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Atlanta and the March to the Sea. Lsn 23. Grant’s Plan for 1864. Grant determined to “press” the Confederates on all sides in May 1864: Meade overland in the East. Sigel up the Shenandoah Valley. Butler up the James River. Sherman overland to Atlanta, GA. Banks toward Mobile, AL.

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Atlanta and the March to the Sea

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grant s plan for 1864
Grant’s Plan for 1864
  • Grant determined to “press” the Confederates on all sides in May 1864:
    • Meade overland in the East.
    • Sigel up the Shenandoah Valley.
    • Butler up the James River.
    • Sherman overland to Atlanta, GA.
    • Banks toward Mobile, AL.
  • Grant got little help from Butler, Sigel, and Banks
  • Even Meade’s effort against Lee seemed to have reached a stalemate with the siege of Petersburg
    • In June and July, Jubal Early launched a raid from the Shenandoah Valley into western Maryland and toward Washington
    • The Confederates were stopped but the mere fact that they could still pose such a threat alarmed the public
political situation
Political Situation
  • These developments did not bode well for Lincoln as he faced reelection in November
    • On Aug 23, 1864, Lincoln had his cabinet members endorse a memo that said, “This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probably that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will by my duty to so cooperate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the Election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he cannot possibly save it afterwards.”

George McClellan, running on a peace platform, was Lincoln’s Democratic opponent

atlanta campaign political implications
Atlanta Campaign: Political Implications
  • What will reverse this trend of gloom is Sherman’s capture of Atlanta
    • A vivid demonstration of the close connection between battlefield developments and politics
the atlanta campaign
The Atlanta Campaign
  • Grant’s instructions to Sherman were: “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.”
  • Sherman moved out on May 4, 1864 (the same day the Army of the Potomac crossed the Rapidan)
the federals
The Federals
  • Sherman had approximately 100,000 men
    • George Thomas commanded the Army of the Cumberland
    • James McPherson commanded the Army of the Tennessee
    • John Schofield commanded the Army of the Ohio
  • Sherman’s strategy was to fight a war of maneuver and attempt to turn the Confederate defenses
the confederates
The Confederates
  • Opposing Sherman was Joe Johnston who had replaced Bragg after Chattanooga
  • Johnston had just 50,000 men (although he shortly received reinforcements to bring him to about 60,000) but the rugged mountainous terrain favored the defense
  • Johnston elected to follow a defensive strategy
  • Johnston characteristically favored the defense and placed great stock in the strength of entrenched forces
  • As Sherman tried to turn Johnston’s line, Johnston continually withdrew to a new position
  • By May 19, Johnston had reached Cassville
    • In 12 days Johnston had yielded half the distance between Dalton and Atlanta
  • After the war Johnston would claim that he always had planned to eventually go on the offensive and engage the enemy “on terms of advantage”
  • At Cassville Johnston found such an opportunity
    • Sherman’s army was advancing in three columns and Schofield’s small force of 13,000 would pass by Cassville where two of Johnston’s three corps could intercept it
cassville missed opportunity
Cassville: Missed Opportunity
  • While Schofield was vulnerable, Thomas was five miles away and McPherson was ten miles away
  • Johnston could delay these forces with Hardee’s corps while Hood and Polk destroyed Schofield
  • Then as Thomas and McPherson rushed to Schofield’s aid, they could be destroyed piecemeal
cassville missed opportunity1
Cassville: Missed Opportunity
  • But this opportunity failed to come to pass as Hood, usually an overly aggressive general, mistakenly thought a strong Federal force had moved on his right flank and rear
  • Instead of attacking, the Confederates retreated to Allatoona Pass

Allatoona Pass looking north, circa 1864

  • Sherman’s three corps were all dependent on the single railroad that ran from Chattanooga
  • Johnston destroyed the railroad as he withdrew, but Sherman’s engineers rapidly repaired it
  • Sherman’s biggest fear was that Nathan Bedford Forrest might sever the Federal communications in Tennessee
    • We talked about this in Lesson19
  • Sherman sent Samuel Sturgis to keep Forrest occupied
  • Forrest defeated Sturgis at Brice’s Crossroads, but had less success against Andrew J. Smith at Tupelo
  • The net result was that Sherman had kept Forrest distracted from interfering with the Atlanta Campaign

Sherman said, Forrest must be “hunted down and killed even if it costs 10,000 lives and bankrupts the Federal treasury”

unity of command
Unity of Command
  • Part of the problem was that under the Confederate departmental system, Forrest’s cavalry belonged to Lieutenant General Stephen Lee’s Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana
  • Between May and July 1864, Johnston made eleven requests to Davis, Lee, and Bragg that Forrest’s cavalry strike Sherman’s communications
  • Each time Johnston was refused for the general reason that Forrest was already engaged in Mississippi
unity of command1
Unity of Command
  • Davis refused to order a unified effort and Lee refused to cooperate on his own initiative
  • The Confederate departmental system worked against the principle of unity of command in the Atlanta Campaign

After the war, Stephen Lee served as the first president of the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Mississippi (now Mississippi State) from 1880 to 1889

kennesaw mountain
Kennesaw Mountain
  • The only exception to the pattern of withdraw, defend, flank, withdrew, defend, flank… was Kennesaw Mountain where Sherman conducted a frontal attack
  • Sherman believed there the Confederate line was weak there and recent rains also inhibited his ability to maneuver
    • Sherman explained, “The enemy as well as my own army had settled down to the belief that flanking alone was my game.”
kennesaw mountain1
Kennesaw Mountain
  • Sherman’s frontal assault was a failure
    • 2,000 Federal casualties compared to just 450 for the Confederates
    • The Confederate defense held its ground
  • The ground soon dried and Sherman continued his flanking movements
to the outskirts of atlanta
To the Outskirts of Atlanta
  • On Sherman’s fourth move around the Confederate left flank, he breached the Chattahoochee River– the last real barrier separating him from Atlanta
  • Sherman moved a fifth time around the Confederate right flank and by mid-July Johnston had withdrawn behind the outer ring of fortifications that ringed Atlanta itself
  • Johnston’s army was still in tact but he no longer had room to maneuver
john bell hood
John Bell Hood
  • By now Davis was completely frustrated with Johnston’s defensive strategy
  • On July 17, Davis replaced Johnston with John Bell Hood
    • Hood was extremely aggressive
    • His left arm was rendered useless from wounds at Gettysburg and his right leg was amputated after a wound at Chickamauga
    • He had to be strapped into his saddle
john bell hood1
John Bell Hood
  • Replacing Johnston was a controversial decision
    • Lee warned Davis, “It is a bad time to release the commander of an army situated as that of Tennessee. We my lose Atlanta and the army too. Hood is a bold fighter. I am doubtful as to other qualities necessary.”
    • The poet Stephen Vincent Benet wrote,
      • “Yellow-haired Hood with his wounds and his empty sleeve,Leading his Texans, a Viking shape of a man, With the thrust and lack of craft of a berserk sword,All lion, none of the fox.”
hood takes the offensive
Hood Takes the Offensive
  • Between July 19 and 28, Hood attacked Sherman three times, suffering huge casualties and making no headway
  • Hood then withdrew to the Atlanta fortifications
  • On August 26 Sherman began a turning movement designed to cut Atlanta’s rail communications with the rest of the South
the fall of atlanta
The Fall of Atlanta
  • Hood realized what Sherman was trying to do, but he was too late to do anything about it
  • After a desperate attempt at Jonesboro to dislodge Sherman, Hood abandoned Atlanta and the Federals take possession on Sept 2
  • Hood headed north into northern Alabama and Tennessee trying unsuccessfully to get Sherman to follow him or at least disrupt Sherman’s communications
political impact
Political Impact
  • The fall of Atlanta sealed the fate of the Confederacy because it ensured Lincoln would be reelected and would prosecute the war to victory
march to the sea
March to the Sea
  • Rather than getting distracted by Hood’s offensive, on Nov 12 Sherman took his 62,000 men and headed east to the coast
    • Cut his communications and lived off the land
      • “Where a million people live my army won’t starve.” (Sherman)
    • Destroyed everything in his path
      • Planned “to leave a trail that [would] be recognized fifty years hence.”

Chief among Sherman’s targets were railroads where his men twisted ties into “Sherman’s bow-ties”

march to the sea1
March to the Sea
  • Key to Sherman’s success was keeping the Confederates on “the horns of a dilemma”
    • Would his objective be Macon or Augusta and then Augusta or Savannah?
    • Wrote Halleck, “I must have alternatives, else, being confined to one route, the enemy might so oppose that delay and want to trouble me, but having alternatives, I can take so eccentric a course that no general can guess my objective. Therefore, have lookouts at Morris Island, South Carolina, Ossahaw Sound, Georgia, Pensacola and Mobile bays. I will turn up somewhere.”
    • Sherman kept his enemy confused and advanced with virtually no opposition
march to the sea2
March to the Sea
  • Sherman’s target was not Confederate armies but Confederate will
    • “This movement is not purely military or strategic, but will illustrate the vulnerability of the South. They don’t know what war means, but when the rich planters of the Oconee and Savannah see their fences and corn and hogs and sheep vanish before their eyes they will have something more than a mean opinion of the ‘Yanks.’”
march to the sea3
March to the Sea
  • Sherman planned to have a psychological effect
    • He intended “to demonstrate the vulnerability of the South and make its inhabitants feel that war and individual ruin are synonymous terms.”
    • “… if the North can march an army right through the South, it is proof positive that the North can prevail in this contest.”
march to the sea4
March to the Sea
  • While Sherman was cutting through Georgia, Hood was defeated at Franklin and Nashville
  • Sherman arrived at Savannah in December, offers it as a “Christmas present” to Lincoln, got resupplied by the sea, and headed north to combine with Grant
march north
March North
  • Sherman continued his destruction being particularly hard on South Carolina because of its role in starting the secessionist movement
    • Burned the capital of Columbia
north carolina
North Carolina
  • In the wake of Sherman’s onslaught, Davis recalled Johnston to organize the meager Confederate resistance
  • Sherman and Johnston fought their last major battle at Bentonville between March 19 and 21
  • Johnston surrendered on Apr 26
    • Lee had surrendered Apr 9

The James Bennett house, site of Johnston’s surrender

  • Traditional forms
    • Attrition
      • The reduction of the effectiveness of a force caused by loss of personnel and materiel.
    • Exhaustion
      • The gradual erosion of a nation’s will or means to resist
    • Annihilation
      • Seeks the immediate destruction of the combat power of the enemy’s armed forces
  • Which did Sherman use?
  • Should Davis have replaced Johnston with Hood?
  • What could Johnston have done differently?
  • Why is Sherman considered a “modern general?”
  • How did Sherman make the Civil War progress toward total war?
  • Grant’s Overland Campaign