Blow to the Heart of Dixie
COLUMBUS, GA. — By January of 1865, Confederate leaders had begun to accept the circumstances under which they were operating the war. Atlanta had fallen on September 3, 1864, and General W.T. Sherman’s “march to the sea” had struck a blow to the Heart of Dixie throughout northeastern Georgia. Also, on September 22 in the same year, General Phil Sheridan had defeated Confederate General Jubal Early’s cavalry forces in the Shenandoah Valley and had initiated his own campaign of destruction in the Shenandoah Valley region. These two events were the one- two punch that sent the Confederacy reeling, while General Grant was to throw the knockout blow to CSA General Lee’s Army of North Virginia at Petersburg; but bitter cold of old man winter forced Grant to postpone his attack until spring.
General Lee’s army had been drained by the months of fighting that had led from the wilderness to the entrenchment’s around Petersburg, and his remaining stores of supplies were hopelessly low. Lee and Confederate President Jefferson Davis held a conference in early March 1865 during which Lee informed Davis that the fall of Petersburg was inevitable. Davis relates in his book, RISE, AND FALL OF THE CONFEDERATE GOVERNMENT, that although the fall of Petersburg, and consequently Richmond, would be embarrassing, it would not be as significant as it could have been had it happened earlier in the war. During the early years of the war, Richmond had been the primary location of the manufacture and repair of Confederate arms. However, at this time of the war several new locations in the “Industrial South” had removed the importance of Richmond in the manufacture of arms; due to construction of factories in Augusta, Selma, Fayetteville, and other areas (Columbus being one of these.) Although this is not to say that Davis made light of the capital city of the Confederacy; its symbolic significance went without question!
Though events had taken a turn for the worse, Davis remained determined that the cause was not lost. Davis’ optimism was based on the fact that the Confederacy ” still had effective armies in the field, and a vast extent of rich and productive territory both east and west of the Mississippi, whose citizens had evidenced no disposition to surrender.
“In his book, Davis claims to have been trying to obtain better terms for surrender at this point in the war rather than surrender at the Union discretion. Davis had attempted on several occasions to initiate negotiations with Lincoln’s government and each instance had failed. On February 3, 1865, a rather secretive meeting took place between a Confederate commission sent to meet President Lincoln and Secretary of War Seward at Hampton Roads, Virginia. The meeting only resulted in Lincoln’s confirmation that no peace could be negotiated without Southern acceptance of emancipation and reunion. This seemed to have strengthened Davis’ resolve that the only means to achieve better terms was through continued use of military force.
After General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House on April 9,1865, Davis did authorize General Joseph E. Johnston to negotiate terms of surrender with General W.T. Sherman. Davis instructed Johnston that if the terms set forth by the Confederate Government were not accepted, he was to turn his forces down a predetermined route leading southwest, along which supply points would be located. A dim glimmer of hope still existed in the minds of those who severed as the embodiment of the Confederate Soul; resistance still could be offered against the northern enemy! The support of loyal Southerners encouraged President Davis to play out his hand till the last card was thrown on the table.
If Johnston failed in the negotiations with Sherman and headed southwest with his forces, his armies could link up with forces of General’s N.B. Forrest, Richard Taylor, and D. H. Maury somewhere in Alabama or Mississippi. Davis also believed that Johnston’s forces were large enough to defeat any of the Union armies positioned between the Army of Tennessee and the Mississippi River. Davis also felt that the unification of those forces in the Confederate heartland would raise the morale of the country and attract stragglers to rejoin the ranks. Also, the resources in the heartland were abundant, having been relatively unscathed by war. Davis also knew that this contingency plan had also taken into consideration the fact, there were few rivers or railroads that Union forces could use to re-supply themselves. Davis felt this course of action by having the South continue the war until Northern tolerance for bloodshed had vanished. The Confederate would then accept reunification with the North with the provisions that Constitutional rights of the States are upheld as well as the security of persons and property guaranteed.
If either of these courses of action were adopted, the “Industrial Heartland” would be paramount in supplying the forces of the Confederacy!