Emily Hoffman and Her Yankee General
The Civil War was filled with endless personal tragedies and one of them played out in the aftermath of the death of General James Birdseye McPherson at the Battle of Atlanta. McPherson was engaged to marry Emily Hoffman of Baltimore. Having gotten leave for the first time in three years, he had been on his way to Baltimore to marry her, when Sherman had called him back to take command of the Army of the Tennessee in the drive on Atlanta. Sherman wrote to Miss Hoffman to explain the necessity of this:
Military Division of the Mississippi
June 9, 1864
My Dear Young Lady,
I hardly feel that I should apologize for intrusion, for I can claim an old acquaintance with your Brother and Sister in California, and feel almost that I know you through them, and others of your honored family. It has come to my knowledge that you are affianced to another close friend and associate of mine Maj General McPherson, and I fear that weighing mighty matters of State but lightly in the Realm of Love, you feel that he gives too much of his time to his Country and too little to you.
His rise in his profession has been rapid, steady and well earned. Not a link unbroken. Not a thing omitted. Each step in his progress however has imposed on him fresh duties that as a man and a soldier, and still more as a Patriot, he could not avoid.
I did hope as he returned from Meridian, when his Corps the 17th was entitled to go home on furlough, that he too could steal a month to obey the promptings of his heart, to hasten to Baltimore and I so instructed, but by the changes incident to General Grant’s elevation, McPherson succeeded to the Command of a separate Army and Department, and could not leave.
There is no rest for us in this war till you and all can look about you and feel there is Reason and Safety in the Land. God purifies the atmosphere with tempests and storms which fall alike upon the just and unjust, and in like manner he appeases the jarring elements of political discord by wars and famine. Heretofore as a nation we have escaped his wrath, but now with the vehemence of anhundred years accumulation we are in the storm, and would you have us shrink?
But I will not discuss so plain a point with one who bears the honored name of Hoffman, rather tell you of him whose every action I know fills your waking and sleeping thoughts, him so young but so prominent, whose cause is among the gallant and brave, who fight not for oppression and wrong but that the Government bequeathed to us by your ancestors shall not perish in ignominy and insult: but which shall survive in honor and glory, with a power to protect the weak and shelter the helpless from the terrible disasters of a fratricidal war.
I know McPherson well, as a young man, handsome and noble soldier, activated by motives as pure as those of Washington, and I know that in making my testimony to his high and noble character, I will not offend the Girl he loves.
Be patient and I know that when the happy day comes for him to stand by your side as one Being identical in heart and human existence you will regard him with a high respect and honor that will convert simple love into something sublime and beautiful.
Yours with respect
W. T. Sherman
Her father was a rich Baltimore merchant, strongly pro-Confederate in his sympathies, as was his mother who organized sewing bees to produce garments for Confederate soldiers. A son was fighting in the Army of Northern Virginia. The Hoffman family strongly disapproved of Emily’s engagement with a Union general.
Emily learned of the death of McPherson on July 23. Stricken with unbearable grief she immediately went to her room and spent the next year there in seclusion. Sherman wrote to her a second time.
HEADQUARTERS, Military Division of the Mississippi
In the Field, near Atlanta Geo.
August 5, 1864
My Dear Young Lady,
A letter from your Mother to General Barry on my Staff reminds me that I owe you heartfelt sympathy and a sacred duty of recording the fame of one of our Country’s brightest and most glorious Characters. I yield to none on Earth but yourself the right to excel me in lamentations for our Dead Hero. Why should death’s darts reach the young and brilliant instead of older men who could better have been spared?
Nothing that I can record will elevate him in your mind’s memory, but I could tell you many things that would form a bright halo about his image. We were more closely associated than any men in this life. I knew him before you did; when he was a Lieutenant of Engineers in New York, we occupied rooms in the same house.
Again we met at St. Louis, almost at the outset of this unnatural war, and from that day to this we have been closely associated. I see him now, so handsome, so smiling, on his fine black horse, booted and spurred, with his easy seat, the impersonation of the Gallant Knight.
We were at Shiloh together, at Corinth, at Oxford, at Jackson, at Vicksburg, at Meridian, and on this campaign. He had left me but a few minutes to place some of his troops approaching their position, and went through the wood by the same road he had come, and must have encountered the skirmish line of the Rebel Hardee’s Corps, which had made a Circuit around the flank of Blair’s troops.
Though always active and attending in person amidst dangers to his appropriate duties, on this occasion he was not exposing himself. He rode over ground he had twice passed that same day, over which hundreds had also passed, by a narrow wood road to the Rear of his Established Line. He had not been gone from me half an hour before Col. Clark of his Staff rode up to me and reported that McPherson was dead or a prisoner in the hands of the Enemy.
He described that he had entered this road but a short distance in the wood some sixty yards ahead of his Staff and orderlies when a loud volley of muskets was heard, and in an instant after, his fine black horse came out with two wounds, riderless. Very shortly thereafter, other members of his staff came to me with his body in an ambulance. We carried it into a house, and laid it on a large table and examined the body. A simple bullet wound high up in the Right breast was all that disfigured his person. All else was as he left me, save his watch and purse were gone.
At this time the Battle was raging hot and fierce quite near us, and lest it should become necessary to burn the house in which we were, I directed his personal staff to convey the body to Marietta and thence North to his family. I think he could not have lived three minutes after the fatal shot, and fell from his horse within ten yards of the path or road along which he was riding. I think others will give you more detailed accounts of the attending circumstances. I enclose you a copy of my official letter announcing his death.
With affection & respect,
W. T. Sherman
Emily Hoffman never married, dying in 1891, age 52.