U. S. Grant,
Plans for the 1864 Campaign
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, [as]
the right wing; the Army of the James, under General [Benjamin] 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
[Quincy A.] 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. [Nathan Bedford] 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 from them 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. [George] 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 provisions, which they so much
needed, fall into our hands. [Franz] Sigel was in command in the
Valley of Virginia. He was to advance [southwest] up the valley,
covering the North from an invasion through that channel as well while advancing
as by remaining near Harpers 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 objective....
[Nathaniel P.] Banks in the Department of the Gulf was
ordered to assemble all the troops he had at New Orleans in time to join in the
general move, Mobile to be his objective.
At this time I was not entirely decided as to whether
I should move the Army of the Potomac by the right flank of the enemy, or by his
left. Each plan presented advantages. If by his right
-- my left -- the Potomac, Chesapeake Bay and tributaries would furnish us an
easy line over which to bring all supplies to within easy hauling distance of
every position the army could occupy from the Rapidan to the James River.
But Lee could, if he chose, detach or move his whole army north on a line rather
interior to the one I would have to take in following. A movement by
his left -- our right -- would obviate this; but all that was done would have to
be done with the supplies and ammunition we started with. All idea of
adopting this latter plan was abandoned when the limited quantity of supplies
possible to take with us was considered. The country over which we
would have to pass was so exhausted of all food and forage that we would be
obliged to carry everything with us....
By the 27th of April spring had so far advanced at to
justify me in fixing a day for the great move. On that day Burnside
left Annapolis to occupy Meade's position between Bull Run and the
Rappahannock. Meade was notified and directed to bring his troops
forward to his advance. On the following day Butler was notified
of my intended advance on the 4th of May, and he was directed to move the
night of the same day and get as far up the James River as possible by
daylight, and push on from there to accomplish the task given him. He
was also notified that reinforcements were being collected in Washington City,
which would be forwarded to him should the enemy fall back into the trenches at
Richmond. The same day Sherman was directed to get his forces up
ready to advance on the 5th. Sigel was in Winchester and was
notified to move in conjunction with the others.
The criticism has been made by writers on the
[Army of the Potomac's] campaign from the Rapidan to the James River
that all the loss of life could have been obviated by moving the army
there on transports. [But] Richmond was fortified and intrenched
[sic] so perfectly that one man inside to defend was more than equal to
five outside besieging or assaulting. To get possession of
Lee's army was the first great object. With the capture of his
army Richmond would necessarily follow. It was better to fight
him outside of his stronghold than in it. If the Army of the
Potomac had been moved bodily to the James River by water Lee could have
moved a part of his forces back to Richmond, called Beauregard from
the south to reinforce it, and with the balance moved on to Washington....
While my headquarters were at Culpeper, from the 26th
of March to the 4th of May, I generally visited Washington once a week to
confer with the Secretary of War and President. On the last occasion,
a few days before moving, . . . I had my last interview with
the President before reaching the James River. He had of course
become acquainted with the fact that a general movement had been ordered all
along the line, and seemed to think it a new feature in war. I
explained to him that it was necessary to have a great number of troops to
guard and hold the territory we had captured, and to prevent incursions into
the Northern States. These troops could perform this service
just as well by advancing as by remaining still; and by advancing they
would compel the enemy to keep detachments to hold them back, or else lay his
own territory open to invasion. His answer was:
"Oh, yes! I see that. As we say out West, if a man
can't skin he must hold a leg while somebody else does."
SOURCE: U. S. Grant, Personal Memoirs of U. S.
Grant (New York, 1885), pages 364-367, 368-370, 371-372, 372-373.
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