Next up in March to the Sea Monday, Wayne Hsieh, coauthor of A Savage War, continues to share correspondence between Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman as it happened approximately 150 years ago. The first post can be found here, the second, here, and the third, here. Follow along for an insider’s view of Sherman’s March to the Sea:
As Sherman marched his way through Georgia, Grant’s Chief of Staff anxiously canvassed the Confederate press to find news of Sherman’s whereabout. On November 22, Rawlins forwarded to Grant a short report in the Richmond Sentinel, which optimistically reported:
If the rains which have been falling here for several day extend to Georgia, Sherman will have heavy traveling. It will operate greatly to his disadvantage and to our benefit; it will retard his movements and make foraging extremely difficult. Our concentration of troops to operate against him being by railroad, will not experience the like interruption. We trust that the Black Jack will hold him until our generals gather all around him for his destruction.
OR, Series I, Vol. 44, 518
Such optimism proved utterly unfounded.
Reflecting the logistical capabilities of the Union war effort at this point in the war, Halleck ordered preparations begun as early as November 27 for Sherman’s eventual arrival on the Atlantic coast.
H. W. Halleck to Chiefs of Quartermaster’s, Commissary, and Ordnance Departments, Washington D. C., November 27, 1864
Advices just received state that General Sherman had crossed the Oconee River. It is therefore quite certain that he will come out on the Atlantic coast. But as it would not be safe to withdraw stores from Pensacola yet, additional supplies should be immediately prepared for shipment to Hilton Head.
OR, Series I, Vol. 44, 555
The following day, the Quartermaster General began to make preparations for forwarding supplies for Sherman’s eventual use.
Quartermaster General M. C. Meigs to Bvt. Brig. Gen Stewart Van Vliet, Quartermaster, New York, Washington D.C., November 28, 1864
You will send to Hilton Head 150 barrels of salt for use of the animals of General Sherman’s army, unless you have good reasons to know that there is already a sufficient supply at that depot. General Sherman appears to be heading for the Atlantic coast, and orders have been given to send more supplies to Hilton Head. I direct Col. S. L. Brown to-day to commence shipping, in light-draught vessels, to Hilton Head 30,000 rations of grain and the same of hay daily until further orders, or until the receipt of certain intelligence of the point which will be made his new base of operations.
OR, Series I, Vol. 44, 568
Even as the Union’s logistical apparatus readied itself to resupply Sherman’s army, that force’s high command continued to struggle with ill-discipline amongst foragers. On November 30, 1864, the high command of the Army of the Tennessee issued yet another order trying to impose better discipline on its troops.
Special Field Orders No. 181, Headquarters Department and Army of the Tennessee, Opposite Station No. 9 1/2 , GA, November 30, 1864
II. The attention of corps commanders and commanders of unattached regiments and detachments is called to the irregularities existing in foraging, and the manner in which this privilege is often abused. It is noticed that many men not belonging to proper foraging parties are allowed to straggle from the ranks and forage for themselves without any authority whatever. It is by such men the greater part of the pillaging is done and depredations committed, of which there is so much complaint.
OR, Series I, Vol. 44, 579
In early December, having heard little news of Sherman, Grant sent him a missive, to be held with the blockading squadron near Savannah, and to be delivered after Sherman’s arrival on the Atlantic coast. Grant acknowledged the uncertainty surrounding Sherman’s situation, but once again reaffirmed his confidence in his subordinate.
Grant to Sherman, City Point, VA, December4 3, 1864
Not liking to rejoice before the victory is assured I abstain from congratulating you and those under you command until bottom has been struck. I have never had a fear of the result. . . . In this letter I do not intend to give you anything like directions for future action, but will state a general idea I have, and will get your views after you have established yourself on the sea-coast. With your veteran army I hope to get control of the only two through routes from east to west possessed by the enemy before the fall of Atlanta. This condition will be filled by holding Savannah and Augusta, or by holding any other port to the east of Savannah and Branchville. . . . After all becomes quiet, and roads up here so bad that there is likely to be a week or two that nothing can be done, I will run down the coast and see you. If you desire it, I will ask Mrs. Sherman to go with me.
OR, Series I, Vol. 44, 611-12.
Wayne Wei-siang Hsieh is associate professor of history at the United States Naval Academy. He is the author ofWest Pointers and the Civil War and coauthor with Williamson Murray of A Savage War.