Skip to main content
Go to accessibility notice


    William T. Sherman foresees the beginning of the Civil War in 1860 "because Lincoln is elected"

    William Tecumseh Sherman Autograph Letter Signed "W. T. Sherman." Four ruled pages of a bifolium, 7.5" x 9.75", Alexandria [Louisiana], November 18, 1860, on letterhead reading "Louisiana State Seminary of Learning and Military Academy." In this uneasy letter, Sherman, the superintendent of the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning & Military Academy, writes in alarmed tones to an unnamed recipient ("My Dear Friend") who had been travelling in the South. Sherman is alarmed by the possibility that South Carolina and other Southern States may "act foolishly" and withdraw from the Union because Abraham Lincoln has been elected. Secession would, he emphasizes, be "suicide" for the South. He is most concerned, though, for his family and refuses to bring them South. He also comments on the shaky ground that Louisiana ("Creole") planters stand on if war is begun, suggesting that the greatest fear of Southerners would be realized: that slaves will rebel against their masters. "Here in Rapides [Parish] . . . the physical power of the Negro is as 20 to 1. And though I do not see any sign of mischief, yet I do see signs of uneasiness among the whites." The ink of the text and signature are very bold. Only minor soiling. Archival repairs to two folds. The letter reads in part:

    "You have been traveling this summer in the Southern States. My route lay mostly through the Northern and Middle. You must have seen many Southern people not Politicians, and I would like to know your opinions about what South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama & N. Carolina are going to do because Lincoln is elected. Can it be possible . . . that States are going to attempt Secession? I remember well the feeling in S. Carolina, but it looks like Quixotisms in her, to withdraw from a federation of States, which is not & cannot be a mere loose pack out of which one may fall without pulling down the whole. At present some admit Lincoln to be hostile to Slavery, which his friends deny, save as to its extension over Territories such as New Mexico, Rocky Mountains &c &c where his Gentleman would soon take a Slave as any thing else worth having. Can it be possible that the thousands who do own slaves, are going to Emperil the whole by provoking Civil War? The papers received last night have alarmed me, simply because the time has just come for me to send for my family, my house being near completion, and I had in my mind already begun the movement of bringing them all down and keeping them in advance at much cost. But of course if we care to begin a Civil War, or even if S. Carolina is to act foolishly and Southern States feel bound to stand by her, I will not incur the Expense or risk my family by bringing them South. You must know, I do know it, that the Creole Planters, some at least don't manage their Slaves well, either to protect them or to keep them Subordinated; and if Civil War will begin, if the Negroes arise do suppose the power of their owners is shaken by Political Events, who can stay the Storm. Here in Rapides [Parish] . . . the physical power of the Negro is as 20 to 1. And though I do not see any sign of mischief, yet I do see signs of uneasiness among the whites, ladies especially. Yesterday Cadets found a Negro concealing a pistol, powder & shot - they have since asked me to post Sentinels. . . . I argue that the South would commit suicide by Casting off the friendship of the large minority of voters North, and also a very large body who voted for Lincoln, as I know, not in hostility to Slavery, not in Enmity to the South, but in opposition to the Democratic Party, and from local reasons. Should the South Secede - or any part thereof you will have the same difficulties in the new Confederacy, for in I there will be differences in shades of opinion on which to base different interests & parties."

    Sherman had begun his tenure as the first superintendent of the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning & Military Academy (later named LSU) in 1859. He was not an abolitionist but he was opposed to the dissolution of the Union. Later in December 1860, he was still at the school when South Carolina seceded from the Union, but his family was safe up north in Ohio. As events continued to spiral out of control over the next few weeks (Louisiana seceeded in January 1861), Sherman decided to resign his position and go north. This letter includes significant pre-war political insight by one of the Union's most effective generals. Letters written by Sherman during his tenure as superintendent of the academy are scarce.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    June, 2015
    12th-13th Friday-Saturday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 9
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 1,439

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
    25% on the first $100,000 (minimum $14), plus 20% of any amount between $100,000 and $1,000,000, plus 12% of any amount over $1,000,000 per lot.

    Sold for: Sign-in or Join (free & quick)

    Heritage membership

    Join Now - It's Free

    1. Past Auction Values (prices, photos, full descriptions, etc.)
    2. Bid online
    3. Free Collector newsletter
    4. Want List with instant e-mail notifications
    5. Reduced auction commissions when you resell your
    Consign now
    • Cash Advances
    • More Bidders
    • Trusted Experts
    • Over 200,000 Satisfied Consignors Since 1976
    Consign to the 2020 June 7 Arms & Armor, Civil War & Militaria Signature Auction - Dallas.

    Learn about consigning with us

    You reach a customer base that is in many ways completely unknown to the major auction houses, and your marketing to this base is as professional as one could hope for. As I continue to wind down my holdings.
    Michael Z.,
    Hawthorne, NY
    View More Testimonials receives more traffic than any other auction house website. (Source:

    Video tutorial

    Getting the most out of search

    Recent auctions

    2019 December 14 Historic Flags of World War II Signature Auction - Dallas
    2019 December 14 Historic Flags of World War II Signature Auction - Dallas
    REALIZED $1,022,424