 

 

The day after the Army of the Potomac marched in final review through Washington, it was the turn of the 65,000 men of Sherman’s Army of Georgia.  Sherman was afraid that his weathered Westerners would make a poor showing in comparison to the spit and polish Army of the Potomac.

There had long been a keen rivalry between the Union troops in the East and the Union troops in the West.  The troops in the West thought the Army of the Potomac got all of the publicity while the troops in the West were winning the War.  The informal Westerners derided the Easterners as “paper collar” toy soldiers.  The Army of the Potomac tended to look upon the Western troops as uncouth barbarians, more armed mobs than armies, and men who won victories against second rate Confederate troops and generals while they did battle with Robert E. Lee and his first team of the Army of Northern Virginia.

There was no way Sherman’s men were going to let Uncle Billy down and let the Army of the Potomac show them up.  When they stepped off their uniforms were clean and repaired and they marched as if they had spent the War doing formal dress parades.  Sherman was immensely pleased:

 

During the afternoon and night of the 23d, the Fifteenth, Seventeenth, and Twentieth Corps, crossed Long Bridge, bivouacked in the streets about the Capitol, and the Fourteenth Corps closed up to the bridge. The morning of the 24th was extremely beautiful, and the ground was in splendid order for our review. The streets were filled with people to see the pageant, armed with bouquets of flowers for their favorite regiments or heroes, and every thing was propitious. Punctually at 9 A.M. the signal-gun was fired, when in person, attended by General Howard and all my staff, I rode slowly down Pennsylvania Avenue, the crowds of men, women, and children, densely lining the sidewalks, and almost obstructing the way. We were followed close by General Logan and the head of the Fifteenth Corps. When I reached the Treasury-building, and looked back, the sight was simply magnificent. The column was compact, and the glittering muskets looked like a solid mass of steel, moving with the regularity of a pendulum. We passed the Treasury building, in front of which and of the White House was an immense throng of people, for whom extensive stands had been prepared on both sides of the avenue. As I neared the brick-house opposite the lower corner of Lafayette Square, some one asked me to notice Mr. Seward, who, still feeble and bandaged for his wounds, had been removed there that he might behold the troops. I moved in that direction and took off my hat to Mr. Seward, who sat at an upper window. He recognized the salute, returned it, and then we rode on steadily past the President, saluting with our swords. All on his stand arose and acknowledged the salute. Then, turning into the gate of the presidential grounds, we left our horses with orderlies, and went upon the stand, where I found Mrs. Sherman, with her father and son. Passing them, I shook hands with the President, General Grant, and each member of the cabinet. As I approached Mr. Stanton, he offered me his hand, but I declined it publicly, and the fact was universally noticed. I then took my post on the left of the President, and for six hours and a half stood, while the army passed in the order of the Fifteenth, Seventeenth, Twentieth, and Fourteenth Corps. It was, in my judgment, the most magnificent army in existence–sixty-five thousand men, in splendid physique, who had just completed a march of nearly two thousand miles in a hostile country, in good drill, and who realized that they were being closely scrutinized by thousands of their fellow-countrymen and by foreigners. Division after division passed, each commander of an army corps or division coming on the stand during the passage of his command, to be presented to the President, cabinet, and spectators. The steadiness and firmness of the tread, the careful dress on the guides, the uniform intervals between the companies, all eyes directly to the front, and the tattered and bullet-ridden flags, festooned with flowers, all attracted universal notice. Many good people, up to that time, had looked upon our Western army as a sort of mob; but the world then saw, and recognized the fact, that it was an army in the proper sense, well organized, well commanded and disciplined; and there was no wonder that it had swept through the South like a tornado. For six hours and a half that strong tread of the Army of the West resounded along Pennsylvania Avenue; not a soul of that vast crowd of spectators left his place; and, when the rear of the column had passed by, thousands of the spectators still lingered to express their sense of confidence in the strength of a Government which could claim such an army.

Some little scenes enlivened the day, and called for the laughter and cheers of the crowd. Each division was followed by six ambulances, as a representative of its baggage-train. Some of the division commanders had added, by way of variety, goats, milch-cows, and pack-mules, whose loads consisted of game-cocks, poultry, hams, etc., and some of them had the families of freed slaves along, with the women leading their children. Each division was preceded by its corps of black pioneers, armed with picks and spades. These marched abreast in double ranks, keeping perfect dress and step, and added much to the interest of the occasion. On the whole, the grand review was a splendid success, and was a fitting conclusion to the campaign and the war.

If the shade of General Sherman should read this blog post I must apologize for the song at the beginning of this post.  It became associated with Sherman and was played whenever he appeared at any event and he grew to cordially loathe it.  He eventually had placed in his speaking contracts a provision that the song was not to be played in his presence.  Sherman noted that if he had known that Marching Through Georgia would result from his March to the Sea, he would have found a way to go around the state!

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2 Comments

  1. It is clear from this passage that Sherman appreciated his men and cared for them. Now soldiers always know when a commander cares for them, and often that makes all the difference. When they do, they will go to Hell and back for him. Every time you can point to a really amazing performance by a body of troops, it was because they had a commander they believed in. No wonder that sixty thousand men followed him into what must have seemed, at the start, a crazy gamble into the deepest of enemy territory.

    • Troops don’t ask much: feed me, make sure I am paid and if I have to die make sure I wasn’t wasted foolishly. Uncle Billy was pretty good at all three except for Kennesaw Mountain where the attack was foolish. Sherman learned from this however. He rarely repeated the same mistake twice.


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