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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Letter: A surprise local connection in historical book

  • There are many books that were written by people who fought in the Civil War. They are usually free, or very inexpensive e-books.
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  • To the editor:
    There are many books that were written by people who fought in the Civil War. They are usually free, or very inexpensive e-books. To me, some of these are very interesting reads, are surprisingly well written, and convey a lot of great stories.
    I offer Horace Porter's "Traveling with Grant," Grant's own memoirs, and the "Diary and letters of Elisha Hunt Rhodes" as prime examples. I recently began reading the "Memoirs of General William Tecumseh Sherman." There,, I received a surprise: He had a law office in Leavenworth from 1858 into 1859, just two years before the start of the war.
    Sherman had spent years in the U.S. Army, and had served the main part of his career in California, just after the U.S. acquired it from Mexico. His adventures there are fascinating and are a terrific story by themselves. But eventually he came back East, left the army, and struck out on his own as a banker. But, the bank he worked with went under, and he found himself unemployed.
    Thus, he came to Leavenworth. He had previously visited Fort Leavenworth in 1851, on a brief army assignment to inspect cattle purchased for army use.
    Here, he tells of his time in Leavenworth in his own words:
    "Accordingly, about the 1st of September, I started for Kansas, stopping a couple of weeks in St. Louis, and reached Leavenworth. I found about two miles below the fort, on the river-bank, where in 1851 was a tangled thicket, quite a handsome and thriving city, growing rapidly in rivalry with Kansas City, and St. Joseph, Missouri. After looking about and consulting with friends, among them my classmate Major Stewart Van Vliet, quartermaster at the fort, I concluded to accept the proposition of Mr. Ewing, and accordingly the firm of Sherman & Ewing was duly announced, and our services to the public offered as attorneys-at-law.
    "We had an office on Main Street, between Shawnee and Delaware, on the second floor, over the office of Hampton Denman, Esq., mayor of the city. This building was a mere shell, and our office was reached by a stairway on the outside. Although in the course of my military reading I had studied a few of the ordinary law-books, such as Blackstone, Kent, Starkie, etc., I did not presume to be a lawyer; but our agreement was that Thomas Ewing, Jr., a good and thorough lawyer, should manage all business in the courts, while I gave attention to collections, agencies for houses and lands, and such business as my experience in banking had qualified me for. Yet, as my name was embraced in a law firm, it seemed to me proper to take out a license. Accordingly, one day when United States Judge Lecompte was in our office, I mentioned the matter to him; he told me to go down to the clerk of his court, and he would give me the license. I inquired what examination I would have to submit to, and he replied, 'None at all.' He would admit me on the ground of general intelligence.
    Page 2 of 2 - "During that summer we got our share of the business of the profession, then represented by several eminent law firms, embracing names that have since flourished in the Senate, and in the higher courts of the country. But, the most lucrative single case was given me by my friend Major Van Vliet, who employed me to go to Fort Riley, 136 miles west of Fort Leavenworth, to superintend the repairs to the military road. For this purpose, he supplied me with a four-mule ambulance and driver. The country was then sparsely settled, and quite as many Indians were along the road as white people; still there were embryo towns all along the route, and a few farms sprinkled over the beautiful prairies.
    "On reaching Indianola, near Topeka, I found everybody down with the chills and fever. My own driver became so shaky that I had to act as driver and cook. But in due season, I reconnoitred the road, and made contracts for repairing some bridges, and for cutting such parts of the road as needed it. I then returned to Fort Leavenworth, and reported, receiving a fair compensation."
    He tells a few more stories about his time in Leavenworth in his memoirs. From here, he went to Louisiana to establish a military school for boys in Alexandria. When the southern states began to secede, he reluctantly resigned and came back North.
    Ulysses "Sam" Grant and "Bill" Sherman, as generals, became friends and formed a partnership that resulted in the defeat of the South and the end of the Civil War.
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