Civil War Wednesday: Grant's Strategy

  • Lieutenant General U.S. Grant

    Courtesy Library of Congress, LC-DIG-pga-01054

U.S. Congress approved restoration of the rank of lieutenant general, and President Abraham Lincoln quickly sent for his top commander in the west – Major General Ulysses .S. Grant. The officer soon arrived in Washington City, and after meeting with the president, and receiving the rank of lieutenant general – the first to hold this permanent grade since George Washington – Grant made plans to travel to Nashville for a consultation with Major General William T. Sherman. The two officers spent a few days discussing military strategy for the upcoming campaign season; 1864 also served as a reelection year for Lincoln, and the president needed success on the battlefield to sustain, and perhaps renew enthusiasm in the North for the war effort. Military victories might transfer to the ballot box, producing votes, which Lincoln desperately needed! His chances of winning another four years in the White House seemed virtually impossible, as he readily admitted. Grant and Sherman clearly understood the nature of things, politically and militarily, as they poured over maps in Nashville, the fog of war replicated in their quarters as both men continuously smoked cigars.

Grant needed to return east in order to converse with Major General George Meade and other subordinates regarding his military intentions. With maps, Sherman, and an ample supply of stogies in tow, Grant boarded a train for Cincinnati. During their session at the Burnet House in the “City of Seven Hills,” Grant and Sherman finalized what military strategists would later term a ‘Concentration in Time’ strategy. Grant articulated his plan, one, which called for a simultaneous movement of multiple armies against various Confederate forces, in an April 4 letter to Sherman. “It is my design, if the enemy keep quiet and allow me to take the initiative in the spring campaign, to work all parts of the army together and somewhat towards the centre.”[1]

Major General William T. Sherman, Courtesy Library of Congress, LC-DIG-cwpb-07136
Major General William T. Sherman, Courtesy Library of Congress, LC-DIG-cwpb-07136

The future impact upon Georgia began to form, as Grant summarized his plan of action, noting, “Sherman was to move from Chattanooga, Johnston’s army and Atlanta being his objective…[George] Crook the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad to be his objective…[Franz] Sigel was to advance up the [Shenandoah] valley, covering the North from an invasion through that channel…[Benjamin] Butler was to advance by the James River, having Richmond and Petersburg as his objective.”[2] Sherman acknowledged receipt of Grant’s private and confidential letter, and soon began making needed preparations to execute his portion of the plan, specifically,“…to move against Johnston’s army, to break it up and to get into the interior of the enemy’s country as far as you can, inflicting all the damage you can against their war resources.” On the battlefield, March may have exited as a lamb, but soon, the lions from the North would roar into Georgia.

[1] U.S. Grant, Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (Old Saybrook, CT: Koenecky&Koenecky, 1992), 412.

[2] Ibid., 412-14.


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Center Combined Logo-page-001


Michael Shaffer

Michael K. Shaffer is the Assistant Director and Lecturer for Kennesaw State University’s Civil War Center. He is a Civil War historian, author, and newspaper columnist, and a member of the Society of Civil War Historians. He serves on the boards of the Civil War Round Table of Cobb County and the River Line Historic Area, and assists the Friends of Camp McDonald as a Civil War consultant.