Allatoona 7:30 P.M.
Oct. 9th 1864
Lt. Gen. Grant, City Point
It will be a physical impossibility to protect this road now that Hood, Forrest, Wheeler and the whole batch of Devils are turned loose without home or habitation. I think Hoods movements indicate a direction to the end of the Selma and Talladega road to Blue Mountain about sixty miles south west of Rome [Georgia] from which he will threaten Kingston, Bridgeport and Decatur and I propose we break up the road from Chattanooga and strike out with wagons for Milledgeville Millen and Savannah.
Until we can repopulate Georgia it is useless to occupy it, but the utter destruction of its roads, houses, and people will cripple their military resources. By attempting to hold the roads we will lose a thousand men monthly and will gain no result. I can make the march and make Georgia howl. We have over 8000 cattle and 3,000,000 pounds of bread but no corn, but we can forage in the interior of the state.
W. T. Sherman, M. Genl.
William T. Sherman to Ulysses S. Grant, October 9, 1864
(Source: The Civil War: The Final Year Told by Those Who Lived It; Brooks D. Simpson, Editor, 2013, pages 432-433)
Union General William Sherman and his army had occupied Atlanta since September 2, 1864. Five days after taking the city, he had ordered the civilians to evacuate, leaving it solely in Federal military hands. The Union troops encamped in the city for the next few weeks while their general prepared for his next move. Though the capture of Atlanta had turned the tide in Lincoln’s favor for the 1864 election and brought an important Southern city under Federal authority, it did not destroy the Confederate forces still operating in Georgia and waiting for an opportunity to harass Sherman.
Sherman deliberately decided to leave Atlanta, pursue the Confederates, and capture other Southern cities. Leaving a garrison in Atlanta to further occupy the town would divide his army or leave that force open to attack. Sherman decided to take the army as a full body, live off the land, and march to the Georgia seacoast, heading for the port city of Savannah. Also, holding roads would lesser his army strength. Sherman saw little point in holding the roads if there was little left for an army to want in that part of the state.
On November 11, 1864, Sherman would begin to carry out the movement he had declared in this letter to General Grant. On that day, he ordered his troops to destroy any remaining items of military usefulness, remaining in Atlanta and leave nothing behind that would aid the Confederacy.
History of Logistics
In this letter, Sherman lists some of the most important items he has stockpiled for the march: cattle and bread.
“8000 Cattle” would provide meat for his soldiers’ rations.
“3,000,000 pounds of bread” refers to “hard tack” – the dry biscuits/crackers made with flour and water – a staple in Civil War soldiers’ rations.
The corn – which Sherman mentions lacking – would have provided forage for the horses and mules.
From necessity, foraging food from the civilian farms, barnyards, and plantations would provide the remaining supplies for Sherman’s army during the march and lead the to the stories and accounts of “bummer Yankees” and all the evils they did (or supposedly did) to the civilians.
“We can repopulate Georgia, but it is useless to occupy it,” wrote Sherman. Even as he penned this letter that outlined his plan for militarily marching and destroying part of a state, he did not see that as the final end to the story. Reconstruction would come…