The Court Martial of Thomas W. Knox
Sherman's Justice for the New York Herald

Knox
     In early February 1863, New York Herald Correspondent Thomas W. Knox had been tried as a military spy traveling among the camps of the United States Army's 13th Army Corps. The joint forces campaign against Arkansas Post, Fort Hindman, had recently concluded and his journalistic reporting, now published drew the turbulent attention of Major General William T. Sherman for its grave injustices against his soldiers.

     Questions were being raised as far back as Washington City, where the Corps Commander's brother, Senator John Sherman had been representing their home state of Ohio on Capitol Hill. The stories mislead all readers once again into considering the sanity or competency of the commander, who was not one to seek simple clarification, but to administer decisive action that such men not have the license to cause grave damage to the United States Armies in their operations against Vicksburg.

     The court met pursuant to orders at Young's Point, Louisiana on February 5, 1863 with Brigadier General John Milton Thayer presiding. The correspondent was charged with giving intelligence directly or indirectly to the enemy violating the 57th Article of War, when on the 18th day of January a story appeared in the New York Herald giving the history of the operations before Vicksburg. Names of the commanders of corps, divisions and brigades along with the numbers of regiments attached to such, and revealed approximate strength of the invading forces.

     He had been charged also with being a spy and disobeyed General Orders No. 8 from headquarters Right Wing, Thirteenth Army Corps published on December 18, 1862 when he accompanied the expedition down the Mississippi River three days later. He was found guilty, however; of only disobeying orders, where aiding the enemy with intelligence or acting as that of a spy were not sufficiently proven for conviction.

     General Sherman was not pleased with the courts findings and wrote later in the month to Colonel John A. Rawlins, the Assistant Adjutant General, Department of the Tennessee with his disgust that the first specification of the third charge were nothing more than the facts proven as stated and attached no criminal activity on the correspondent's part. Concern haunted him that this lead all to believe that the commanding officer had no right whatsoever in prohibiting citizens from accompanying military expeditions. The findings of the first specification, first charge: "Guilty, except the words 'thereby conveying to the enemy an approximate estimate of its strength, in direct violation of the Fifty-Seventh Article of War," involved the principal that publication of the army organization and strength in a paper which circulated both North and South did not amount to any indirect conveyance of intelligence to an enemy.

     He was convinced that if one could not exclude these informants from their own camps as being identified as spies who have relayed indirect information to the enemy, than perhaps the Judge Advocate General's office needed to trace the information from the source to the very armies arrayed against the government of which they have not been successfully able to invade as yet.

     Just two months after the court martial, Mr. Knox had arrived once again to be a thorn in the army's flesh. From Milliken's Bend on April 6, 1863 he wrote to the 15th Corps Commander, having enclosed a copy of an Executive Order by President Abraham Lincoln, which had found the New York Herald correspondent guilty of a technical offense by Brigadier General Thayer and also received approval of the findings by Sherman's superior, Major General John McClernand, he was permitted to return to the military department under Major General Ulysses S. Grant.

     General Grant having received Mr. Knox with executive order was not pleased. The major general commanding 15th Corps was a friend of his; issued positive orders disallowing such citizens to travel with his soldiers, and proceeded to ruin his reputation to the American public. While Grant would conform to the slightest wish of the President, his respect for General Sherman caused him to decline acceptance of his presence unless his injured commander were to give his consent.

     As a newspaper correspondent, Mr. Knox was entirely unacceptable under these conditions. Sherman would have nothing to do with him in the capacity of a reporter. Had he returned with a sword or musket in his hand and willing to share the fate of the soldiers he thus damaged through rain and shine, he would certainly be welcomed back as a brother. Since it was Knox's intent to return as the correspondent he was, having already proven his talent in slandering the operations of the army, when it came to accepting the man back into the lines, Sherman had one word for him: "Never!"

     The bond of these two general officers would not be torn apart by any periodical or superior unable to control those individuals with pen in hand ready to praise you one minute and condemn you to hell the next. There was no loyalty. Of Mr. Lincoln, Sherman wrote back to Grant in a thank you note of his comments, which had supported him: "Mr. Lincoln, of course, fears to incur the enmity of the Herald, but he must rule the Herald or the Herald will rule him; he can take his choice."

     There had been no usage of newspaper correspondents for those who realized their very lives were already being accounted for by their adversaries. Thomas W. Knox as well as a host of others would become the wrath of those military commanders with the stamina to realize the danger of hosting them. Major General William T. Sherman was simply of that character. He swore that if he killed them all, there would be news from hell before breakfast.




Dan (Aldie) Daniel Moran
© 2005

Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff. He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at dmoran@us-civilwars.net