I received the following lengthy reply from Gen. Sherman,
HDQRS. MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI,
Atlanta, Ga., September 20, 1864.
Lieutenant General U. S. GRANT,
Commanding Armies of the United States, City Point, Va.:
GENERAL: I have the honor to acknowledge at the hands of Lieutenant-Colonel Porter, of your letter of September 12, and accept with thanks the honorable and kindly mention of the services of this army in the great cause in which we are well engaged. I send by Colonel Porter all official reports which are completed, and will, in a few days, submit a list of names I deem worthy of promotion. I think we owe it to the President to save him the invidious task of election among a vast number of worthy aspirants, and have ordered my army commanders to prepare their lists with great care and to express their preferences based upon claims of actual capacity and services rendered. These I will consolidate and submit in such a form that if mistakes are committed they will at least be sanctioned by the best contemporaneous evidence of merit, for I know that vacancies do not exist equal in number to that of the officers that really deserve promotion.
As to the future, I am pleased to know your army is being steadily re-enforced by a good class of men, and I hope it will go on until you have a force that is numerically double that of your antagonist, so that with one part on you can watch him and with the other you can push out boldly from your left flank, occupy the South Shore [Side] Railroad, compel him to attack you in position, or accept on your own terms. We ought to ask our country for the largest possible armies that can be raised, as so important a thing as the “self-existence of a great nation” should not be left to the fickle chances of war. Now what Mobile is shut out to the commerce of our enemy it calls for no further effort on our part, unless the capture of the city can be followed up by the occupation of the whole Alabama River and the railroad across to Columbus, Ga., when that place would at once become a magnificent auxiliary to my farther progress into Georgia, but until General Canby is much re-enforced, and until he can more thoroughly subdue the scattered armies WEST of the Mississippi, I suppose that much cannot be attempted as against the Alabama River and Columbus, Ga.
The utter destruction of Wilmington, N. C., is of importance only in connection with the necessity of cutting off all foreign trade to our enemy, and if Farragut can get across the bar, and the move can be made quick, I suppose it will succeed. From my knowledge of the mouth of Cape Fear, I anticipate more difficulty in getting the heavy, ships across the bar than in reaching the town of Wilmington, but of course the soundings of the channel are well known at Washington as well as the draft of his iron-clads, so that it must be demonstrated as feasible or else it would not be attempted. If successful, I suppose that Fort Caswell will be occupied and the fleet at once sent to the Savannah River. Then the reduction of the city is the only question. If once in our possession, and the river open to us, I would not hesitate to cross the State of Georgia with 60,000 men, hauling some stores and depending on the country for the balance. Where a million of people live my army won’t starve; but, as you know, in a country like Georgia, with few roads and innumerable, an inferior force could so delay an army and harass it that it would not be a formidable object, but if the enemy knew that we had our boats on the Savannah I could rapidly move to Milledgeville, where there is abundance of corn and meat, and would so threaten Macon and Augusta that he would give up Macon for Augusta; then I would to interpose between Augusta and Savannah, and force him to give me August, with the only powder mills and factories remaining in the South, or let us have the Savannah River. Either horn of the dilemma would be worth a battle. I would prefer his holding Augusta as the probabilities are; for then, with the Savannah River in our possession, the taking of Augusta would be a mere matter of time. This campaign could be made in winter. But the more I study the game the more am I convinced that it would be wrong for me to penetrate much farther into Georgia without an objective beyond. It would not be productive of much good. I can start east and make a circuit south and back, doing was damage, to the State, but resulting in no permanent good; but by mere threatening to do so I hold a rod over the Georgians who are not over loyal to the South. I will therefore a give my opinion that you army and Canby’s should be re-enforced to the maximum; that after you get Wilmington, you strike for Savannah and the river; that General Canby be instructed to hold the MISSISSIPPI River and send a force to get Columbus, Ga., either by the way of the Alabama or the Appalachicola, and that I keep Hood employed, and put my army in fine order for a march on Augusta, Columbia, and Charleston, to be ready as soon as Wilmington is sealed as to commerce, and the city of Savannah is in our possession. I think it will be found that the movements of Price and Shelby WEST of the MISSISSIPPI are mere diversions. They cannot hope to enter Missouri save as raiders, and the truth is Rosecrans should be ashamed to take my troops for much a purpose. If you will secure Wilmington and the city of Savannah from your center, and let Canby have the MISSISSIPPI River, and WEST of it, I will send a force to the Alabama and Appalachicola, provided you give me 100,000 of the drafted men to fill up my old regiments, and if you will fix a day to be in Savannah, I will insure our possession of Macon and a point on the river below Augusta.
The possession of the Savannah River is more than fatal to the possibility of a Southern independence; they may stand the fall of Richmond, but not of all Georgia. I will have a long talk with Colonel Porter and tell him everything that may occur to me of interest to you. In the mean time know I admire your dogged perseverance and pluck more than ever. If you can whip Lee and I can march to the Atlantic I think Uncle Abe will give us a twenty days’ leave of absence to see the young folks.
W. T. SHERMAN,