March to the Sea Monday

Introducing a new blog series: For the next several Mondays, Wayne Hsieh, coauthor of A Savage War, will be sharing correspondence between Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman as it happened approximately 150 years ago. Follow along for an insider’s view of Sherman’s March to the Sea:

The following correspondence was exchanged between Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman as the latter prepared to embark on what became known as the March to the Sea. Sherman had initially found Grant skeptical of Sherman’s plan to wreak havoc in Georgia, but eventually persuaded him of the wisdom of the move. Shortly before the campaign’s start, Grant raised concerns about the potential activities of Hood’s army in response to Sherman’s—concerns that Sherman recognized and acknowledged.

Rome, GA, November 1, 1864, 9 am
To: Lt. Gen. U. S. Grant

As you foresaw, and as Jeff Davis threatened, the enemy is now in the full tide of execution of his grand plan to destroy my communications and defeat this army. His infantry, about 30,000, with Wheeler’s and Roddey’s cavalry, from 7,000 to 10,000, are now in the neighborhood of Tuscumbia and Florence, and the water being low is able to cross at will. Forrest seems to be scattered from Eastport to Jackson, Paris, and the lower Tennessee, and General Thomas reports the capture by him of a gun-boat and five transports. . . . If I were to let go Atlanta and North Georgia and make for Hood, he would, as he did here, retreat to the southwest, leaving his militia, now assembling at Macon and Griffin, to occupy our conquests, and the work of last summer would be lost. I have retained about 50,000 good troops, and have sent back full 25,000, and having instructed General Thomas to hold defensively Nashville, Chattanooga, and Decatur, all strongly fortified and provisioned for a long siege, I will destroy all the railroads of Georgia and do as much substantial damage as is possible, reach the sea-coast near one of the points hitherto indicated, trusting that General Thomas, with his present troops and the influx of new troops promised, will be able in a few days to assume the offensive.

OR, Ser. 1, Vol. 39, Pt. 3, 576-77

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Lt. Gen. U.S. Grant to Maj. Gen. W. T. Sherman
City Point, VA, Nov. 1, 1864, 6 pm

Do you not think it advisable now that Hood has gone so far north, to entirely settle him before starting on your proposed campaign? . . . If you can see the chance for destroying Hood’s Army, attend to that first and make your other move secondary.

OR, Ser. 1, Vol. 39, Pt. 3, 576

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Lt. Gen. U.S. Grant to Maj. Gen. W. T. Sherman,
City Point, VA, November 2, 1864, 11:30 am

Your dispatch of 9 a.m. yesterday is just received. I dispatched you the same date, advising that Hood’s army, now that it had worked so far north, be looked upon more as the objective. With the forces, however, you have left with Thomas, he must be able to take care of Hood and destroy him. I do not really see that you can withdraw from where you are to follow Hood, without giving up all we have gained in territory. I say, then, go as you propose.

OR, Ser. 1, Vol. 39, Pt. 3, 594

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In the end, the long-standing trust between Grant and Sherman held firm, and the former sustained his subordinates bold plans for a march through Georgia.

A few days later, Sherman wrote again to Grant, and outlined at length the political objectives of his coming campaign:

On the supposition always that Thomas can hold the line of the Tennessee . . . I propose to act in such a manner against the material resources of the South as utterly to negative [Confederate President Jefferson] Davis’ boasted threat and promises of protection. If we can march a well-appointed army right through his territory, it is a demonstration to the world, foreign and domestic, that we have a power which Davis cannot resist. This may not be war, but rather statesmanship, nevertheless it is overwhelming to my mind that are thousands of people abroad and in the South who will reason thus: If the North can march an army right through the South, it is proof positive that the North can prevail in this contest, leaving only open the question of its willingness to use that power.

OR, Ser. 1, Vol. 39, Pt. 3, 660

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WarWayne Wei-siang Hsieh is associate professor of history at the United States Naval Academy. He is the author of West Pointers and the Civil War and coauthor with Williamson Murray of A Savage War.

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