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    Grant authorizes Sherman's March to the Sea

    Ulysses S. Grant Autograph Letter Signed to General William T. Sherman.

    One page, 7.75" x 10", City Point, Virginia (Head Quarters, Armies of the United States stationary); October 12, 1864. A letter from Grant sent via coded telegraph, as evidenced by "Cipher" written in the upper left corner, to General William Tecumseh Sherman, in Kingston, Georgia, giving approval to Sherman's proposed "March to the Sea" through Georgia.

    "On reflection I think better of your proposition. It will be much better to go South than to be forced to come North. You will no doubt clean the country where you go of rail-road tracks and supplies. I would also move every wagon, horse, mule and hoof of stock as well as the negroes. As far as arms can be supplied either from surplus in hand or by capture I would put them in the hands of negro men, give them such organization as you can. They will be of some use.
    U.S. Grant
    Lt. Gen."

    By October 1864, the tide of the Civil War appeared to be turning in the Union Army's favor after what seemed like an endless and bloody military stalemate of the previous summer, with Grant bogged down in Virginia, and Sherman blocked outside of Atlanta. Sherman's victory at Atlanta on September 2, as well as Union successes in Mobile Bay and in the Shenandoah Valley, not only insured President Abraham Lincoln's reelection in November of that year but also boosted Northern morale and proved to be the turning point in the war. After Sherman captured Atlanta, Grant grew increasingly concerned that the Confederate army under General John B. Hood, which had retreated into Alabama and Tennessee, would make a desperate effort to drive Sherman out of the city. He wanted Sherman to defend Atlanta and pursue Hood's army. Sherman had another idea, however.

    In an October 1 message to Grant, Sherman shared his plan, which was to "destroy Atlanta and then march across Georgia to Savannah or Charleston breaking roads and doing irreparable damage," since we "cannot remain on the defensive." (The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, Vol. 12: pp. 273-74n.). Sherman reiterated and expanded on his proposed march in an October 9 message to Grant. "It will be a physical impossibility to protect this road now that Hood, Forrest, Wheeler and the whole batch of Devils are turned loose....I propose we break up the road from Chattanooga and strike out with wagons for Milledgeville Millen and Savannah. Until we can repopulate Georgia it is useless to occupy it, but the utter destruction of its roads, houses and people will cripple their military resources....I can make the march and make Georgia howl." (Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, Vol. 12., 291n.1).

    Initially, Grant, along with Major General Henry Halleck, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, and President Abraham Lincoln, had doubts concerning Sherman's plan. In a telegram dated October 11 (just a day before the letter offered here) to Sherman, Grant expressed his concerns regarding Hood's army: "Does it not look as if Hood was going to the invasion of Middle Tennessee, using the Mobile & Ohio and Memphis & Charleston Roads to supply his base on the Tennessee above Florence or Decatur? If he does this, he ought to be met and prevented getting north of the Tennessee. If you were to cut loose I do not believe you would meet Hood's Army but would be bushwhacked by all the old men, little boys and such railroad guards as are still left at home....If there is any way of getting at Hood's Army, I would prefer that, but I must trust to your own judgment." (Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, Vol. 12., pp. 289-90). Sherman persisted, however, in pushing his plan. On October 11, he wrote to Grant "We cannot remain here on the defensive. With 25,000 men and the bold Cavalry he has he can constantly break my road: I would infinitely prefer to make a wreck of the road and of the country from Chattanooga to Atlanta, including the latter City. Send back my wounded and worthless and with my effective Army move through Georgia smashing things to the sea." (Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, Vol. 12., p. 290n.).

    In the remarkable letter offered here, Grant, confident in Sherman's ability, finally relented and gave his permission to Sherman to carry out his proposed march to the sea.

    Another interesting aspect of this October 12 letter are Grant's comments concerning the arming of the black male population during Sherman's proposed campaign. Grant had long supported Union forces taking enslaved blacks from their Confederate-supporting owners and enlisting the now freedmen to serve in the Union Army as soldiers from the time of President Lincoln's January 1, 1863 Emancipation Proclamation.
    While Grant believed that blacks would fight just as effectively as white soldiers, Sherman did not. He was one of a number of Union generals who opposed President Lincoln's policy of using African Americans as soldiers, and he never wavered on this issue. Knowing Sherman's views concerning the use of black soldiers, Grant couched his comments as suggestions rather than orders. There is no evidence that Sherman followed Grant's suggestion concerning the arming of blacks as soldiers during his March to the Sea. Although he opposed to using African Americans as soldiers, Sherman did make use of the thousands of contrabands who flocked to his army, employing the strong, able-bodied as laborers building-up roads for heavy wagons, clearing obstructions placed by Confederate militia and cavalry, and other tasks that white soldiers would prefer not to do.

    Sherman's March to the Sea, also known as the Savannah Campaign comprised of the Army of the Tennessee, the Army of Georgia, and a cavalry division, was conducted from November 15 to December 21, 1864, when Sherman's forces captured the port city of Savannah, Georgia. After leaving the decimated city of Atlanta on November 16, Sherman led his troops on a bold and destructive campaign targeting both industrial and military targets, effectively crippling the Confederate's capacity to wage war. The March to the Sea was followed by Sherman's successful march through the Carolinas, ending with the surrender of
    Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston on April 26, 1865.

    One of the most significant Ulysses S. Grant letters to be offered on the market in recent memory, the communication that resulted in one of the most critical military operations of the Civil War. Ex. R. Douglas Stuart.

    Condition: Age toned, with light soiling throughout. Left margin is a bit rough, indicating integral page has been removed. Small chip at bottom, not affecting any text. Marked "Copied" at bottom, in an unknown contemporary hand. Accompanied by the original 1932 receipt from noted manuscript dealer Forest H. Sweet.

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    Auction Dates
    October, 2017
    19th Thursday
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