General Grant writes General Sherman in March, 1865, to discuss the movements and strategies of the Union armies in the field that Spring. He reports on Sheridan's plans to advance to Staunton and destroy the Virginia Central Railroad.
Maj. Gen. W. T. SHERMAN,
Cmdg. Military Division of the Mississippi:
City Point, Va.,
March 16, 1865.
Your interesting letter of the 12th instant is just received. I have never felt any uneasiness for your safety, but I have felt great anxiety to know just how you were progressing. I knew, or thought safely somewhere. To secure certain success I deemed the capture of Wilmington of the greatest importance. Butler came near losing that prize to us, but Terry and Schofield have since retrieved his blunders, and I do not know but that the first failure has been as valuable a success for the country as the capture of Fort Fisher. Butler may not see it in that light. Ever since you started on the last campaign, and before, I have been attempting to get something done in the West, both to co-operate with you and to take advantage of the enemy's weakness there to accomplish results favorable to us. Knowing Thomas to be slow beyond excuse I depleted his army to re-enforce Canby, so that he might act from Mobile Bay on the interior. With all I have said he had not moved at last advices. Canby was sending a cavalry force of about 7,000 from Vicksburg toward Selma. I ordered Thomas to send Wilson from Eastport toward the same point and to get him off as soon after the 20th of February as possible. He telegraphed me that he would be off by that date. He has not yet started, or had not at least advices. I ordered him to send Stoneman from East Tennessee into Northwest South Carolina to be there about the time you would reach Columbia. He would either have drawn off the enemy's cavalry from you or would have succeeded in destroying railroads, supplies, and other materials which you could not reach. At that time the Richmond papers were full of accounts of your movements and gave daily accounts of movements in West North Carolina. I supposed all the time it was Stoneman. You may judge my surprise when I afterward learned that Stoneman was still in Louisville, Ky., and that the troops in North Carolina were Kirk's forces. In order that Stoneman might get off without delay, I told Thomas that 3,000 men would be sufficient for him to take. In the meantime I had directed Sheridan to get his cavalry ready and as soon as the snow in the mountains melted sufficiently to start for Staunton and go on and destroy the Virginia Central road and the canal. Time advanced until he set the 28th of February for starting. I informed Thomas and directed him to change the course of Stoneman toward Lynchburg to destroy the road in Virginia up as near to that place as possible. Not hearing from Thomas I telegraphed to him about the 12th to know if Stoneman was yet off. He replied that he had not but that he (Thomas) would start that day for Knoxville to get him off as soon as possible. Sheridan has made his raid and with splendid success so far as heard. I am looking for him at White House to-day. Since about the 20th of last month of Richmond papers have been prohibited from publishing accounts of army movements. We are left to our own resources, therefore, for information. You will see from the papers what Sheridan has done. If you do not the officer who bears this will tell you all. Lee has depleted his army but very little recently and I learn of none going south. Some regiments may have been detached, but I think no division or brigade. The determination seems to be to hold Richmond as long as possible. I have a force sufficient to leave enough to hold our lines, all that is necessary of them, and move out with plenty to whip his whole army. But the roads are entirely impassable. Until they improve I shall content myself with watching Lee and be prepared to pitch into him if he attempts to evacuate the place. I may bring Sheridan over; I think I will, and break up the Danville and South Side railroads. These are the last avenues left to the enemy. Recruits have come in so rapidly at the West that Thomas has now about as much previous orders would go to him, except those from Illinois. Fearing the possibility of the enemy falling back to Lynchburg, and afterward attempting to go into East Tennessee or Kentucky, I have ordered Thomas to move the Fourth Corps to Bull's Gap and to fortify there, and to hold out to the Virginia line if he can. He has accumulated a large amount of supplies in Knoxville and has been ordered not to destroy any of the railroad west of the Virginia line. I told him to get ready for a campaign toward Lynchburg, if it became necessary. He never can make one there or elsewhere, but the steps taken will prepare for any one else to take his troops and come east or go toward Rome, whichever may be necessary. I do not believe either will. When I hear that you and Schofield are together with your back upon the coast I shall feel that you entirely safe against anything the enemy can do. Lee may evacuate Richmond, but he cannot get there with force enough to touch you. His army is now demoralized and deserting very fast, both to us and to their homes. A retrograde movement would cost him thousands of men, even if we did not follow. Five thousand men belonging to the corps with you are now on their way to join you. If more re-enforcements are necessary I will send them. My notion is that you should get Raleigh as soon as possible and hold the railroad from there back. This may take more force than you now have. From that point all North Carolina roads can be made useless to the enemy without keeping up communications with the rear. Hoping to hear soon of your junction with the forces from Wilmington and New Berne.
I remain, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
U. S. GRANT,
Bibliographic Information : Letter Reproduced from The War of The Rebellion: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 1, Volume 47, Serial No. 99, Pages 859-860, Broadfoot Publishing Company, Wilmington, NC, 1997.