The next move made by Union forces was Sherman’s raid across Mississippi, from Vicksburg, early in 1864. His aim was to destroy bridges and railroads over which supplies could be sent to the Confederate army, and to burn mills and factories. He did this so thoroughly, and left so little standing at Meridian, that one person remarked: “Sherman didn’t simply smash things, but he just carried the town off with him.”
Sherman’s raid prevented the Confederates from again attacking Chattanooga, where the Union troops spent a quiet winter. When the spring of 1864 came on, Grant was made commander in chief of the whole army, with the rank of lieutenant general, a rank which had been given only to Washington and Scott before him. Grant had been so fortunate in all his efforts that every one felt great confidence in him, and while Lincoln said that at last he had a man at the head of the army, the rest of the people, referring to his initials, playfully spoke of him as “Uniformly Successful” Grant, “United States” Grant, “Unconditional Surrender” Grant, and “Uncle Sam’s” Grant.
As soon as Grant received this appointment, he met Sherman, and they two together formed a clever plan to carry on the war. As there were now only two large Confederate armies, it was agreed that Grant should face Lee, near Richmond, while Sherman should beat Johnston, and then push on across Georgia to the sea, destroying all supplies on his way, so that the South should have to cease making war. It was further agreed that they should set out to do this on the same day.
Grant now went to join the forces in the East, and led them across the Rapidan into the Wilderness, to begin his famous “hammering campaign.” It was in May that his army started, and, sitting on a log by the roadside, Grant wrote the telegram which ordered Sherman to commence fighting.
As soon as Sherman received this dispatch, he set out, with about one hundred thousand men, to meet Johnston, with about one half that number, at Dalton. But Johnston placed his forces in the mountains and woods in good positions, and always retreated in time to avoid a disastrous defeat. Sherman, therefore, had to fight bloody battles at Dalton, Resaca, Dallas, Lost Mountain, and Kenesaw Mountain, while driving Johnston back to Atlanta.
This sort of fighting—which was the wisest thing Johnston could do—made President Davis so angry that, hoping to settle matters by one big victory, he took the command away from Johnston and gave it to Hood. The latter was very energetic; but although three more battles were fought, and each army lost thousands of men in this campaign, Sherman went on, and soon entered Atlanta. Then he telegraphed to Washington the news: “Atlanta is ours, and fairly won.”
Marching thus into the Confederate country, Sherman found the railroads destroyed by the Confederates, who hoped thus to prevent his advance and to cut off his supplies. But he had a force of men who rapidly rebuilt the roads, and trains quickly followed his troops to bring them food and ammunition. The engineers who laid tracks and built bridges were so skilled, and their men worked so fast, that they really did wonders.
The Confederates were amazed to see how promptly the damage they had done was repaired. Once, when some one suggested blowing up a tunnel so as to check Sherman’s trains, a man cried out: “No use, boys; Old Sherman carries duplicate tunnels with him, and will replace them as fast as you can blow them up; better save your powder.”
Hoping to prevent Sherman’s doing any harm to Atlanta, or going farther south, Hood suddenly set out for Tennessee, thinking the Union army would follow to stop him. This, however, was just what Sherman wanted, and as soon as he was quite sure that Hood had gone, he sent word to Thomas at Nashville to look out for himself. Thomas, he knew, was calm and very deliberate. After keeping Hood waiting for about two weeks, General Thomas suddenly came out of the city, and in a hard two days’ fight completely defeated him. In this battle the Confederates fought so bravely that when it was all over they had no army left wherewith to pursue Sherman.