November 2, 1864 (Wednesday)
When writing his memoirs, William Tecumseh Sherman necessarily summarized many of the steps leading up to his eventual march to the sea. It almost seemed as if writing about any of John Bell Hood’s shenanigans through the month of October was just something to gloss over on his way to retelling the defining moment of his life.
He does, however, include a quick smattering of letters exchanged between he and General Grant near Petersburg. As explained the day previous, Sherman informed Grant of Hood’s actions as of late, trying to reassure the commanding general that all was more or less well and that nobody should worry about that Hood fellow, and that Sherman was moving quickly ahead with his plans to march through Georgia.
In a very ‘let the dead bury the dead’ sort of fashion, Sherman told Grant that Hood could be left the the very capable Rock of Chickamauga, George Thomas. But Grant seemed not too sure: “Do you not think it advisable now that Hood has gone so far north to entirely settle him before starting on your proposed campaign?”
Sherman later said that Grant “must have been disturbed by the wild rumors that filled the country.” That’s certainly possible, though the wild rumors probably came from Sherman himself.
Due to the telegraph, Grant and Sherman’s messages had been passing one another, and in real time, the whole thing must have been frustrating to both.
Replying to Grant’s message of the day before, which doubted Sherman’s plan to leave Hood to Thomas, Sherman again tried to convince Grant that chasing down Hood was a fool’s errand.
“If I could hope to overhaul Hood I would turn against him with my whole force. Then he retreats to the southwest, drawing me as a decoy from Georgia, which is his chief object. If he ventures north of the Tennessee I may turn in that direction and endeavor to get between him and his line of retreat, but thus far he has not gone above the Tennessee. […] No single army can catch him, and I am convinced the best results will result from defeating Jeff. Davis’ cherished plan of making me leave Georgia by maneuvering.”
Sherman concluded, saying that he “would regard a pursuit of Hood as useless.” Still, if Grant really wanted him to, he would “hold Decatur and be prepared to move in that direction,” in the end warning, “but unless I let go Atlanta my force will not be equal to his.”
This was probably a lie. Sherman’s force, minus the troops left in Atlanta, numbered at least 50,000, while Hood had but 35,000. When combined with Thomas’ command, the Federal numbers against the Rebels would be well over 70,000 – fully double that of Hood. Still, Sherman proved his point.
Even before Sherman wrote out his argument, Grant’s second thought was clicking along the telegraph lines. But before that could arrive, Sherman, clearly nervous about even the possibility that he would not get to thrash his way across the Peace State, restated his desperation.
If I turn back the whole effect of my campaign will be lost. By my movements I have thrown Beauregard well to the west, and Thomas will have ample time and sufficient troops to hold him until re-enforcements reach him from Missouri and recruits. We have now ample supplies at Chattanooga and Atlanta to stand a month’s interruption to our communications, and I don’t believe the Confederate army can reach our lines, save by cavalry raid, and Wilson will have cavalry enough to checkmate that. I am clearly of opinion that the best results will follow me in my contemplated movement through Georgia.
Fortunately for Sherman (though hardly for Georgia), Grant’s message arrived shortly thereafter. As it turned out, Sherman had nothing at all to worry about.
“With the force, 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.”
Sherman was elated, predicting that “Jeff. Davis will change his tune when he finds me advancing into the heart of Georgia instead of retreating, and I think it will have an immediate effect on your operations at Richmond.”
To both, of course, the future was fluid. But now that Grant had finally approved of Sherman’s plan to march to the sea, things seemed a little more certain.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 39, Part 1, p594-595; Memoirs by William Tecumseh Sherman. [↩]