In December 1864, Sherman continued with his desired plan – an advance on Savannah. He reached the city before Christmas and offered the city to Lincoln as a Christmas gift. Sherman planned to use the rest of December to allow his troops to rest before marching north to link up with Grant in preparation for an all-out attack on Richmond.
December 1st: The Union army commanded by Schofield, entrenched itself in Nashville and dominated the Cumberland River.
December 2nd: Sherman was halfway to Savannah. His subordinates in Nashville were ordered by Washington to confront and defeat Hood’s Army of the Tennessee. However, very poor weather hindered both armies.
December 8th: General Grant made it clear that he supported the President’s wish that Hood should be attacked immediately by Schofield’s men. Either that or he wanted Schofield replaced. The Union commander in Nashville was General Thomas, a subordinate of Schofield. He telegraphed Grant that his cavalry had no horses and that any attack not supported by the cavalry was doomed to failure.
December 9th: Appalling weather in Nashville made all forms of fighting near impossible. Roads had been reduced to quagmires.
December 10th: Sherman’s army arrived in Savannah.
December 12th: Thomas telegraphed Grant with the information that he would attack Hood as soon as the weather improved.
December 13th: In a further blow to the defenders of Savannah, Sherman’s men established a route to the sea that would allow the Union Navy to supply his army. Grant appointed Major-General John Logan to replace General Thomas in Nashville.
December 15th: Once the weather had cleared Thomas ordered an attack on Hood’s army at Nashville. The only thing that saved Hood was the shortened day. Other than failing to finish off Hood’s army, the attack was an overwhelming success with 1,000 men taken prisoner.
December 16th: Thomas conveys the news to Grant. He followed up the attack with a further massive attack using all the men at his command – 50,000. Hood could only muster 30,000 men. The Army of the Tennessee put up a good defence but defeat was almost inevitable. 4,500 Confederate troops surrendered, 1,500 men were either killed or wounded. 59 out of 156 artillery guns were captured. Hood could only order a retreat for those who survived – a retreat that had to be executed in the dead of winter with minimal supplies.
December 17th: Hood’s men started their retreat to Columbia.
December 18th: Savannah refused to surrender to Sherman.
December 19th: Such was the confidence of Sherman – and his numerical advantage – that he could afford to send troops to Grant to assist in the attack on Richmond.
December 20th: The Confederate force in Savannah left the city. 10,000 men managed to withdraw from the city but they were still facing in the field an army six times larger than them. Savannah fell to Sherman. The Confederates left behind in the city 250 heavy artillery guns and 25,000 bales of cotton.
December 21st: Sherman entered Savannah.
December 22nd: Sherman telegraphed Lincoln the following: “I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah."
December 24th: Union forces started an attack on Fort Fisher in North Carolina. This fort defended the only remaining port open to the Confederacy – Wilmington. The largest Union naval force of 60 warships gathered before the fort to blast it into submission. However, their task was not easy. The design of the fort and the inaccuracy of those bombarding the fort meant that many Union shells fired from the ships simply flew over the fort and into Cape Fear River.
December 25th: 6,000 Union troops landed to take Fort Fisher but the fort’s guns were still intact and kept them pinned down. A rumour that Confederate reinforcements were on their way, convinced the commanders on the ground that they should withdraw.
December 26th: The Union troops at Fort Fisher were evacuated. Lincoln ordered an investigation as to what went wrong and why what should have been a relatively easy victory turned into a full-scale withdrawal.
December 30th: Lincoln proposed to remove General Ben Butler from the command of the Army of the James. It was Butler who commanded the abortive landing at Fort Fisher. Grant also had a very low opinion of Butler’s ability.
December 31st: Sherman’s army rested in Savannah in preparation for its advance north to support Grant.