In the Field, August 14, 1864.
Major General W. T. SHERMAN,
Commanding Military Division of the Mississippi:
GENERAL: In accordance with the desire expressed by you yesterday to General Thomas, General Howard, and myself, I have the honor to submit the following plan of operations, having for its object to compel the enemy to abandon his works about Atlanta and give battle on equal terms or retreat below East Point. The plan which suggests itself to me is but a modification and extension of the one followed up to this time. The proposed modification to consist of a more rapid, continuous, and systematic transfer of corps from left to right, and a temporary abandonment of our base. The transfer may be made by one corps, or, probably better, two corps at a time; the movement to be repeated daily until the object shall be gained. One corps should at all times be kept in reserve upon the right to meet an attack, this corps going into position the moment the next one arrives to take its place as reserve. Or, if the movement be made two corps at a time, the reserve corps of the preceding day and one of the newly arrived corps can go into position each day. It is my opinion that this movement can be made so rapidly as to reach and control the Macon railroad in from three to five days, after which the road can be so thoroughly destroyed as to be no longer available to the enemy. The same would, of course, be true of the West Point road. If, contrary to my belief, the enemy should prolong his lines so rapidly as to prevent our reaching the Macon road by simple extension of our line, he will at least be drawn far away from Atlanta, and his lines so rapidly constructed will often run through open fields where abatis cannot be constructed in so short a time. There will then be two alternatives left us; one to break the imperfect lines near the enemy’s left flank, and the other to draw one or two corps from our left, as if to continue the movement to the right and send them rapidly by a short circuit to the left and seize Atlanta, or some more convenient point of the enemy’s abandoned lines. The enemy must keep all of his small veteran force concentrated upon his left to prevent our success in the first movement, in which case the latter will be entirely practicable. My conviction of the feasibility of this plan is the result of continued observation and experience during almost the entire campaign. There has, I believe, been no time when if our movements from one flank to the other had been followed up as rapidly as the troops could have been transferred and got into position success would not have been speedy and certain.
To carry out this plan the troops along the road below Etowah should be concentrated at Marietta or other point to guard such stores as are not carried with the troops, and other points of the railroad abandoned. The movement can be commenced with supplies enough for twenty days. If the enemy detach force enough to capture Marietta we cannot fail to turn his flank and destroy his army and still have on hand ten days’ supplies. The crossing at Sandtown can be controlled with the left of the army resting on lower Utoy (our present right), and I think the plan cannot require any farther movement to the right. The enemy will hardly venture to send infantry across the Chattahoochee while we have possession of Sandtown. Our trains between Utoy and Camp Creek will be quite secure, and need be no incumbrance in this movement. In a rapid prolongation of our lines we have great advantage over the enemy in this: All our troops are veterans, while, probably, more than half of his are militia. He must concentrate his veterans to meet each movement, and then after he has intrenched his extended line his veterans must be relieved by militia and prepared to meet the next movement. On this account it would probably be best to move two corps at a time, as it would require all of the enemy’s available veterans to meet this force. It is hardly possible that the enemy can endure three such battles, as he can thus be compelled to fight in as many consecutive days.
In case this plan should be adopted, even in its main features, I would suggest that in the first movement General Thomas put his two corps in on the right of the Fourteenth, leaving mine in reserve, as it virtually is now and let me make the next move on his right, or even on the right of General Howard, if that be preferred. This will bring General Thomas’ three corps together and allow mine to take a more hazardous part (if not more important one) in a movement which I recommend.
I would also suggest as a matter of detail what I consider an improvement upon the prevalent mode of making such movement such movements, viz, that instead of gradually unfolding from the flank of the corps already in position, the corps moving in detach itself a mile or so from the flank and march in strong order of battle directly upon the point to be gained. In the comparatively open country to our present right this method will be entirely practicable and much more rapid and decisive than the prevalent method. I feel confident that this plan ought to succeed, and its hazards appear less to me than any other that promises success. Yet I suggest it with diffidence, and do not feel at all sure that it is as good a plan as that suggested by you yesterday, though the latter seems very difficult of execution. I am carefully considering the details of movement involved in your plan, and will give you my views as soon as possible. Meanwhile I am preparing the position I now occupy as a pivot on which the first portion of that movement can be made.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,