The Pieces Falling Into Place for Victory, General Sherman Prepares for His Triumphal Campaign in Georgia, Receiving News on Confederate Movements, Predicting that Longstreet Would Reinforce Lee near Richmond, and Refusing to Change or Challenge the Orders of US Grant

Written mere days after his appointment by Grant to head the Union Armies in the West; a letter mentioning Grant and Longstreet

Purchase $15,500

The earliest letter of Sherman after his appointment to head the western Union armies we have ever seen on the market, and all the more remarkable because Sherman letters mentioning Grant by name at all are rarities

 

Acquired from a descendant of the military telegrapher who sent its text and decided...

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The Pieces Falling Into Place for Victory, General Sherman Prepares for His Triumphal Campaign in Georgia, Receiving News on Confederate Movements, Predicting that Longstreet Would Reinforce Lee near Richmond, and Refusing to Change or Challenge the Orders of US Grant

Written mere days after his appointment by Grant to head the Union Armies in the West; a letter mentioning Grant and Longstreet

The earliest letter of Sherman after his appointment to head the western Union armies we have ever seen on the market, and all the more remarkable because Sherman letters mentioning Grant by name at all are rarities

 

Acquired from a descendant of the military telegrapher who sent its text and decided to keep the original as a keepsake. It is offered for sale for the first time

On February 29, 1864, Abraham Lincoln made the most important military decision of his presidency. On that day he sent the Senate his nomination of Ulysses S. Grant to be Lieutenant General of the Army. Grant’s nomination was confirmed by the Senate on March 2, 1864. Only two men, George Washington and Winfield Scott, had held the rank of Lieutenant General before Grant, and Scott’s was a brevet (honorary) appointment. On March 9, 1864, Lincoln made Grant general-in-chief in command of all the Union armies. He assumed that command on March 17, while stationed at Nashville.

On that very day, in perhaps his first major act in command, Grant had General William T. Sherman join him in Nashville to discuss military reassignments, and requested he accompany him as far as Cincinnati on his way to Washington, D.C., to assume command. Sherman arrived to discover he was to replace Grant as Union general in command of the West; the official promotion making him head of the Military Division of the Mississippi. This placed him as overall commander of the Department of the Ohio, Department of the Tennessee, Department of the Cumberland and the Department of the Arkansas. Major General James McPherson was promoted to Sherman’s old position, commander of the Army of the Tennessee. General John Schofield, in command of the Army of the Ohio, would be assigned to Sherman’s force and act, with McPerson, under Sherman’s command. The Union cause now had in place the one-two punch that would win the Civil War – Grant and Sherman, and a game plan that would work.

On March 20, 1864, a landmark day in the history of the Union war effort, Grant and Sherman arrived in Cincinnati and, along with their wives and staffs, checked into the elegant Burnet House hotel, to devise a strategy to crush the Confederacy. The generals set up in Parlor A on the hotel’s second floor and placed sentries at the door to keep eavesdroppers away. They spread maps out on the table and, in a cloud of cigar smoke, made plans for how to end the war. Col. S. M. Bowman, a member of Sherman’s staff, described the scene in “Sherman and His Campaigns”: “In a parlor of the Burnet House, at Cincinnati, bending over their maps, the two generals, who had so long been inseparable, planned together that colossal structure … and, grasping one another firmly by the hand, separated, one to the east, the other to the west, each to strike at the same instant his half of the ponderous death-blow.”

Grant, in his autobiography, explained that Sherman was to attack Gen. Joseph Johnston’s army in the South and capture Atlanta and the railroads, effectively cutting the Confederacy in two. Grant was to pummel Gen. Robert E. Lee in Virginia. As Sherman wrote, “After my return to Nashville I addressed myself to the task of organization and preparation, which involved the general security of the vast region of the South which had been already conquered, more especially the several routes of supply and communication with the active armies at the front, and to organize a large army to move into Georgia, coincident with the advance of the Eastern armies against Richmond.” He then headed South and on the 25th arrived at Athens, Alabama, which is just south of Tennessee border and 100 miles from Nashville. This was the start of implementation of Grant’s game plan whereby Sherman, with his commanders like McPherson and John Schofield, would move South from Tennessee through northern Alabama right into Georgia.

