November 1, 1864 (Tuesday)
Though Sherman’s plan to march across Georgia seemed like it was a foregone conclusion, it was not quite so, though Sherman certainly wished it to be. Writing after the war, in his memoirs, Sherman even treats it as such. But on this date, General Grant nearly postponed the whole thing.
An 8:30am dispatch to General George Thomas in Nashville detailed just how set Sherman was to cut ties with this line of supply and tear through the state:
The fact that Forrest is down about Johnsonville, while Hood, with his infantry, is still about Florence and Tuscumbia, gives you time for concentration. The supplies about Chattanooga are immense, and I will soon be independent of them; therefore I would not risk supplies coming in transit from Nashville to Chattanooga. In like manner we have large supplies in Nashville, and if they be well guarded, and Hood can’t get our supplies, he can’t stay in Tennessee long.
Sherman saw Hood as no real threat, but also kept General Grant updated on the enemies’ actions, no doubt hoping that it wouldn’t give Grant pause.
As you foresaw, and as Jeff. Davis threatened, the enemy is now in the full tide of execution of his grand plan to destroy my communications and defeat this army. His infantry, about 30,000, with Wheeler’s and Roddey’s cavalry, from 7,000 to 10,000, are now in the neighborhood of Tuscumbia and Florence, and the water being low is able, to cross at will. Forrest seems to be scattered from Eastport to Jackson, Paris, and the lower Tennessee, and General Thomas reports the capture by him of a gunboat and five transports.
And this all sounded fairly daunting, though Sherman thought not. Thomas, he believed, could handle it all.
General Thomas has near Athens and Pulaski Stanley’s corps, about 15,000 strong, and Schofield’s corps, 10,000, en route by rail, and has at least 20,000 to 25,000 men, with new regiments and conscripts arriving all the time; also Rosecrans promises the two divisions of Smith and Mower, belonging to me, but I doubt if they can reach Tennessee in less than ten days.
One option open to Sherman was to give up the idea of marching to the sea, turn and chase after Hood. Knowing that this was still very much on the table, he then defended his position against it to Grant.
If I were to let go Atlanta and North Georgia and make for Hood, he would, as he did here, retreat to the southwest, leaving his militia, now assembling at Macon and Griffin, to occupy our conquests, and the work of last summer would be lost. I have retained about 50,000 good troops, and have sent back full 25,000, and having instructed General Thomas to hold defensively Nashville, Chattanooga, and Decatur, all strongly fortified and provisioned for a long siege.
Sherman didn’t want Thomas to simply defend Nashville and Chattanooga, just as he didn’t want to be strung across the south chasing Hood.
I will destroy all the railroads of Georgia and do as much substantial damage as is possible, reaching the sea-coast near one of the points hitherto indicated, trusting that General Thomas, with his present troops and the influx of new troops promised, will be able in a very few days to assume the offensive. Hood’s cavalry may do a good deal of damage, and I have sent Wilson back with all dismounted cavalry, retaining only about 4,500. This is the best I can do, and shall, therefore, when I can get to Atlanta the necessary stores, move as soon as possible.
But would the best Sherman could do be enough to convince Grant to let the march to the sea commence? Later in the day, around 6pm, Grant, now beginning to reconsider, proposed another idea for Sherman – the very idea Sherman was dreading.
Do you not think it advisable now that Hood has gone so far north to entirely settle him before starting on your proposed campaign? With Hood’s army destroyed you can go where you please with impunity. I believed, and still believe, that if you had started south whilst Hood was in the neighborhood of you he would have been forced to go after you. Now that he is so far away, he might look upon the chase as useless and go in one direction whilst you are pushing in the other. If you can see the chance for destroying Hood’s army, attend to that first and make your other move secondary.
Sherman’s move was anything but secondary. He was marching to the sea, and then planned to go up the coast to join Grant before Petersburg and Richmond. He wasn’t merely destroying Georgia, he was about to win the war. To him, Hood didn’t matter, his supply lines didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was a 50,000-man wide swath through the state. This wasn’t over. Sherman would soon reply, stating his case yet again. But would such an argument sway the steady Grant?1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 39, Part 3, p576-577, 580. [↩]