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Frederick Dent Grant, Major-General, United States Army

General Ulysses S. Grant at city Point in 1864, with his wife and son Jesse


Upon being appointed lieutenant-general, and having assumed command of all the armies in the field, in March, 1864, General Grant had an interview with President Lincoln, during which interview Mr. Lincoln stated that procrastination on the part of commanders, and the pressure from the people of the North and from Congress, had forced him into issuing his series of military orders, some of which he knew were wrong, and all of which may have been wrong; that all he, the President, wanted, or had ever wanted, was some one who would take the responsibility of action, and would call upon him, as the Executive of the Government, for such supplies as were needed; the President pledging himself to use the full powers of the Government in rendering all assistance possible. General Grant assured the President that he would do the best he could with the means at hand, and would, as far as possible, avoid annoying the administration with unnecessary demands.

His first work was to inaugurate a plan of campaign for all the armies. During the first three years of the war, the various armies had acted independently — a condition which had enabled their enemies to reenforce each point of attack by drawing troops from points of inactivity.

Having this in view, General Grant planned to move all the armies at once. He looked upon the Army of the James as the left wing, the Army of the Potomac as the center, and the troops operating under General Sherman as the right wing; all other troops being considered as cooperative [15] columns. He believed that by moving the whole line at the same time the greatest number of troops practicable would be brought against the armed forces of his enemy, and would prevent them from using the same force to resist the efforts of the Union army, first at one point and then at another, and that, by continuously hammering against their armies, he would destroy both them and their sources of supply.

To carry out this idea, orders were given to the various commanders — on the 2d of April to Butler; on the 4th, to Sherman, and on the 9th, to Meade. In all these orders the same general ideas were expressed. To Butler he wrote:

You will collect all the forces from your command that can be spared from garrison duty . . . to operate on the south side of James River, Richmond being your objective point.

To Sherman he wrote:

It is my design, if the enemy keep quiet and allow me to take the initiative in the spring campaign, to work all the parts of the army together, and somewhat toward a common center. . . . 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.

To Meade he wrote:

Lee's army will be your objective point. Wherever Lee goes, there you will go also.

Thus it will be seen that General Grant's plan with reference to the movements of the Army of the Potomac was similar to that of Napoleon in the Russian campaign, while his plan in reference to the whole army much resembles the plan adopted by the Allies in their campaign against France in 1813-14.

When these movements began, the situation was about as follows: In the possession of the Union was all the territory north of a line beginning at Fortress Monroe, following the Chesapeake Bay to the Potomac River, up that river to near [16] Washington, the northern border of Virginia as far as Harper's Ferry, covered by the Army of the Potomac; across the mountains into West Virginia, to the headwaters of the Holston River in Tennessee, down that river and the Tennessee to Chattanooga, and thence along the Memphis and Charleston Railroad to the Mississippi, which was also in Union hands. All south of that line was in the hands of the Confederates, except a few stations along the sea coast, the possession of which assisted in the blockade.

Most of the opposing troops which were east of the Mississippi had been concentrated into the armies commanded by Lee and Johnston; that commanded by Lee facing the Army of the Potomac and guarding Richmond, while that of Johnston was at Dalton, in the northern part of Georgia, facing Sherman and defending Atlanta, a great railroad center and a point of concentration of supplies for the Confederate troops, wherever they were stationed, east of the Mississippi River. Richmond and the armies under Lee and Johnston were the main objectives of the campaign.

General Grant, as commander of the Union armies, placed himself with the Army of the Potomac, where the greatest opposition was to be expected, and where he considered his personal presence would be of the greatest value, and whence he exercised general supervision over the movements of all the armies.

The main movements being against Lee and Johnston, all other troops were directed to cooperate with the main armies. The movements of detached bodies would compel the Confederates either to detach largely for the protection of his supplies and lines of communication, or else to lose them altogether.

Everything being prepared, orders were given for the start, and all the armies were on the move by the 6th of May, with what results the chapters that follow will tell the reader in detail. [17]

Early on the morning of the 4th of May, 1864, the Army of the Potomac moved out of its Camp near Culpeper Court House and, heading toward Richmond, crossed the Rapidan at Germanna and Ely's fords and entered the Wilderness. At the same time the Army of the James moved from Fortress Monroe up the James River, landing on the south side of the James near City Point, threatening Petersburg. The army in the Shenandoah valley had already started, and Sherman was about to move.

As the Army of the Potomac was marching through the Wilderness it was attacked by Lee, who had moved from his fortifications at Mine Run. The head of Lee's column met the Army of the Potomac near the Wilderness Tavern, and the struggle for military supremacy in the field began. This battle, locally known as “The Wilderness,” had by the 7th of May spread along the entire line of the Federal armies, and was raging from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi valley. Columns of men were engaged in battle on the James River, in the Wilderness, in the Shenandoah valley, and in northern Georgia. In a few days the question was to be determined whether the North or the South possessed the military mastery of the continent. The decision of this struggle is told in detail by the chapters which follow.

