March 24, 1864 (Thursday)
It had been two weeks since General Grant visited the Army of the Potomac. And on this date, he arrived again – as its new permanent resident. After being appointed General-in-Chief, Grant had some idea that he would remain in the West, headquartered at Nashville. After coming East, however, he saw that his place would be with General George Meade’s army. He returned to Nashville to set things in order and get William Tecumseh Sherman established in Grant’s old job in the West, and returned to the East prepared to end the war.
Upon arriving at his new headquarters in Culpeper Court House, Virginia, Grant called upon Chief of Staff Henry Halleck to send him a “map with the lines marked showing the territory now occupied by our forces.” Grant was referring to a copy of Colton’s New Guide Map to the United States and Canada that he and Halleck had perused a day or so previous. “The red lines,” explained Halleck, “show approximately our lines of defense at the beginning of the Rebellion, and at the present time; the blue the various proposed ways of shortening them.”
Grant could easily see that “the opposing forces stood in substantially the same relations towards each other as three years before, or when the war began; they were both between the Federal and Confederate capitals.” The idea, so plainly seen before him, that three years of war could have netted so little was unsettling. “It is true,” he allowed, “footholds had been secured by us on the sea-coast, in Virginia and North Carolina, but, beyond that, no substantial advantage had been gained by either side. Battles had been fought of as great severity as had ever been known in war, over ground from the James River and Chickahominy, near Richmond, to Gettysburg and Chambersburg, in Pennsylvania, with indecisive results, sometimes favorable to the National army, sometimes to the Confederate army; but in every instance, I believe, claimed as victories for the South by the Southern press if not by the Southern generals.”
By this time, Grant had already established a general idea of what he wished to do. “My general plan now was to concentrate all the force possible against the Confederate armies in the field, he vaguely explained in his Memoirs. This meant not just in the East, but in the West, as well. All Federal armies were to move as one. General Sherman was to move against the Confederates in north Georgia with Atlanta being his objective. But that was not all. In West Virginia, General George Crook was to take cavalry and artillery to capture the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad, cutting off West from East in Tennessee. Meanwhile, in the Shenandoah Valley, Franz Sigel would move south to close off any chance of a Confederate invasion through that channel. From Fortress Monroe on the Virginia Peninsula, Benjamin Butler would gather his Army of the James and thrust it towards Petersburg and Richmond.
As for General Meade’s Army of the Potomac, this would take more thought. Even by the second week in April, all Grant could say to Meade would be: “Lee’s army will be your objective point. Wherever Lee goes, there you will go also. The only point upon which I am now in doubt is, whether it will be better to cross the Rapidan above or below him.”
But there must have been some talk between the two commanders. General Meade had met Grant at the depot near the former’s headquarters, and traveled with him to Culpeper. There, they spent several hours together in discussion. “He was as affable as ever,” wrote Meade to his wife, “and seems not at all disposed to interfere with my army in any details.”
And that is how it must have seemed to Meade. Grant, perhaps, discussed his plans for the West acting in concert with the East, but left the East up to Meade – for the time being, at any rate. For the next few days, the weather would turn sour while the two officers met. Grant would listen to Meade’s suggestions, apparently accepting them as his own. All seemed to be moving along at a steady pace.
Grant’s move and the reorganization of the Army of the Potomac did not escape the northern press, which reported the minute details on this date. “Gen. Grant, accompanied by Mrs. Grant, Gen. Meade, and a portion of his staff, went down the Potomac to-day on a visit to Gen. Butler at Fortress Monroe,” reported the New York Times on this date. “His mission has an intimate connection with recent changes in commands in the army and the forthcoming campaign.”
The papers had proudly proclaimed that Grant would be taking up headquarters with the Army of the Potomac. He issued orders to that effect, and those orders were also carried in the papers. These clippings did not go unnoticed by a certain Confederate general whose army was crouching just behind the Rapidan River.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 32, Part 3, p361; Vol. 33, p721; The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant: January 1-May 31, 1864; Personal Memoirs by Ulysses S. Grant; Life and Letters by George Meade; The Sword of Lincoln by Jeffry D. Wert. [↩]