Friday, February 1, 2013

February 2, 1863 (Monday): "A Spy and Infamous Dog"

Thomas W. Knox, New York Herald

CAMP NEAR VICKSBURG, February 2, 1863.
Brigadier General F. P. BLAIR:
    DEAR SIR: Yours of last evening, handed me in person at your headquarters, was carefully perused on my reaching my room, and I express my satisfaction at the full and frank answers you have made to my interrogatories. Whether under similar circumstances next time you will answer in an equally friendly spirit need not now arrest my thoughts, as I do not expect there will be a next time; or, if, so should I ask you fair, plain, direct questions again under similar circumstances, I believe you will give equally fair and plain answers.
    I am willing to admit that I do owe you an explanation of the reason why after your full and frank disclaimers in the presence of Generals Steele and Stuart I should renew the subject. I could hardly believe that a white man could be so false as this fellow Knox. He certainly came down in the Continental, on which for a month you and Steele had your headquarters. He dated his paper there and eulogized every officer and man of that division and did not even attempt to approach the truth as to anybody else; did not know or care to know that Burbridge commanded the expedition from Miliken's Bend, ignoring General A. J. Smith, or spoke of him as "frittering away his time," &c., and indeed abused everybody but the officers of the Fourth Division. Officers of the other three divisions could and had come to but one conclusion, that he was in your pay or favor. I now know otherwise, and am glad that your letter enables me to put the fellow where he really belongs, as a spy and infamous dog. I shall show and read your letter to Dr. McMillan, Colonel Smith, and others, that their minds may be disabused on the same point.

    At a very early period I took ground that such men were spies. Take this case of Knox. He published in New York the first account of our attempt on Vicksburg, and now to my face tells me if he (Knox) cannot get at the truth he must publish falsehood. In other words, a commander, in addition to his already manifold labors, must unfold to every correspondent (for a distinction would surely be unfair) his orders, plans, and the developments. Knox has published his article as coming from a division headquarters. This publication is now in Vicksburg, and its commander can tell within 1,000 men our present force; but worse yet for cause-Van Dorn now is at Holly Springs en route northward, knows our force and the chances of Vicksburg are against us, and in full confidence goes on his work regaining ground we have fought for several times. I do know that the day will come when every officer will demand the execution of this class of spies; and without further hesitation I declare that if I forced to look to the New York Herald as my law and master instead of the constituted authorities of the United States my military career is at an end.
    If it be so that the people of the United States demand and must have news, true, if possible, but still news, their condition is likened to that of the drunkard, whose natural tastes have become so vitiated that nought but brandy satisfy them, and they must pay the penalty. I for one am willing no longer to tamely bear their misrepresentations and infamies, and shall treat Knox and all others of his type as spies and defamers.
     I am, with respect, your friend,

    W. T. SHERMAN,

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 17, Part 2, Pages 587-588.

Sherman and the press were not a happy marriage.  Correspondents like Thomas Knox of the New York Herald were not hesitant to push the envelope to obtain and publish all the information and speculation they could come across by whatever means.  Sherman was volatile and his writings expose a mentality which tapped danced along the line between genius and eccentricity.  He was quick to find conspiracy where it did not exist, harbored all minor of bias', and was sensitive to perceived slights.


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