From now on the tactics of Lee and Johnston were defensive, and they awaited the assaults of the Union armies behind fortifications. The Union center attacked and maneuvered, always by the left flank, while the right wing maneuvered generally by the right flank. One flank movement after another forced the Confederates out of position after position, until their main armies were thrown back to near the James River, to Staunton, Virginia, and to the Etowah River, Georgia. In the East, the great battle of Cold Harbor was fought, and a sudden flank movement to the left was made, the crossing of the James effected, and the carrying of the outer lines of Petersburg, which city, with Richmond, was immediately laid [18] under siege. The junction of the armies of the James and of the Potomac now took place, and from this time on they together formed the left wing of the Union armies. The column in the Shenandoah valley had penetrated to near Staunton and Lynchburg, in Virginia; but their ammunition becoming almost exhausted, especially that for artillery, the army had to move over the mountains toward the Kanawha valley, thus leaving the Shenandoah valley open for General Early to pass through in making raids on the North; while the right wing of the Union army pushed its way on through northern Georgia to the Chattahoochee River, which it crossed, and moved toward Atlanta. The first phase of the great campaign was thus ended, and the second phase now opens before us.

As already described, the Shenandoah valley was left open to raids by Southern troops into the North, and so able a man as General Lee did not miss such an opportunity. A portion of the Confederates within the strong entrenchments of Petersburg and Richmond were detached under General Early, who marched down the Shenandoah, crossed the Potomac, and entered Maryland, penetrating as far as Washington, for the defense of which city two corps were detached from the right wing. They succeeded in saving the national capital and in driving Early's forces to the north and west, and took up the line of the Monocacy. Sheridan was given the command of the Federal defense. He soon placed himself in the valley of the Shenandoah, where his army now became the center of the Union line.

The second phase was the adoption of the policy to keep the Confederate armies within the besieged cities, Richmond, Petersburg, and Atlanta, and actively to engage the outside troops, to drive all the smaller bands to the south, to devastate the country from which supplies were drawn, and, as far as possible, to destroy the troops that gathered these supplies. In these movements the most active and most effective column was the Army of the Shenandoah, which soon sent the opposing [19] force, as Sheridan expressed it, “whirling through Winchester,” annihilated two armies gathered to protect the Valley, and destroyed all the war supplies it contained.

In the meantime, the Confederate Government, finding that it was losing so much ground by its defensive policy, relieved Johnston, an officer of great ability, who was commanding at Atlanta. Hood was placed in charge of that wing of the army. He immediately assumed the offensive and attacked the Army of the Tennessee on the 22d of July, but was defeated and thrown back, with great losses, into his works at Atlanta.

Sherman soon followed Hood's lead by making another flank movement, which caused the fall of the city, the Confederates evacuating the place and moving to the west and north, threatening Sherman's line of supplies. Sherman followed Hood for a while, but it was soon decided to detach part of the troops under him, to concentrate them at Nashville, in Tennessee, so as to prevent an invasion of the North by Hood's army, and to abandon the lines of supplies to the rear; and then for Sherman to push on to the sea, cutting through Georgia, living off the country, and destroying as far as possible the store houses from which the army in Richmond gathered its food.

Hood followed one of the detachments from Sherman's army, and penetrated as far north as Nashville, where, in December, the decisive battle of Nashville was fought. This relieved the country in the rear of the line from menace, and one might say that the Confederacy was limited to the segment of a circle the circumference of which would pass through Richmond, Petersburg, Savannah, Atlanta, and Nashville. The policy maintained was continually to reduce the size of this circle until the Confederacy was crushed.

Sherman turned north, marching through the Carolinas. Part of the troops that had fought at Nashville under Thomas [20] were sent to Wilmington, under Schofield, after the fall of Fort Fisher. Sheridan's troopers were pressed forward up the Shenandoah Valley, to cross over to the headwaters of the James River, and down that stream to join the armies of the Potomac and of the James in front of Richmond and Petersburg. Stoneman moved from east Tennessee into the Virginias. The circle was contracted and the Confederacy was pressed on every side. This constituted the second phase of the great campaign, and the grand finale was about to be enacted.

As soon as Sheridan reached the Army of the Potomac, his troops were placed on the left of that army, to attack the remaining lines of communication between Richmond and the South. This forced the Confederates to detach large numbers of troops from their works, and, while thus weakened, the Army of the Potomac assaulted and carried the lines in front of Petersburg on the 2d of April, 1865. The fall of the fortifications around Petersburg opened to the Union armies all the lines of communication which the Confederates had to the south from Richmond, and forced the evacuation of that city. A race was begun by the Confederates to get beyond the Army of the Potomac and Sheridan's troopers, to join Johnston, and so possibly to overpower Sherman's army. Sheridan succeeded in heading Lee off and in forcing him from the railroad, where his supplies were, while parts of the armies of the Potomac and the James followed and pressed Lee's army in the rear, until the 9th of April, when he was nearly surrounded at Appomattox Court House and his position was such that he was forced to surrender.

With the fall of Richmond and Petersburg and the surrender of Lee, the main prop of the Confederacy was broken, and all that was now necessary was to gather in the other Southern armies. As further resistance was useless, these armies asked for terms, which were granted, and thus ended the third and last phase of the great campaign.

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