The must-have Christmas gift of 1864

Today’s post comes from National Archives Office of Strategy and Communications staff writer Rob Crotty.

Sherman's telegram to Lincoln, offering him Savannah, Georgia, as a Christmas present (ARC 301637)
Sherman’s note to Lincoln (ARC 301637)

Each year in America it seems there is one holiday gift that is heavy on demand and short on supply. In 1996, there was the Tickle-Me-Elmo fiasco. In 1983, it was the Cabbage Patch Doll. In 1864, the gift of the season was Savannah, Georgia, and one Union general was willing to do anything to obtain it.

On November 16, 1864, William T. Sherman set out from Atlanta, Georgia, with his eye set on capturing the southern port of Savannah. In his 300-mile march to the sea, Sherman wreaked havoc, employing total war and destroying a swath of land 40 miles wide in places. His intent? To break the psychological backbone of the Confederacy.

Sherman arrived outside Savannah in mid-December and conveyed the following message to its the man who had set up a defense of the city, Confederate Gen. William Hardee:

I have already received guns that can cast heavy and destructive shot as far as the heart of your city; also, I have for some days held and controlled every avenue by which the people and garrison of Savannah can be supplied, and I am therefore justified in demanding the surrender of the city of Savannah, and its dependent forts, and shall wait a reasonable time for your answer, before opening with heavy ordnance. Should you entertain the proposition, I am prepared to grant liberal terms to the inhabitants and garrison; but should I be forced to resort to assault, or the slower and surer process of starvation, I shall then feel justified in resorting to the harshest measures, and shall make little effort to restrain my army—burning to avenge the national wrong which they attach to Savannah and other large cities which have been so prominent in dragging our country into civil war.

There is a definite tone of resolve in his letter, and Hardee took it to heart. His forces fled, and shortly thereafter the mayor of Savannah surrendered the city. General Sherman telegraphed Abraham Lincoln the message pictured above:

I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the City of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty guns and plenty of ammunition, also about twenty-five thousand bales of cotton.

While the present wasn’t wrapped, Lincoln still loved it.

2 thoughts on “The must-have Christmas gift of 1864

  1. As a native Savannahian, this always stings a bit, but I think most Savannahians will agree that the shame of surrendering our city was the best possible option for Gen. Hardee. Unlike many colonial and antebellum towns between Atlanta and the Atlantic, Savannah can boast the largest largest historic district in America. My first archives job was at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, easily the most impressive church in Savannah, which serves as a constant reminder of what Savannah could have lost if the Confederate leaders had opted to entertain Mr. Sherman in battle. To learn more about Historic Savannah, Georgia, go to:

  2. While confederate blood still races through my veins, I must agree that Gen. Hardee did the right thing in retreating to South Carolina. Many can call this a cowardly act but, ultimately it spared our beautiful city from total ruination. My sympathy is with those that endured the Union invasion and the terrible injustices that were forced upon them by the soldiers. However, by the time Savannah was overcome, the citizens were destitute and starving and the end of the war was a welcome relief. If you are a southerner, please remember the sacrifices that were made on your behalf and never forget where you came from.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *