Grant’s Proposed Campaign of 1864 in the East

On January 19, 1864, Ulysses S. Grant explained to Henry W. Halleck what he would suggest Union armies do in the Eastern theater in 1864. He did so in response to an inquiry from Halleck: staff officer Cyrus B. Comstock and William F. Smith drew up the plan that Grant forwarded.


Head Quarters, Mil. Div. of the Miss.

Nashville Ten. Jan.y 19th 1864,

Maj. Gen. H. W. Halleck,

Gen. in Chief of the Army,

Washington D. C.


I would respectfully suggest whether an abandonment of all previously attempted lines to Richmond is not advisable, and in line of these one be taken further South. I would suggest Raleigh North Carolina as the objective point and Suffolk as the starting point. Raleigh once secured I would make New Bern the base of supplies until Wilmington is secured. A moving force of sixty thousand men would probably be required to start on such an expedition. This force would not have to be increased unless Lee  should withdraw from his present position. In that case the necessity for so large a force on the Potomac would not exist.

A force moving from Suffolk would destroy first all the roads about Weldon, or even as far north as Hicksford. From Weldon to Raleigh they would scarsely meet with serious opposition. Once there the most interior line of rail way still left to the enemy, in fact the only one they would then have, would be so threatened as to force enemy him to use a large portion of his army in guarding it. This would virtually force an evacuation of Virginia and indirectly of East Tennessee. It would throw our Armies into new fields where they could partially live upon the country and would reduce the stores of the enemy. It would cause thousands of the North Carolina troops to desert and retum to their homes. It would give us possession of many Negroes who are now indirectly aiding the rebellion. It would draw the enemy from Campaigns of their own choosing, and for which they are prepared, to new lines of operations never expected to become necessary. It would effectually blockade Wilmington, the port now of more value to the enemy than all the balance of their sea coast. It would enable operations to commence at once by removing the war to a more southern climate instead of months of inactivity in winter quarters. Other advantages might be cited which would be likely to grow out of this plan, but these are enough. From your better opportunities of studying the country, and the Armies, that would be involved in this plan, you will be better able to judge of the practicability of it than I possibly can.

I have written this in accordance with what I understood to be an invitation from you to express my views about Military operations and not to insist that any plan of mine should be carried out. Whatever course is agreed upon I shall always believe is at least intended for the best and until fully tested will hope to have it prove so.

I am General, very respectfully

your obt. svt.

U. S. Grant

Maj. Gen.

This certainly does not look like what happened in 1864 in Virginia.

Halleck rejected Grant’s proposal in a letter that looks more unpersuasive as one reads and rereads it. He cited manpower concerns, but in fact Grant would have had the manpower to pull off this operation. Moreover, it’s clear that Halleck was focused on fighting the Army of Northern Virginia in Virginia and that threatening Richmond would help bring about that battle.

What do you make of Grant’s proposal? What does it tell you about Grant’s strategic and operational thinking?