A Scholarly Monograph By Douglas Cubbison
1 August 1997
The Papers of the Blue and Gray Education Society, Number 5
I Can Make This March
On April 4, 1864 Lieutenant General U.S. Grant wrote to Major General William T. Sherman to formalize the verbal understanding established between the two men a month earlier: “You I propose to move against Johnston’s army, to break it up, and to get into the interior of the enemy’s country as far as you can, inflicting all the damage you can against their war resources.'”
With the capture of Atlanta on September 2, 1864, Sherman had done precisely that; however, he was far from done.
The Confederate Army of Tennessee, now commanded by John Bell Hood, had been badly battered by the bloody fighting for Atlanta and its numerical strength, morale and combat effectiveness had been significantly degraded. Of particular concern were the heavy losses among officers and non-commissioned officers.
Grant’s favorite subordinate now faced three new challenges to consolidate his winnings. The first, of course, was John Bell Hood and his Army of Tennessee. The second was his tenuous and fragile supply line which depended upon the single strand of the Western and Atlantic Railroad stretching from Chattanooga to Atlanta. Finally, by attempting to hold Atlanta, he was remaining on the defensive, a posture which was the very antithesis of Sherman’s martial personality. In Sherman’s own words:”It will be a physical impossibility to protect the roads, now that Hood, Forrest, Wheeler, and the whole batch of devils, are turned loose without home or habitation….Until we can repopulate Georgia, it is useless for us to occupy it; but the utter destruction of its roads, houses, and people, will cripple their military resources. By attempting to hold the roads, we will lose a thousand men each month and will gain no result. I can make this march, and make Georgia howl! We have on hand over eight thousand head of cattle and three million rations of bread, but no corn. We can find plenty of forage in the interior of the State.”2
On another occasion, he wrote: “We have plenty of bread and meat, but forage is scarce. I want to destroy all the road below Chattanooga, including Atlanta, and to make for the sea-coast. We cannot defend this long line of road.”3
Sherman’s solution was to place the highly capable Major General George H. Thomas in command of Middle Tennessee and Northern Alabama. He would give Thomas the 4th and 23rd Army Corps and a considerable force of cavalry to deter and check Hood. Meanwhile, Sherman would lead the rest of his army through the heart of Georgia to the Atlantic Ocean. Sherman carefully considered his options and advised Grant on October 1, 1864:
“Hood is evidently on the west side of [across] the Chattahoochee…why will it not do to leave Tennessee to the forces which Thomas has, and the reserves soon to come to Nashville, and for me to destroy Atlanta and march across Georgia to Savannah or Charleston, breaking roads and doing irreparable damage?”