GRANT, Ulysses S. Autograph letter signed ("U.S. Grant lt. Gen.") TO WILLIAM T. SHERMAN, City Point, VA., 10:30 P.M., 7 November 1864. 1 page, 4to (9 7/8 x 7¾ in.), Headquarters Armies of the United States stationery, marked "cipher" at top, tipped to a separate mat, fine.
GRANT APPROVES SHERMAN'S INFAMOUS MARCH TO THE SEA: "GREAT GOOD FORTUNE ATTEND YOU"
An historic letter sent on the eve of Sherman's grand plan to march through the heart of enemy territory from Atlanta to Savannah. When Grant took command of all Union forces, he envisioned a strategic campaign of attrition which would strike the Confederacy relentlessly at multiple points. In the Spring of 1864, Sherman led his army through Northern Georgia towards the important Confederate rail hub of Atlanta. Sherman's men suffered high casualties in assaults at Resaca, New Hope Church and Kennesaw Mountain before they forced the Confederates into trenches around Atlanta. The ill-advised decision of Jefferson Davis to replace Johnston with the more aggressive John Bell Hood relieved Sherman from the task of driving the Confederates out of their defenses. The reckless Hood squandered his smaller army in assaults upon the Union lines, finally opening Atlanta to northern occupation.
By the fall of that year, as Hood led his battered army into Tennessee, Sherman formulated a plan which he believed would be instrumental in bringing the war to an end. Like Grant, Sherman believed that warfare must strike endlessly at the enemy's resources and morale in order to assure victory. He envisioned an operation which would take his army deep into the Confederacy where it would live off the land, destroying what it did not take. He impressed upon Grant that the operation would also have strategic value: "If... we can march a well-appointed army right through his territory...it is a demonstration to the world, foreign and domestic, that we have a power which Davis can not resist. This may not be war, but rather statesmanship." Ultimately, Sherman concluded that the "March to the Sea," as it was later known, would have a devastating impact upon Confederate will power and morale: "I can make this march, and make Georgia howl!" (Marszalek, Sherman: A Soldier's Passion for Order, p. 295).
Sherman introduced his plan to Grant in early October. The Commanding General was initially reluctant, fearing both the presence of Hood's army and the ability of the southerners to fight a guerilla campaign. Finally, after taking the precaution of sending General George Thomas in pursuit of Hood, he agreed to the plan. Here, just eight days before Sherman's plan was put into motion, while his own army remained in seige around Petersburg, Grant reconfirms his final approval: "Your dispatch of this evening received. I see no present reason for changing your plan. Should any arise you will see it or if I do will inform you. I think everything here favorable now. Great good fortune attend you. I believe you will be eminently successful and at worst can only make a march less fruitful of results than is hoped for."
Sherman's Army departed Atlanta on November 16, leaving smouldering factories and warehouses as mementos of its presence. His men marched victoriously across Georgia, encountering only scattered enemy resistance. They foraged from southern homes and plantations liberally, taking what they needed, and destroying what could be useful to the Confederate war effort. Their homes pillaged and their slaves emancipated by Union soldiers, many southerners were left in a desperate situation. Sherman could not avoid sympathy for those who crossed his army's path, but he knew such was the price of war: "I'll have to harden my heart to these things" (Davis, Sherman's March, p. 36). Sherman captured Savannah in late December and offered the city to President Lincoln as a Christmas present. His campaign through the Carolinas in the following months further damaged the Southern cause. Sherman biographer John Marszalek has concluded that Sherman's March to the Sea was one of the most important events of the Civil War: "it played a significant role in the Union victory and signaled the future direction of modern warfare." However, Marszalek also notes it's impact upon Sherman's reputation: "Adherents of the Lost Cause honor Robert E. Lee as their saint and William T. Sherman as a villain. Lee's virtue reflected Southern goodness, the story goes; Sherman's brutality represented Northern evil" (Marszalek, pp. 315-316).
Quoted in its entirety in the Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman, Library of America, p. 643.
Provenance: Sotheby Parke Bernet, 26 April 1978, lot 104.