Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant

Some time in the winter of 1863-64 I had been invited by the
general-in-chief to give my views of the campaign I thought
advisable for the command under me–now Sherman’s. General J.
E. Johnston was defending Atlanta and the interior of Georgia
with an army, the largest part of which was stationed at Dalton,
about 38 miles south of Chattanooga. Dalton is at the junction of
the railroad from Cleveland with the one from Chattanooga to

There could have been no difference of opinion as to the first
duty of the armies of the military division of the
Mississippi. Johnston’s army was the first objective, and that
important railroad centre, Atlanta, the second. At the time I
wrote General Halleck giving my views of the approaching
campaign, and at the time I met General Sherman, it was expected
that General Banks would be through with the campaign which he
had been ordered upon before my appointment to the command of
all the armies, and would be ready to co-operate with the armies
east of the Mississippi, his part in the programme being to move
upon Mobile by land while the navy would close the harbor and
assist to the best of its ability. (*22) The plan therefore was
for Sherman to attack Johnston and destroy his army if possible,
to capture Atlanta and hold it, and with his troops and those of
Banks to hold a line through to Mobile, or at least to hold
Atlanta and command the railroad running east and west, and the
troops from one or other of the armies to hold important points
on the southern road, the only east and west road that would be
left in the possession of the enemy. This would cut the
Confederacy in two again, as our gaining possession of the
Mississippi River had done before. Banks was not ready in time
for the part assigned to him, and circumstances that could not
be foreseen determined the campaign which was afterwards made,
the success and grandeur of which has resounded throughout all

In regard to restoring officers who had been relieved from
important commands to duty again, I left Sherman to look after
those who had been removed in the West while I looked out for
the rest. I directed, however, that he should make no
assignment until I could speak to the Secretary of War about the
matter. I shortly after recommended to the Secretary the
assignment of General Buell to duty. I received the assurance
that duty would be offered to him; and afterwards the Secretary
told me that he had offered Buell an assignment and that the
latter had declined it, saying that it would be degradation to
accept the assignment offered. I understood afterwards that he
refused to serve under either Sherman or Canby because he had
ranked them both. Both graduated before him and ranked him in
the old army. Sherman ranked him as a brigadier-general. All
of them ranked me in the old army, and Sherman and Buell did as
brigadiers. The worse excuse a soldier can make for declining
service is that he once ranked the commander he is ordered to
report to.

On the 23d of March I was back in Washington, and on the 26th
took up my headquarters at Culpeper Court-House, a few miles
south of the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac.

Although hailing from Illinois myself, the State of the
President, I never met Mr. Lincoln until called to the capital
to receive my commission as lieutenant-general. I knew him,
however, very well and favorably from the accounts given by
officers under me at the West who had known him all their
lives. I had also read the remarkable series of debates between
Lincoln and Douglas a few years before, when they were rival
candidates for the United States Senate. I was then a resident
of Missouri, and by no means a “Lincoln man” in that contest;
but I recognized then his great ability.

In my first interview with Mr. Lincoln alone he stated to me
that he had never professed to be a military man or to know how
campaigns should be conducted, and never wanted to interfere in
them: but that procrastination on the part of commanders, and
the pressure from the people at the North and Congress, WHICH
WAS ALWAYS WITH HIM, forced him into issuing his series of
“Military Orders”–one, two, three, etc. He did not know but
they were all wrong, and did know that some of them were. All
he wanted or had ever wanted was some one who would take the
responsibility and act, and call on him for all the assistance
needed, pledging himself to use all the power of the government
in rendering such assistance. Assuring him that I would do the
best I could with the means at hand, and avoid as far as
possible annoying him or the War Department, our first interview

The Secretary of War I had met once before only, but felt that I
knew him better.

While commanding in West Tennessee we had occasionally held
conversations over the wires, at night, when they were not being
otherwise used. He and General Halleck both cautioned me against
giving the President my plans of campaign, saying that he was so
kind-hearted, so averse to refusing anything asked of him, that
some friend would be sure to get from him all he knew. I should
have said that in our interview the President told me he did not
want to know what I proposed to do. But he submitted a plan of
campaign of his own which he wanted me to hear and then do as I
pleased about. He brought out a map of Virginia on which he had
evidently marked every position occupied by the Federal and
Confederate armies up to that time. He pointed out on the map
two streams which empty into the Potomac, and suggested that the
army might be moved on boats and landed between the mouths of
these streams. We would then have the Potomac to bring our
supplies, and the tributaries would protect our flanks while we
moved out. I listened respectfully, but did not suggest that
the same streams would protect Lee’s flanks while he was
shutting us up.

I did not communicate my plans to the President, nor did I to
the Secretary of War or to General Halleck.

March the 26th my headquarters were, as stated, at Culpeper, and
the work of preparing for an early campaign commenced.



When I assumed command of all the armies the situation was about
this: the Mississippi River was guarded from St. Louis to its
mouth; the line of the Arkansas was held, thus giving us all the
North-west north of that river. A few points in Louisiana not
remote from the river were held by the Federal troops, as was
also the mouth of the Rio Grande. East of the Mississippi we
held substantially all north of the Memphis and Charleston
Railroad as far east as Chattanooga, thence along the line of
the Tennessee and Holston rivers, taking in nearly all of the
State of Tennessee. West Virginia was in our hands; and that
part of old Virginia north of the Rapidan and east of the Blue
Ridge we also held. On the sea-coast we had Fortress Monroe and
Norfolk in Virginia; Plymouth, Washington and New Berne in North
Carolina; Beaufort, Folly and Morris islands, Hilton Head, Port
Royal and Fort Pulaski in South Carolina and Georgia;
Fernandina, St. Augustine, Key West and Pensacola in Florida.
The balance of the Southern territory, an empire in extent, was
still in the hands of the enemy.

