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Grant Takes Command Previous Next
Digital History ID 3092


In March 1864, Lincoln gave Ulysses S. Grant command of all Union armies. Vowing to end the war within a year, Grant launched three major offenses. General Philip H. Sheridan's task was to lay waste to farm land in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, a mission he completed by October. Meanwhile, General William Tecumseh Sherman advanced southeastward from Chattanooga and seized Atlanta, a major southern rail center, while Grant himself pursued Lee's army and sought to capture Richmond, the Confederate capital.

Grant started his offensive with 118,000 men; by early June, half of his men were casualties. But Lee's army had been reduced by a third to 40,000 men. In a month of fighting in northern and eastern Virginia, Grant lost almost 40,000 men, leading Peace Democrats to call him a "butcher." But Confederate losses were also heavy--and southern troops could not be replaced. At the Battle of the Wilderness, in northern Virginia, Lee's army suffered 11,000 casualties; at Spotsylvania Court House, Lee lost another 10,000 men. After suffering terrible casualties at Cold Harbor--12,000 men killed or wounded--Grant advanced to Petersburg, a rail center south of Richmond, and began a nine-month siege of the city.

At the same time that Grant was pursuing Lee's army, Sherman, with a force of 100,000 men, marched toward Atlanta from Chattanooga, and captured the rail center on September 2, 1864. After leaving Atlanta in flames, Sherman's men marched across Georgia toward Savannah. In order to break the South's will to fight, Sherman had his men destroy railroad tracks, loot houses, and burn factories. Sherman seized Savannah December 21, and then drove northward, capturing Charleston and Columbia, South Carolina, then heading through North Carolina to Virginia. Sherman summed up the goal of his military maneuvers in grim terms: "We cannot change the hearts of those people, but we can make war so terrible...[and] make them so sick of war that generations would pass away before they would again appeal to it."

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