But the war did not pause while these events were happening, and an important focus shifted to Kentucky. Abraham Lincoln notably said that to win the war, “I hope to have god on my side, but I must have Kentucky”. In March 1864, the famous Confederate cavalry general Nathan Bedford Forrest launched a cavalry raid in western Tennessee and Kentucky that was aimed at destroying Union supply lines and capturing federal prisoners. Late in March, Forrest’s cavalry headed in that direction, spreading fear of a Confederate offensive there. And on March 25, 1864 Forrest would ion fact raid the town of Paducah, Kentucky, during which he demanded the surrender of the command of U.S. Colonel Stephen Hicks. Forrest said, “If I have to storm your works, you may expect no quarter.” The bluff failed and Hicks refused. But the anxiety remained. Moreover, the corps of General Robert E. Lee’s old warhorse, General James Longstreet, had been detached from the Army of Northern Virginia to the West in the fall of 1863 to try to regain control of the city of Knoxville, Tennessee, and with it the railroad that linked the Confederacy east and west. There was now concern that Longstreet’s corps would head North with Forrest and try to retake Kentucky. This Longstreet move was key, as Forrest alone might harass Kentucky but would be unable to take it, while Longstreet would pose a credible threat.

Union General Stephen G. Burbridge, commander of the 26th Kentucky Infantry, served under Sherman, who formed a favorable opinion of him. In 1863, Sherman dispatched him to destroy the Vicksburg and Shreveport Railroad, and Sherman reported that “this duty was admirably carried out”. General A.J. Smith, who commanded the 13th Corps in the Vicksburg campaign, wrote of the taking of the Arkansas Post that “General Burbridge was handed a flag with orders to be first in the fort and plant it. I am happy to say this was accomplished.” In February 1864 Burbridge was granted permission to transfer to Grant’s command in the West, and on February 15 Grant had assigned him to the command of the entire Department of Kentucky. Burbridge, a Kentuckian, was motivated by one fierce goal – keeping Kentucky in the Union no matter what – and he would gain a reputation for being ruthless in his determination to do so. In March 1864 when he had taken over the assignment, he wrote another Kentuckian, Abraham Lincoln, “Kentucky will do her duty to the nation. There need be no fear about the involvement of this state. The law will be obeyed”. Now Burbridge wanted troops diverted from Sherman’s task of heading South toward Georgia, as specified by Grant, to a defense of Kentucky.

At 4pm, Sherman heard from General Schofield: “Late information which seems reliable indicates that the enemy is again falling back toward Virginia a small force of infantry cavalry and artillery being left at Bull’s Gap. The cavalry has for some time been preparing for a long march. It may be for a raid into Kentucky though that seems impossible at this season. Most probably it is going to Virginia or Georgia Artillery and baggage are being sent back by railroad. I do not believe Longstreet himself has returned from Richmond.”

Autograph letter signed, Athens, Alabama, 9 PM, March 25, 1864, to Major R.M. Sawyer, Assistant Adjutant General of forces in Nashville and often the center of telegraph activity between Union generals in the West. In it, Sherman gives precedence to Grant’s orders and refuses to alter them, yet shows he will not be afraid to act independently if he finds the situation on the ground requires it. He also accurately assesses that Longstreet, rather than continuing operations in the West, will actually return East to reunite with Lee’s army. “Answer to Burbridge that I will not change General Grant’s orders until I see General Schofield in whose department Louisville is. Telegraph General Schofield his dispatch is reviewed by me, and that I am on my way to him. In the meantime to feel the enemy to make him develop his plans. I do not believe he intends to invade Kentucky, but that all of Longstreet’s army will reinforce Lee in Virginia. All is well here. I go to Decatur and Huntsville tomorrow.”

Three days later, on March 28, Sherman ordered that if Forrest crossed into Kentucky, Burbridge and General Edward H. Hobson should attempt to cut him off. But instead Forrest returned to Tennessee to engage in the massacre at Fort Pillow. And Longstreet, unhappy out West, was already getting ready to rejoin Lee’s army in Virginia, which he did just weeks later in April.

The location of the original of this letter has been unknown, but we acquired it, discovering it in the hands of a descendant of the military telegrapher who sent its text and decided to keep the original as a keepsake. It is now offered for sale for the first time. It is the earliest letter of Sherman after his appointment to head the western Union armies we have ever seen on the market, and a search of public sale records going back 40 years reveals none at all. It manifests his loyalty to Grant, to whom he owed his appointment, in writing, which is all the more remarkable because Sherman letters mentioning Grant by name at all are rarities. He shows his potential flexibility if Schofield on the ground proves to him that a different tactic is urgently required. And he predicts accurately that Longstreet was heading East and would be no factor. All in all, an extraordinary find.

Purchase Now $15,500

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