At the beginning of 1864, Union General Ulysses S. Grant was the top commander in the West during the Civil War. As the head commander, fresh off of his victory of defending Chattanooga and gaining significant ground against the Confederates in the past year, Grant wanted to devise a plan that he could use to further cripple the Confederate war effort. He wanted to attack the enemy food supply as well as other supplies in his strategy to fight a “war of attrition”, or a fight to exhaust the enemy to the point where they no longer wanted to fight. Grant believed that if the supplies necessary to uphold an army were lost, the Confederates would be forced to disband. To do this, Grant planned to send William Tecumseh Sherman to take Atlanta, Georgia and Nathaniel Banks toward Mobile, Alabama, where along the way Union troops would use up or destroy as much enemy supply as they could to starve and exhaust the Confederate army.
Grant developed his plan further in March of 1864, moving his headquarters out of the Western part of the country. Grant wanted Union General Meade to attack Robert E. Lee and tie him up to prevent him from being able to attack or be called to defend against Grant’s attack. Lee had largely been ineffective in combat after his retreat from Gettysburg, and except for a few small battles he did not engage in any significant battles for a while after his retreat. George Meade, who had defeated Lee at Gettysburg and prevented him from going back on the offensive, was given the task to hold up Lee’s troops and inflict casualties to limit Lee’s usefulness in stopping Grant. In addition to the attacks on Alabama and Georgia, Grant also sent troops towards Virginia and Richmond, and its success depended on how well Meade dealt with Lee. This plan was put into action concurrently in May, with Grant hoping to overwhelm the Confederates.
The early success of Grant’s strategy was lost, as General Banks was unable to march on Mobile after being tied up for a few months before Grant’s new campaign. Benjamin Butler, who as to attack Richmond from his Southern position, was forced to retreat after getting within ten miles of Richmond. He was defeated at the Battle of Drewry’s Bluff after having a hopeful beginning of his campaign. Because he was forced to retreat and held down for several weeks after his defeat, Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard was able to send reinforcements to Robert E. Lee who badly needed them to continue his fight against Meade. The hope for the strategy was left to William T. Sherman and Ulysses S. Grant himself to break the stalemate. Grant’s strategy, for the time being, was held off due in part to Meade’s retreat, though the Confederates were far from being on the offensive and putting the Union in danger.
Archer Jones and Herman Hattaway – “How the North Won: A Military History of the Civil War”
James McPherson – “Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era”
College level lectures