Thursday, April 9, 2020

Major-General William T. Sherman to Lieutenant-General Ulysses S. Grant, November 6, 1864

In the Field, Kingston, Ga., November 6, 1864.
Lieut. Gen. U.S. GRANT,
Commander-in-Chief, City Point, Va.:

DEAR GENERAL: I have heretofore telegraphed and written you pretty fully, but I still have some thoughts in my busy brain that should be confided to you as a key to future developments. The taking of Atlanta broke upon Jeff. Davis so suddenly as to disturb the equilibrium of his usually well-balanced temper, so that at Augusta, Macon, Montgomery, and Columbia, S. C., he let out some of his thoughts which otherwise he would have kept to himself. As he is not only the President of the Southern Confederacy but also its Commander-in-Chief, we are bound to attach more importance to his words than we would to those of a mere civil chief magistrate. The whole burden of his song consisted in the statement that Sherman's communications must be broken and his army destroyed. Now, it is a well-settled principle that if we can prevent his succeeding in his threat we defeat him and derive all the moral advantages of a victory. Thus far Hood and Beauregard conjointly have utterly failed to interrupt my supplies or communications with my base. My railroad and telegraph are now in good order from Atlanta back to the Ohio River. His losses at Allatoona, Resaca, Ship's Gap, and Decatur exceed in number (his losses in men) ours at the block-houses at Big Shanty, Allatoona Creek, and Dalton; and the rapidity of his flight from Dalton to Gadsden takes from him all the merit or advantage claimed for his skillful and rapid lodgment made on my railroad. The only question in my mind is whether I ought not to have dogged him far over into Mississippi, trusting to some happy accident to bring him to bay and to battle. But I then thought that by so doing I would play into his hands by being drawn or decoyed too far away from our original line of advance. Besides, I had left at Atlanta a corps and railroad guards back to Chattanooga, which might have fallen an easy prey to his superior cavalry. I felt compelled to do what is usually a mistake in war, divide my forces, send a part back into Tennessee, retaining the balance here. As I have heretofore informed you, I sent Stanley back directly from Gaylesville and Schofield from Rome, both of whom have reached their destinations, and thus far Hood, who had brought up at Florence, is farther from my communications than when he started, and I have in Tennessee a force numerically greater than his, well commanded and well organized, so that I feel no uneasiness on the score of Hood reaching my main communications. My last accounts from General Thomas are to 9.30 last night, when Hood's army was about Florence in great distress about provisions, as he well must be. But that devil Forrest was down about Johnsonville and was making havoc among the gun-boats and transports. But Schofield's troops were arriving at Johnsonville and a fleet of gun-boats reported coming up from below, able to repair that trouble. But you know that that line of supplies was only opened for summer use when the Cumberland is not to be depended upon. We now have abundant supplies at Atlanta, Chattanooga, and Nashville, with the Louisville and Nashville Railroad and the Cumberland River unmolested, so that I regard Davis' threat to get his army on my rear, or on my communications, as a miserable failure. Now as to the second branch of my proposition, I admit that the first object should be the destruction of that army, and if Beauregard moves his infantry and artillery up into that pocket about Jackson and Paris, I will feel strongly tempted to move Thomas directly against him and myself move rapidly by Decatur and Purdy to cut off his retreat. But this would involve the abandonment of Atlanta and a retrograde movement, which would be very doubtful of expediency or success; for, as a matter of course, Beauregard, who watches me with his cavalry and his friendly citizens, would have timely notice and would slip out and escape to regain what we have earned at so much cost. I am more than satisfied that Beauregard has not the men to attack fortifications or meet me in battle, and it would be a great achievement for him to make me abandon Atlanta by mere threats and maneuvers. These are the reasons which have determined my former movements. I have employed the last ten days in running to the rear the sick and wounded and worthless, and all the vast amount of stores accumulated by our army in the advance, aiming to organize this branch of my army into four well-commanded corps, encumbered by only one gun to 1,000 men, and provisions and ammunition which can be loaded up in our mule teams, so that we can pick up and start on the shortest notice. I reckon that by the l0th instant this end will be reached, and by that date I also will have the troops all paid, the Presidential election over and out of our way, and I hope the early storms of November, now prevailing, will also give us the chance of a long period of fine healthy weather for campaigning. Then the question presents itself, What shall be done? On the supposition always that Thomas can hold the line of the Tennessee, and very shortly be able to assume the offensive as against Beauregard, I propose to act in such a manner against the material resources of the South as utterly to negative 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 there 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.

Now, Mr. Lincoln's election, which is assured, coupled with the conclusion thus reached, makes a complete, logical whole. Even without a battle, the result operating upon the minds of sensible men would produce fruits more than compensating for the expense, trouble, and risk. Admitting this reasoning to be good, that such a movement per se be right, still there may be reasons why one route would be better than another. There are three from Atlanta, southeast, south, and southwest, all open, with no serious enemy to oppose at present. The first would carry me across the only east and west railroad remaining in the Confederacy, which would be destroyed and thereby sever the communications between the armies of Lee and Beauregard. Incidentally, I might destroy the enemy's depots at Macon and Augusta and reach the seashore at Charleston or Savannah, from either of which points I could re-enforce our armies in Virginia. The second and easiest route would be due south, following substantially the valley of the Flint River, which is very fertile and well supplied, and fetching up on the navigable waters of the Appalachicola, destroying en route the same railroad, taking up the prisoners of war still at Andersonville, and destroying about 400,000 bales of cotton near Albany and Fort Gaines. This, however, would leave the army in a bad position for future movements. The third, down the Chattahoochee to Opelika and Montgomery, thence to Pensacola or Tensas Bayou, in communication with Fort Morgan. This latter route would enable me at once to co-operate with General Canby in the reduction of Mobile and occupation of the line of the Alabama. In my judgment the first would have a material effect upon your campaign in Virginia, the second would be the safest of execution, but the third would more properly fall within the sphere of my own command and have a direct bearing upon my own enemy, Beauregard. If, therefore, I should start before I hear further from you or before further developments turn my course, you may take it for granted that I have moved via Griffin to Barnesville; that I break up the road between Columbus and Macon good, and then, if I feint on Columbus, will move, via Macon and Millen, to Savannah, or if I feint on Macon you may take it for granted I have shot off toward Opelika, Montgomery, and Mobile Bay or Pensacola. I will not attempt to send couriers back, but trust to the Richmond papers to keep you well advised. I will give you notice by telegraph of the exact time of my departure. General Steedman is here to clear the railroad back to Chattanooga, and I will see that the road is broken completely between the Etowah and the Chattahoochee, including their bridges, and that Atlanta itself is utterly destroyed.

I am, with respect,
W. T. SHERMAN,                

SOURCE: The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Volume 39, Part 3 (Serial No. 79), p. 658-61

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