On to Richmond

Author:   A.R. Lord


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 E. 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.”


Having a few leisure moments this morning I will use them up by troubling you with a few lines from this portion of Uncle Sam’s Domain, which at this time is an object of no small amount of attention. The cry of on to Richmond is now played by the occupation of the late residence of the arch traitor Jeff [Davis] by the Uncle Sam’s brave boys in blue. You ought to have been with us when we entered the city [Richmond]. The citizens were out in goodly numbers, and were not at all offended by the sight of Old Glory [Stars & Stripes]. On the contrary they cheered the flag most heartily though it was born in the hands of the darker hued of Uncle Sam’s brave defenders. The first troops that put into practical effect the long continued cry of on to Richmond was those portions of the 24 (white) and 25 (Col[ore]d) Corps (Army of the James) that were left on the right of the James when the other portion of the Army of the James moved across the James and joined with the Army of the Potomac in castigating the minions of Lee, which the boys done in fine style. The fighting at the left of Petersburg and vicinity was very severe, and of course our loss was quite large, though much smaller than that of the rebs. It is hardly worth while for me to write you the particulars as you will doubtless have learned them through the columns of the Boston Journal as lines reach you as Carleton is here, there and everywhere where there is ought to be obtained in the line of reliable news. He was in Petersburg this morning and now he is in Richmd. But I have not time to write more this morning. I told you I would write you from Richmond before I returned home–and here is the best that I have time to do. We are all in the A. No. 1 tip topest of spirits while the down-in-the-mouth representatives of Jeff and his ignoble supporters the northern copperheads are on the double quick.<


Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: A.R. Lord, U.S. Sanitary Commission, to Rugg