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This Day in Georgia Civil War History

December 17, 1864

Sherman Demanded Surrender of Savannah; Hardee Initially Refused

Union General William T. Sherman wrote the following letter to Confederate General William J. Hardee, demanding the surrender of Savannah.

Headquarters Military Division of the Mississippi, In the Field, near Savannah, Ga., December 17, 1864. General William J. Hardee, Commanding Confederate Forces in Savannah: GENERAL: You have doubtless observed from your station at Rosedew that sea-going vessels now come through Ossabaw Sound and up Ogeechee to the rear of my army, giving me abundant supplies of all kinds, and more especially heavy ordnance necessary to the reduction of Savannah. 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 await a reasonable time 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 a great national wrong they attach to Savannah and other large cities which have been so prominent in dragging our country into civil war. I inclose you a copy of General Hood’s demand for the surrender of the town of Resaca, to be used by you for what it is worth. I have the honor to be your obedient servant, W.T. Sherman, Major-General Source: U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1893, reprinted by The National Historical Society, 1971), Series I, Vol. XLIV, p. 737.

And, for the time being, Hardee refused.

Hdqrs. Dept. of S. Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Savannah, Georgia, December 17, 1864. Maj.-Gen. W.T. Sherman, Commanding Federal Forces, near Savannah, Ga.: GENERAL: I have to acknowledge receipt of a communication from you of this date, in which you demand “the surrender of Savannah and its dependent forts,” on the ground that you have “received guns that can cast heavy and destructive shots into the heart of the city,” and for the further reason that you “have for some days held and controlled every avenue by which the people and garrison can be supplied.” You add that should you be “forced to resort to assault, or to the slower and surer process of starvation, you will then feel justified in resorting to the harshest measures, and will make little effort to restrain your army,” &c. The position of your forces, a half a mile beyond the outer line for the land defenses of Savannah is, at the nearest point, at least four miles from the heart of the city. That and the interior line are both intact. Your statement that you “have for some days held and controlled every avenue by which the people and garrison can be supplied” is incorrect. I am in free and constant communication with my department. Your demand for the surrender of Savannah and its dependent forts is refused. With respect to the threats conveyed in the closing paragraph of your letter, of what may be expected in case your demand is not complied with, I have to say that I have hitherto conducted the military operations intrusted to my direction in strict accordance with the rules of civilized warfare, and I should deeply regret the adoption of any course by you that may force me to deviate from them in the future. I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant, W.J. Hardee, Lieutenant-General. Source: U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1893, reprinted by The National Historical Society, 1971), Series I, Vol. XLIV, pp. 737-738.