America's Civil War
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 Professor John C. Willis
 


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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