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‘ [165] my forces—send a part back into Tennessee, retaining the balance here. . . I admit that the first object should be the destruction of that army, and if Beauregard moves his infantry and artillery up into the pocket about Jackson and Paris, I shall feel strongly tempted to move Thomas directly against him, and myself move rapidly by Decatur and Purdy to cut off his retreat. But this would involve the abandonment of Atlanta and a retrograde movement, which would be of very doubtful expediency or success. . . I am more than satisfied that Beauregard has not the nerve to attack fortifications, or to meet me in open battle, and it would be a great achievement for him to make me abandon Atlanta, by mere threats or manoeuvres.’

But by far the most important part of this despatch related to his line of march, for his absolute route was yet necessarily undetermined. No man could say what Hood would do, when the departure of the national army became known; whether he would persist in the invasion of Tennessee, or retrace his steps in pursuit of Sherman. It could not even be certain that a considerable force might not be collected to oppose the advance to the sea. It was therefore indispensable that Sherman should have alternatives; if repelled or thwarted in one direction, he must be free to turn in another; if he could not reach the Atlantic coast, he must make for the Gulf of Mexico. Thus, at the very moment of starting, neither he nor Grant knew what point would be the terminus of his march; and in this last despatch to the general-in-chief, Sherman said: ‘If I start before I hear further from you, or before further developments turn my ’

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William T. Sherman (3)
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