Wednesday, February 26, 2014

February 1, 1864 (Sunday): Sherman Begins the Meridian Campaign

General William W. Loring

DALTON, February 1, 1864.
    I informed you by telegraph this morning that our scouts on the Tennessee report that on the night of January 29 Sherman's corps was crossing the river on a pontoon bridge, 20 miles above Guntersville.
    The weather for several weeks has been mild and dry, consequently the roads are quite practicable. This indicates, I suppose, a preparations for a movement on Rome, to be made whenever they may be ready to advance. That place is near enough to our communications to make it, impossible to hold this position after its occupation by the enemy, and far enough from them to make it difficult to attack an enemy there without giving up those communications to the main force, which would probably approach at the same time from Chattanooga.
    I have completed a minute inspection of the troops since the date of my last letter. There is no reason to doubt the spirit of the soldiers; on the contrary, I have full confidence in their courage.
    The material of the army is not so good, however, as from the representations of others I reported it in my letter of January 2. The artillery horses are not improving, and are so feeble that in the event of a battle we could not hope to maneuver our batteries, nor in case of reverse to save our guns. We have not received by rail road enough long forage to restore their condition. More than half the infantry are without bayonets, and the want of shoes is painful to see even in this mild weather. Although the chief quartermaster promised when I arrived to supply the deficiency very soon, it is increasing fast. Only about 4,200 pairs were received in January, not more than a fourth of the number necessary to supply the monthly wear.
     I respectfully submit to Your Excellency that the arrangements of the War Department for supplying provisions to troops are so executed as to put this army under some disadvantages. Lieutenant-General Polk's command, much inferior in number to this, has all Mississippi, West Tennessee, and the productive part of Alabama to draw upon, while we have to depend for meat, which Southern men think a necessary of life, upon an exhausted country, the mountainous parts of Georgia and Alabama. This is the representation of Major Cummings, commissary of subsistence, upon whom this army depends for provisions. I understand the object of the present system to be to enable the Government, by having military supplies collected under its own direction, to control their distribution. But if Major Cummings is correct, the meat of each department belongs to the troops in it, so that we shall derive no benefit from the system except 1,000 beeves promised from Mississippi.
     I regret to make a report to Your Excellency so much less favorable than that which you received before my arrival. As it is necessary that you should know the truth I will not apologize for writing it.
The more I consider the subject the less it appears to me practicable to assume the offensive from this point. If the reports of our scouts are correct, the enemy has sent no troops from our front; therefore we may expect him to take the offensive whenever he is ready. You see from my report that this army is not in condition for the field. It is also too small in number compared with that of the enemy.
    Should Your Excellency desire to carry back the war into Middle Tennessee, it seems to me that it must be done by assembling as large a force in Northern Mississippi as we can collect there, with a bridge equipage for the passage of the Tennessee; a larger force, if practicable, than Lieutenant-General Polk's and mine united.
      Most respectfully, your obedient servant,


Official Records I., Vol. 32, Part 2, Pages 644-645.

Sherman was cooperating with Banks proposed Red River Campaign.  But the rivers would be too low for naval support until March, so Sherman decided to trengthen the Federal hold on Vicksburg by destroying the railroads and resources of central Mississippi.  As this was written Sherman was preparing to leave Vicksburg.  Johnston had Polk's two infantry divisions under Loring and French near Jackson and Meridian, S. D. Lee's cavalry near Jackson, and Forrest's cavalry in Northern Mississippi. 

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