It appears this letter from Halleck may have passed Grant’s letter of January 15 in the mail, as Grant has already told Halleck that he wants Sherman to move on Selma and Meridian. Halleck is concerned because many troops are now taking a 90-day leave (a bonus for reenlistment), and he fears that recruitment of additional troops is flagging because of the popular view that the war is essentially over already.
CONFIDENTIAL.] HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY,
Washington, D. C., January 17, 1864.
GENERAL: It would seem from General Sherman’s dispatch to me that he proposed to move with all his disposable force on Meridian and perhaps on Selma. Does he fully understand your plans, and is that a part of your proposed winter campaign? I have not so understood it. Moreover, I fear that Sherman’s views are based upon the supposed condition of affairs in East Tennessee when he left Knoxville. I do not wish to change any instructions you may have given to him; I merely desire to call attention to Sherman’s proposed movements in connection with the present position of the enemy and his probable operations this winter and the coming spring.
The rebels seem to be making the most desperate efforts for the next campaign. Almost every man, of whatever age, capable of bearing arms, is being pressed into their ranks, and by spring their armies will be very considerably increased. Our people, on the contrary, are acting on the mistaken supposition that the war is nearly ended, and that we shall hereafter have to contend only with fragments of broken and demoralized rebel armies. Such is the tone of the public press and of the debates in Congress. The latter has been in session six weeks, and the draft bill has not yet passed the Senate. Six weeks more may elapse before it becomes a law, and then it will require several months to execute it and the men ready for the field. It is therefore very probable that our military force in the spring may be relatively much smaller than it now is.
Under these circumstances it seems very important that we should act with caution and keep our troops well in hand, so as to prevent the enemy from fighting us in detachments.
General Banks represents the condition of affairs in his department to be such as to require all the re-enforcements that we can possibly send him. As soon as I found that he had divided his force by operating upon the Gulf coast, I urged that troops should be sent to him from South Carolina and that the attack on Charleston be abandoned. It was decided otherwise. My opinion has been, and still is, that all troops not required to hold our present position in Virginia and on the Atlantic coast should be sent to you and General Banks for operations this winter and as preparatory to a spring campaign. I hoped that by this means Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana would be secure, and the rebel force in Texas be so reduced and hemmed in as to give us but little trouble hereafter. Our armies in the west and south could then have been so concentrated, or at least could have been so co-operated, as to inflict some terrible blows upon the rebels. But I fear the unexpected condition of affairs in East Tennessee will prevent the accomplishment of these objects, or at least a part of them, this winter, and that we must soon prepare for a spring campaign. The furloughing of so many troops has greatly reduced our forces in the north, but I hope to send some more to General Banks. There, however, is much difficulty and delay in obtaining transportation by sea. This makes it still more important that the navigation of the Mississippi should be well protected, and the Sherman and Steele should so operate as to assist General Banks as much as possible. I leave it entirely to your judgment to determine how, and to what extent, such assistance can be rendered.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
H. W. HALLECK,