HEADQUARTERS MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI, Savannah, GA., December 24, 1864.
Lieutenant General U. S. GRANT, City Point, Va.:
Your letter of December 18 is just received. I feel very much gratified at receiving the handsome commendation you pay my army. I will, in general orders, convey to the officers and men the substance of your note. I am also gratified that you have modified your former orders, as I feared that the transportation by sea would very much disturb the unity and morale of my army, now so perfect. The occupation of Savannah, which I have heretofore reported, completes the first part of our game, and fulfills a great part of your instructions, and I am now engaged in dismantling the rebel forts which bear upon the sea channels, and transferring the heavy ordnance and ammunition to Fort Pulaski, where they can be more easily guarded than if left in the city. The rebel inner lines are well adapted to our purpose, and, with slight modifications, can be held by a comparatively small force, and in about ten days I expect to be ready to sally forth again.
I feel no doubt whatever as to our future plans; I have thought them over so long and well that they appear as clear as daylight. I left Augusta untouched on purpose, because now the enemy will be in doubt as to my objective point after crossing the Savannah River, whether it be Augusta or Charleston, and will naturally divide his forces. I will then move either on Branchville or Columbia, on any curved line that gives me the best supplies, breaking up in my course as much railroad as possible; then, ignoring Charleston and Augusta both, occupy Columbia and Camden; pausing there long enough to observe the effect. I would then strike for the Charleston and Wilmington Railroad, somewhere between the Santee and the Cape Fear River, and, if possible, communicate with the fleet under Admiral Dahlgren (whom I find a most agreeable gentleman, in every way accommodating himself to our wishes and would favor Wilmington, in the belief that Porter and Butler will fail in their present undertaking. Charleston is now a mere desolated wreck, and is hardly worthy the time it would take to starve it out. Still, I am aware that, historically and politically, much importance is attached to the place, and it may be that, apart from its military importance, both you and the administration would prefer I should give it more attention, and it would be well for you to give me some general idea on that subject, as otherwise I would treat it as I have expressed, as a point of little importance. All its railroads leading into the interior will be destroyed or occupied by us. But, on the hypothesis of ignoring Charleston and taking Wilmington, I would then favor a movement direct on Raleigh. The game is then up with Lee, unless he comes out of Richmond, avoids you, and fights me, in which event I should reckon on your being on his heels.
Now that Hood is used up by Thomas, I feel disposed to bring the matter to an issue just as quick as possible. I feel confident that I can break up the whole railroad system of South Carolina and North Carolina, and be on the Roanoke, either at Raleigh or Weldon, by the time the spring fairly opens. And if you feel confident that you can whip Lee outside of his intrenchments, I feel equally confident that I can handle him in the open country. One reason why I would ignore Charleston is this, that I believe they will reduce the garrison to a small force, with plenty of provisions, and I know that the neck back of Charleston can be made impregnable to assault, and we will hardly have time for siege operations. I will have to leave in Savannah a garrison, and, if Thomas can spare them, I would like to have all detachments, convalescents, &c., belonging to these four corps sent forward at once. I don’t want to cripple Thomas, because I regard his operations as all important, and I have ordered him pursue Hood down into Alabama, trusting to the country for supplies.
I reviewed one of my corps today, and shall continue to review the whole army. I don’t like to boast, but I believe this army has a confidence in itself that makes it almost invincible. I wish you wold run down and see us; it would have a good effect, and would show to both armies that they are acting on a common plan. The Weather is now cool and pleasant, and the general health very good.
Your true friend,
W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General
HEADQUARTERS MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI, In the Field, Savannah, GA., December 24, 1864.
Major General H. W. HALLECK, Chief of Staff, Washington City, D. C.:
I had the pleasure to receive your two letters of the 16th and 18th instant today, and I feel more than usually flattered by the high encomiums you have passed on our recent campaign, which is now complete by the occupation of Savannah. I am also very glad that General Grant has changed his mind about embarking my troops for James River, leaving me free to make the broad swath you describe through South and North Carolina, and still more gratified at the news from Thomas in Tennessee, because it fulfills my plan, which contemplated his being fully able to dispose of Hood in case he ventured north of the Tennessee River; so I think, on the whole, I can chuckle over Jeff. Davis’ disappointment in not turning my Atlanta campaign into a Moscow disaster.
I have just finished a long letter to General Grant, and have explained to him that we are engaged in shifting our base from the Ogeechee over to the Savannah River, dismantling all the forts made by the enemy to bear upon the salt-water channels, and transferring the heavy ordnance, &c., to Fort Pulaski and Hilton Head, and in remodeling the enemy’s interior lines to suit our future plans and purposes. I have also laid down the programme of a campaign which I can make this winter, and put me in the spring on the Roanoke, in direct communication with him on the James River. In general terms, my plan is to turn over to General Foster the city of Savannah, and to sally forth, with my army resupplied, cross the Savannah, feign on Charleston an Augusta, but strike between, breaking en route the Charleston and Augusta Railroad, also a large part of that from Branchville and Camden toward North Carolina, and then rapidly moving to some point of the railroad from Charleston to Wilmington, between the Santee and Cape Fear Rivers; then, communicating with the fleet in the neighborhood of Georgetown, I would turn upon Wilmington or Charleston accordingly to the importance of either. I rather prefer Wilmington, as a live place, over Charleston, which is dead and unimportant when its railroad communications are broken.
