Between Grant and Lee
The Spring of 1864
In late March of 1864 two bearded, cigar smoking men in blue uniforms checked into the Burnet House in downtown Cincinnati and placed a very visible "do not disturb" sign in front of their room—an armed sentry was posted at the door. These two men, Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman, had now become second only to Abraham Lincoln in the exercise of power in the United States, and they had checked into this hotel to discuss how they could use their enormous power to crush the secessionist movement in one final spectacular campaign. They removed their coats, pulled an ample supply of cigars from their pockets, and spread maps all over the floor as they tried to find the key to restoring the divided Union. As Sherman recounted 25 years later, the most important decision made in this room was that "Grant was to go for Lee and I was to go for Joe Johnston. That was the plan."
Sherman's terse statement was an accurate statement of the heart of the Union strategic plan for the campaign of 1864, but it doesn't do justice to the complex series of operations that the new commander of the Federal armies devised during the early spring of that critical election year. Lincoln and his two leading generals had all agreed that the main reason that the North hadn't been fully able to utilize its enormous manpower advantage was that the Yankee armies never served to operate in concert. When one army went on the offensive, it always seemed as if the rest of the Union forces were largely milling around waiting for that particular campaign to finish until the next operation began with a different army. The Confederates always seemed to be able to utilize their interior lines to shuttle reinforcements from a quiet sector of their perimeter to a more threatened point, which substantially closed the manpower gap in actual battles. Now Grant was deter