Posted by: Democratic Thinker | December 14, 2009

Sheridan: IG Investigation

American Correspondence

During the Indian Wars, General William T. Sherman asks General Philip H. Sheridan to reply to an Inspecter General’s report.

During the war, did any one hesitate to attack a village or town occupied by the enemy because women or children were within its limits? Did we cease to throw shells into Vicksburg or Atlanta because women or children were there?


March 12, 1870.

General P.H. SHERIDAN,

Com’g Military Division of the Missouri, Chicago, Illinois:

The reports of Colonel Baker and of Inspector General Hardie are received, and I have read them carefully, as also the letters of General Hancock and yourself transmitting them. I think Colonel Baker should have reported more exactly the number, sex, and kind of Indians killed; and in view of the severe strictures in Congress on this act as one of horrible cruelty to women and children, I wish you would require, by telegraph, Colonel Baker to report specifically on this point.




Chicago, Illinois, March 18, 1870.

GENERAL: The further report of Colonel Baker in reference to the punishment of the Piegan Indians has not yet been received. It seems strange that there should be such a want of knowledge of the position which army officers have to maintain in reference to Indian affairs. I have in my command at least five thousand miles of frontier settlements, my chief and only duty being to give protection to the families residing on these long lines against the outrages of Indians. The government has invited these settlers by opening the lands to them for pre-emption and improvement. The number of men, women, and children on this extended frontier is very great, and there is not a day from one year’s end to the other that these families are exempt from the fearful thought of being murdered in the most fiendish manner—the men scalped, the women ravished, and the brains of the children dashed out. When I said in a previous letter that eight hundred had met that fate since 1862, I was below the figure, and should have said twelve hundred. My duties are to protect these people. I have nothing to do with Indians but in this connection. There is scarcely a day in which I do not receive the most heart-rending appeals to save settlers from the cruel fate which may come upon them, and I am forced to the alternative of choosing whether I shall regard their appeals or allow them to be butchered in order to save myself from the hue and cry of the people who know not the Indian, and whose families have not the fear, morning, noon, and night, of being ravished and scalped by them. The wife of the man at the center of wealth, civilization, and refinement is not more dear to him than is the wife of the pioneer of the frontier. I have no hesitation in making my choice. I am going to stand by the people over whom I am placed and give them what protection I can. We have not the troops to place at each man’s house to defend it, and have sometimes to take the offensive to punish for crimes already committed, in order to prevent the perpetration of others.

In taking the offensive, I have to select that season when I can catch the fiends; and if a village is attacked, and women and children killed, the responsibility is not with the soldier, but with the people whose crimes necessitate the attack. During the war, did any one hesitate to attack a village or town occupied by the enemy because women or children were within its limits? Did we cease to throw shells into Vicksburg or Atlanta because women or children were there? If the women and children were saved in these places, it was because they had cellars to go into; and should any of the women and children of the Piegans have lost their lives, I sincerely regret that they had not similar places of refuge, though I doubt if they would have availed themselves of them, for they fight with more fury than the men. The soldiers do not want to kill Indians. After long years of Indian frontier service, I am satisfied that they are the only good, practical friends the Indians have. We cannot avoid being abused by one side or the other. If we allow the defenseless people on the frontier to be scalped and ravished, we are burnt in effigy and execrated as soulless monsters, insensible to the sufferings of humanity. If the Indian is punished to give security to these people, we are the same soulless monsters from the other side. This is a bad predicament to be in; but, as I have said, I have made my choice, and I am going to stand by the people the government has placed me here to protect.

The reservation is the last ditch to the wild Indian, but to get him there he must be forced on by the troops. Those who think he can be induced to go there by other means are mistaken. When on the reservation he will have to be kept there by the presence of the troops, and thus become tangible for the good work of civilization, and he can only be protected in his rights while there by the troops keeping off the emigrants who encroach on his land. All these points are practically exhibited each year. The Cheyennes, Arapahoes, Comanches, Kiowas, and Apaches have just been forced on by the troops. During the last year, as soon as I withdrew the troops from the Sac and Fox reservation, the emigrants took possession. A flood of immigration, almost ten thousand strong, moved in solid mass and occupied the Osage reservation, because there were no troops to keep them off. All the other reservations on which the Indians may yet be placed will be lost in the same manner, unless guarded by the military.
Yours truly,

Lieutenant General.

General W.T. SHERMAN,
Commanding United States Army, Washington, D. C.