GRANT, Ulysses S. Autograph note signed ("U.S. Grant") as General in Chief, to Major General Sheridan, City Point, VA, 27 March 1865. 1 page, 4to (7¾ x 8½ in.), Head Quarters, Armies of the United States stationery, evidence of previous attachment on verso, otherwise very fine.
PLANNING THE FINAL OPERATIONS OF THE CIVIL WAR: A HISTORIC MEETING OF GRANT, SHERMAN AND SHERIDAN
"I was naturally very impatient for the time to come when I could commence the spring campaign, which I thoroughly believed would close the war" - U.S. Grant.
After nearly four years of bloody warfare, it was growing increasingly clear to officers on both sides that the end was near. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was besieged in trenches around Petersburg, desperately hoping to hold on to the last important railhub in Virginia and the steps to the Confederate capital. In North Carolina, Sherman had defeated the army of Joseph Johnston in its last effort to oppose his advance at the Battle of Bentonville. Soon, the two great Union armies would commence operations to bring final defeat to their weary foes.
As March of 1865 progressed, General Grant contemplated a campaign to force the Confederate forces from Petersburg. A winter of heavy rains had made movement difficult, but Grant grew increasingly concerned that if he delayed longer, Lee might slip away and join with Johnston's Army. Grant realized that he must act: "the Nation had already become restless and discouraged at the prolongation of the war" (Grant, Memoirs, Fawcett edition, p. 398). He envisioned sending a force beyond the Confederate right to seize the important road junction at Five Forks which would force Lee from his trenches while preventing his army from moving south towards Johnston. Once Sheridan returned with the cavalry after raiding north of the James River, Grant could launch the operation.
On March 26, one day after Lee's final attempt to break the siege of Petersburg by assaulting Fort Stedman, Sheridan's cavalry returned to its encampment at Grigg's Station. Grant immediately summoned the general to discuss the coming Union movements. On the following day, Sherman arrived at City Point and met with Grant. After a brief visit to President Lincoln on board the steamer River Queen, during which the President asked many question's about Sherman's March, the two generals returned to headquarters where they enjoyed tea provided by Grant's wife, Julia. As they discussed the approaching campaign, Sherman asked for Sheridan's cavalry to aid him in capturing Johnston's army. Grant believed that the cavalry should remain with him unless his attack upon Five Forks failed. Sheridan's opinion was sought in the matter. Here, Grant requests his cavalry commander's presence at headquarters: "Gen. Sherman will be here this evening to spend a few hours. I would like to have you come down."
Sheridan received the note in the afternoon. He describes his reaction in his memoirs: "Sherman's coming was a surprise--at least to me it was--this dispatch being my first intimation of his expected arrival. Well knowing the zeal and emphasis with which General Sherman would present his views, there again came into my mind many misgivings with reference to the movement of the cavalry, and I made haste to start for Grant's headquarters." He departed shortly after 7 P.M., but problems with the military railroad slowed his journey. He arrived at City Point just after midnight. Sheridan described the historic meeting: "on repairing to the little cabin that sheltered the general-in-chief, I found him and Sherman still up talking over the problem whose solution was near at hand...My entrance into the shanty suspended the conversation for a moment only, and then General Sherman, without prelude, rehearsed his plans for moving his army...intimating that my cavalry, after striking the Southside and Danville railroads, could join him with ease. I made no comments on the projects for moving his own troops, but as soon as opportunity offered, dissented emphatically from the proposition to have me join the Army of the Tennessee" (Sheridan, Memoirs, vol. 2, p. 132).
The movement against Five Forks proceeded on March 29 and, on April 1, the division of George Pickett, which defended the position, was decimated. Success prompted Grant to order a massive assault upon the Confederate lines the following day. The attack shattered Lee's Petersburg defenses and forced the Confederates to abandon Richmond and flee west towards Appomattox.
Provenance: Paul C. Richards, 1984.