Sherman and Grant Plan their Next Moves

September 12, 1864 (Monday)

Have a seat, Cump.
Have a seat, Cump.

“The exodus of people is progressing and matters coming into shape,” wrote William Tecumseh Sherman to General Grant. Sherman had ordered a week-long truce in order to empty the city of Atlanta of civilians. This not only saved a few lives (in the mind of Sherman, at any rate), but more importantly, it allowed the Federal army time to plan its next move without the probability of enemy involvement.

Sherman’s ordered evacuation pertained to all civilians, no matter where their sympathies might lie. Those loyal to the North could go north, and those loyal to the South could go south – but mostly, they just had to leave.

The efforts to exchange prisoners had made some headway, with Sherman suggesting that both sides simply exchange the last 2,000 prisoners taken. A neutral camp would soon be established at the town of Rough and Ready. But that wasn’t really such a big deal to Sherman. He was looking ahead and trying to figure out what Grant wanted him to do.

On the 10th, Grant allowed Sherman to rest his men, but told him that it was “desirable that another campaign should be commenced” as soon as they were in order. “We want to keep the enemy constantly pressed to the end of the war. If we give him no peace while the war lasts, the end cannot be distant.” Here Grant suggested that they move Edward Canby’s troops near New Orleans “to act upon Savannah whilst you move on Augusta.”

Hood’s Army of Tennessee had been battered, but it was still a formidable foe. There was no way for Sherman to simply stroll across Georgia. And so to take Savannah, Grant suggested Canby and his disposable force of 15,000. Canby could gather, he told Sherman, upwards of 30,000 men to operate against Savannah once the enemy in the far west figured out its next phase of operation.

Canby: Say, where did that Banks fellow go?
Canby: Say, where did that Banks fellow go?

But already Sherman wanted details. “I don’t understand whether you propose to act against Savannah direct from Fort Pulaski or by way of Florida or from the direction of Mobile.” If the city could be taken “by a sudden coup de main it would be valuable.”

In his reply, Grant lamented that the Confederates moving toward Missouri under Sterling Price had thrown a wrench into the works. If not for Price, Canby and Sherman could both have sent 12,000 men to Mobile (Sherman’s would come from those stationed along the eastern bank of the Mississippi). “With these forces my idea would have been to divide them, sending one-half to Mobile and the other half to Savannah.”

If that had been able to happen, Sherman would have had enough troops “so as to threaten Macon and Augusta equally. Whichever was abandoned by the enemy you could take and open up a new base of supplies.” But that did not happen. Sterling Price’s raid, mostly forgotten by history, had changed everything.

And so Grant could do little more than send a staff officer to visit Sherman “not so much to suggest operations for you as to get your views and have plans matured by the time everything can be ready.” Grant selected October 5th as the earliest any of the armies, including the Army of the Potomac before Petersburg, Virginia, would move.

As far as Grant and Petersburg were concerned, Grant wished to extend his left toward the railroad to Lynchburg, cutting deeper west. At the same time, he wanted to send as many as 10,000 men against Wilmington, North Carolina. In conjunction with the Navy, “the ironclads will run the batteries as they did at Mobile.”1

  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 39, Part 2, p355, 362-363, 364-365; Series 2, Vol. 7, p799; Personal Memoirs by William Tecumseh Sherman. []
Creative Commons License
Sherman and Grant Plan their Next Moves by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


View all posts by