General Sherman’s Christmas Present: Savannah 1864
by Stanley Weintraub, Smithsonian Books/Harper Collins, 2009, $24.99
In mid-1864, Abraham Lincoln’s political fortunes had gone from bad to worse. Ulysses Grant’s inability to capture Richmond, thwarted with thousands of casualties in a loss at Cold Harbor in June, gave renewed life to prospects the unpopular president could be replaced. The Democratic Party pinned its hopes on George B. McClellan, while the Radical Republicans offered up an alternative to Lincoln in former General John C. Frémont, the famed “Pathfinder of the West.” The majority of Republicans, renaming themselves the National Union Party, still focused on re-electing Lincoln but realized that gaining critical soldiers’ votes depended on the Union Army winning a convincing and decisive victory.
William T. Sherman provided that victory, first by taking Atlanta on September 2 and then marching across Georgia to capture the port city of Savannah on December 22. Sherman fiercely guarded his plans from the Confederates by even withholding his intentions from Lincoln and Grant. He disobeyed Grant’s December 3 order to bypass Savannah. When the Federals captured Fort McAllister on the 13th, Rebel commander William Hardee realized he had no choice but to abandon Savannah’s defenses and head north to try to connect with Joe Johnston.
General Sherman’s Christmas Present offers many personal accounts of those sacrificed in the wide swath of destruction Sherman’s army carved from Atlanta to Savannah. Stanley Weintraub provides refreshing insight into the military details and political background of the campaign that all but sealed the Confederacy’s fate.
Originally published in the July 2010 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.