I take it for granted the present movement on Wilmington will fail, because I know that gun-boats cannot take a fort, and Butler has not the force or the ability to take it. If I should determine to take Charleston I would turn across the country, which I have hunted over many a time, from Santee to Mount Pleasant, throwing one wing on the peninsula between Ashley and Cooper. After accomplishing one or other of these ends I would make a bee-line for Raleigh, or Weldon, when Lee would be forced to come out of Richmond or acknowledge himself beaten. He would, I think, by the use of the Danville railroad, throw himself rapidly between me and Grant, leaving Richmond in the hands of the latter. This would not alarm me, for I have an army which I think can maneuver, and I would force him to attack me at a disadvantage, always under the supposition that Grant would be on his heels; and if the worst came to the worst I could fight my way down to Albemarle Sound or New Berne.
I think the time come now when we should attempt the boldest moves, and my experience is that they are easier of execution than more timid ones, because the enemy is disconcerted by them, as for instance, my recent campaign. I also doubt the wisdom of concentration beyond a certain point, as the roads of this country limit the amount of men that can be brought to bear in any one battle; and I don’t believe any one general can handle more than 60,000 men in battle. I think my campaign of the last month, as well as every step I take from this point northward, is as much a direct attack upon Lee’s army as though I were operating within the sound of his artillery.
I am very anxious that Thompson should follow up his successes to the very uttermost point. My orders to him before I left Kingston were, after beating Hood, to follow him as far as Columbus, Miss., or Selma, Ala., both of which lie in a district of the country which I know to be rich in corn and meat. I attach more importance to these deep incisions into the enemy’s country, because this war differs from European wars in this particular. We are not only fighting armies, but a hostile people, and must make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war, as well as their organized armies. I know that this recent movement of mine through Georgia has had a wonderful effect in this respect. Thousands who had been deceived by their lying papers into the belief that we were being whipped all the time, realized the truth, and have no appetite for a repetition of the same experience. To be sure, Jeff. Davis has his people under a pretty good state of discipline, but I think faith in him is much shaken in Georgia; and I think before we are done, South Carolina will not be quite so tempestuous.
I will bear in mind your hint as to Charleston, and don’t know think salt will be necessary. When I move the Fifteenth Corps will be on the right of the Right Wing, and their position will bring them, naturally, into Charleston first; and if you have watched the history of that corps you will have remarked that they generally do their work up pretty well. The truth is the whole army is burning with an insatiable desire to wreck vengeance on South Carolina. I almost tremble as her fate, but feel that deserves all that seems in store for her.
Many and many a person in Georgia asked me why we did not go to South Carolina, and when I answered that I was en route for that State the invariable reply was, “Well, if you will make those people feel the severities of war, we will pardon you for your desolation of Georgia. ” I look upon Columbia as quite as bad Charleston, and I doubt if we shall spare the public buildings there, as we did at Milledgeville.
I have been so busy lately that I let my subordinates report, and think I had better wait until I get my subordinates reports before attempting it, as I am anxious to explain clearly, not only the reasons for every step, but the amount of destruction done, and this I cannot do until I get the subordinate reports; for we marched the whole distance in four or more columns, and, of course, I could only be present with one, and generally that one engaged in destroying railroads. This work of destructions was performed better than usual, because I had an engineer regiment provided with claws to twist the bars after being heated. Such bars can never be used again, and the only way in which a railroad line can be reconstructed across Georgia will be to make a new road from Fairburn Station, twenty-four miles southwest of Atlanta, to Madison, a distance of 100 miles; and before that can be done I proposed to be on the road from Augusta to Charleston, which is a continuation of the same.
I felt somewhat disappointed at Hardee’s escape from me, but really am not to blame. I moved as quick as possible to close up the “Union Causeway,” but intervening obstacles were such that before I could get my troops on the road Hardee had slipped out. Still, I know that the men that were in Savannah will be lost, in a measure, to Jeff. Davis; for the Georgia troops, under G. W. Smith, declared they would not fight in South Carolina, and have gone north en route for Augusta, and I have reason to believe the North Carolina troops have gone to Wilmington: in other words, they are scattered. I have reason to believe that Beauregard was present in Savannah at the time of its evacuation, and I think he and Hardee are now in Charleston, doubtless making preparations for what they know will be my next step.
Please say to the President that I received his kind message through Colonel Markland, and feel thankful for his high favor. If I disappoint him in the future, it shall not be from want of zeal or love to the cause. Of you I expect a full and frank criticism of my plans for the future, which may enable me to correct errors before it is too late. I do not wish to be rash, but want to give my rebel friends no chance to accuse us of want of enterprise or courage.
Assuring you of my high personal respect, I remain, as ever, your friend,
W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General