March 19, 1864 (Saturday)
General William Tecumseh Sherman came as fast as he could to Nashville, following General Grant’s March 14th behest. By steamboat and rail, Sherman traveled from Memphis to Cairo to Louisville, and finally to Nashville, reaching his destination on the evening of the 17th. Grant himself had just returned from Washington, and it was the first time they saw each other since Grant was promoted to commander of all armies.
Grant found himself incredibly busy, and hardly had a moment to greet his old comrade, let alone discuss with him what was to happen next. Sherman would be filling Grant’s shoes. This placed Sherman in command of the Military Division of the Mississippi, which encompassed the Departments of Ohio, Cumberland, Tennessee and Arkansas.
On the 18th, the day after his arrival in Nashville, Sherman took official command of the Military Division. There was some sort of ceremony which involved more awkward posturing in which Grant would be presented a sword. Perhaps to share in the embarrassment, Grant stopped by Sherman’s new headquarters to invite him to proceedings.
Along with Grant’s family, some of his staff, and a few others, Sherman was witness to the mayor of Galena, Illinois, Grant’s adopted hometown, as he presented not only an ornate sword, but a fine sash, spurs and more.
The “large, corpulent” mayor (as Sherman referred to him) had written a speech, and read it in the most dignified manner he could muster, while Grant “stood, as usual, very awkwardly.” In a reply that was quickly becoming typical of Grant, he fumbled in his pockets for a prepared statement, which, when extricated, turned out to be scrawled upon “a crumpled piece of common yellow cartridge-paper.” Rather than read it, however, Grant simply handed it to the mayor.
“I could not help laughing at a scene so characteristic of the man who then stood prominent before the country,” remembered Sherman after the war, “and to whom all had turned as the only one qualified to guide the nation in a war that had become painfully critical.”
On this date, Grant was ready to leave, and yet still had found no time to discuss with Sherman anything about the coming campaign. And so together they boarded the train so that they could ride as far as Cincinnati to hash over “many little details incident to the contemplated changes, and of preparation for the great events then impending.”
As their car clacked along the Tennessee and Kentucky rails, Grant and Sherman conferred over how the latter might work in concert with the former over the next season. Sherman’s first responsibility was to take care of the Confederate Army of Tennessee, commanded by Joe Johnston. After the enemy was dispatched, he was to take Atlanta. Grant wanted this to happen immediately, and was disgruntled to have to wait until Nathaniel Banks’ Red River campaign was wrapped up to start. That was, promised Banks, to be in mid-April.
The overall strategy was similar to the previous years – to sever the Confederacy in two. When Vicksburg fell, it made the contiguous Southern nation much smaller, cutting off everything west of the Mississippi. This summer, they would cut off everything south of Atlanta and Mobile, by Sherman taking the latter and Banks taking the former.
But that was not all they discussed. Grant wanted certain officers who had been ousted from the army to once more regain their rank and glory.
Specifically, in the East, Grant wished for the return of George McClellan, who had battled Lincoln more than the Rebels when in command of the Army of the Potomac, Ambrose Burnside, who was still in nominal command of the Ninth Corps, and John C. Fremont, who was at this time eying his chances at replacing the President. In the West, there was Don Carlos Buell, who had been languishing in Indiana since his failure against Braxton Bragg in 1862, Alexander McCook, who had been court-martialed for his conduct at the Battle of Chickamauga, James Negley and Thomas Crittenden, who were both relieved for the same reasons.
Grant wanted them back – all of them. He would leave Sherman to look after the officers in the West, while he personally saw to the officers in the East. As Sherman explained in his memoirs: “we were anxious to bring into harmony every man and every officer of skill in the profession of arms.” Buell and McClellan were the two most highly sought.
As for George McClellan, on this date, his mind was upon other things. There had been a bill in Congress to officially dismiss him from the United States Military, but it was voted down, and he was still “awaiting orders” at his home in Orange, New Jersey. In writing to a friend, McClellan laments “that the bill for turning me out has been defeated.” He confided that “I do not wish to resign, but I would be very glad to be in civil life again without any action of my own – I am very tired of hanging by the eye lids and am really anxious to begin the world anew in private life.” Of course, McClellan’s so-called private life might not, in the end, be so private.1
- Sources: Memoirs, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 by William Tecumseh Sherman; Personal Memoirs by Ulysses S. Grant; Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan edited by Stephen W. Sears. [↩]