The Torture of the Mind:
Gen. Sherman's 1888 Address
The following rambling address was given by Gen. William T. Sherman at Kingston, NY in February, 1888. These unprepared remarks offer interesting insight into the thoughts of the man who coined the phrase "War is Hell".
Gen. William T. Sherman
“My friends, who live in the shadow of the Catskill Mountains, with old Rip Van Winkle, I suppose, still alive somewhere. I want you to understand that I am about as old as Rip Van Winkle when he was discovered. I want to play the modest part, and not be heard. I have but little to say to you tonight. Not one word of note, no preparation.
I have never been in Kingston before, save in a train whirling by, though I may have stopped at your landing in years gone by, for I was up the Hudson River fifty years ago, and almost annually ever since. I never was impressed more with the beauty of the scenery from New York City to Kingston than today, coming in mid-winter, the hills covered with snow, and yet the rocks bearing evidence of a mighty upheaval which once tore and rent a pathway for the Hudson River to the sea.
As I look over this great sea of faces I wonder why you have come - I suppose you expected your old “Uncle Billy”, as they used to call me, to say something smart or tart, or something new. There is very little new to be said about our Civil War. Each and every regiment has its history. Each and man in that regiment has his history, and let any one of these men tell the tale just as he saw it, in the broad daylight, and it will please you far more than for me to go over the hackneyed things of the past.
You who came here to look upon us who were actors in the drama of war see that we are not one who is better than you are. We are made of the same flesh and blood; and every boy who looks upon any of these old soldiers may rest assured he can be, if he chooses, and keeps his heart pure and simple, as great a man as Grant or Sheridan or Sherman, or any of them. We were simple men trying to do the best we knew how, we were scared at the time, but we had sense enough to go ahead, and if you go ahead, and keep going ahead, you will come out somewhere. The road may be long and tortuous, but with intelligence, if the object is noble, you will attain a noble end. If it be glorious, you will attain a glorious end.
I hope and pray no one in this audience will ever be subjected to the tortures we were in 1861. I assure you, the torture of the mind when the south seceded, was to me ten-fold as painful as the bloodiest field of battle over which I rode. The torture of the mind in the contemplation of what was to be, which we could not avoid, was infinitely more painful than of seeing cannon, going over live bodies, and hearing their bones crush like chicken bones under the wheels. I have seen these things. I have slept with a dead man for a pillow. I have seen men buried like sardines in a box. We became used to that.
Men who today turn pale if their child is lanced, to be bled, were utterly unfeeling in the midst of carnage and blood. You can easily be trained to the same end, but escape if you can the tortures of the mind, the agony in thinking that the country you love, the country you adore, is about to commit the awful crime of civil war.