Sherman, who had succeeded me in the command of the military
division of the Mississippi, commanded all the troops in the
territory west of the Alleghanies and north of Natchez, with a
large movable force about Chattanooga. His command was
subdivided into four departments, but the commanders all
reported to Sherman and were subject to his orders. This
arrangement, however, insured the better protection of all lines
of communication through the acquired territory, for the reason
that these different department commanders could act promptly in
case of a sudden or unexpected raid within their respective
jurisdictions without awaiting the orders of the division

In the East 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. It is true, 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. The Northern press, as a
whole, did not discourage these claims; a portion of it always
magnified rebel success and belittled ours, while another
portion, most sincerely earnest in their desire for the
preservation of the Union and the overwhelming success of the
Federal armies, would nevertheless generally express
dissatisfaction what whatever victories were gained because they
were not more complete.

That portion of the Army of the Potomac not engaged in guarding
lines of communication was on the northern bank of the
Rapidan. The Army of Northern Virginia confronting it on the
opposite bank of the same river, was strongly intrenched and
commanded by the acknowledged ablest general in the Confederate
army. The country back to the James River is cut up with many
streams, generally narrow, deep, and difficult to cross except
where bridged. The region is heavily timbered, and the roads
narrow, and very bad after the least rain. Such an enemy was
not, of course, unprepared with adequate fortifications at
convenient intervals all the way back to Richmond, so that when
driven from one fortified position they would always have
another farther to the rear to fall back into.

To provision an army, campaigning against so formidable a foe
through such a country, from wagons alone seemed almost
impossible. System and discipline were both essential to its

The Union armies were now divided into nineteen departments,
though four of them in the West had been concentrated into a
single military division. The Army of the Potomac was a
separate command and had no territorial limits. There were thus
seventeen distinct commanders. Before this time these various
armies had acted separately and independently of each other,
giving the enemy an opportunity often of depleting one command,
not pressed, to reinforce another more actively engaged. I
determined to stop this. To this end I regarded the Army of the
Potomac as the centre, and all west to Memphis along the line
described as our position at the time, and north of it, the
right wing; the Army of the James, under General Butler, as the
left wing, and all the troops south, as a force in rear of the
enemy. Some of these latter were occupying positions from which
they could not render service proportionate to their numerical
strength. All such were depleted to the minimum necessary to
hold their positions as a guard against blockade runners; where
they could not do this their positions were abandoned
altogether. In this way ten thousand men were added to the Army
of the James from South Carolina alone, with General Gillmore in
command. It was not contemplated that General Gillmore should
leave his department; but as most of his troops were taken,
presumably for active service, he asked to accompany them and
was permitted to do so. Officers and soldiers on furlough, of
whom there were many thousands, were ordered to their proper
commands; concentration was the order of the day, and to have it
accomplished in time to advance at the earliest moment the roads
would permit was the problem.

As a reinforcement to the Army of the Potomac, or to act in
support of it, the 9th army corps, over twenty thousand strong,
under General Burnside, had been rendezvoused at Annapolis,
Maryland. This was an admirable position for such a
reinforcement. The corps could be brought at the last moment as
a reinforcement to the Army of the Potomac, or it could be thrown
on the sea-coast, south of Norfolk, in Virginia or North
Carolina, to operate against Richmond from that direction. In
fact Burnside and the War Department both thought the 9th corps
was intended for such an expedition up to the last moment.

My general plan now was to concentrate all the force possible
against the Confederate armies in the field. There were but two
such, as we have seen, east of the Mississippi River and facing
north. The Army of Northern Virginia, General Robert E. Lee
commanding, was on the south bank of the Rapidan, confronting
the Army of the Potomac; the second, under General Joseph E.
Johnston, was at Dalton, Georgia, opposed to Sherman who was
still at Chattanooga. Beside these main armies the Confederates
had to guard the Shenandoah Valley, a great storehouse to feed
their armies from, and their line of communications from
Richmond to Tennessee. Forrest, a brave and intrepid cavalry
general, was in the West with a large force; making a larger
command necessary to hold what we had gained in Middle and West
Tennessee. We could not abandon any territory north of the line
held by the enemy because it would lay the Northern States open
to invasion. But as the Army of the Potomac was the principal
garrison for the protection of Washington even while it was
moving on Lee, so all the forces to the west, and the Army of
the James, guarded their special trusts when advancing them from
as well as when remaining at them. Better indeed, for they
forced the enemy to guard his own lines and resources at a
greater distance from ours, and with a greater force. Little
expeditions could not so well be sent out to destroy a bridge or
tear up a few miles of railroad track, burn a storehouse, or
inflict other little annoyances. Accordingly I arranged for a
simultaneous movement all along the line. Sherman was to move
from Chattanooga, Johnston’s army and Atlanta being his
objective points.(*23) Crook, commanding in West Virginia, was
to move from the mouth of the Gauley River with a cavalry force
and some artillery, the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad to be
his objective. Either the enemy would have to keep a large
force to protect their communications, or see them destroyed and
a large amount of forage and provision, which they so much
needed, fall into our hands. Sigel was in command in the Valley
of Virginia. He was to advance up the valley, covering the North
from an invasion through that channel as well while advancing as
by remaining near Harper’s Ferry. Every mile he advanced also
gave us possession of stores on which Lee relied. Butler was to
advance by the James River, having Richmond and Petersburg as his

Before the advance commenced I visited Butler at Fort Monroe.
This was the first time I had ever met him. Before giving him
any order as to the part he was to play in the approaching
campaign I invited his views. They were very much such as I
intended to direct, and as I did direct (*24), in writing,
before leaving.

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