Grant takes control

In the early months of 1864, the Lincoln administration took advantage of a quiet winter in the war to prepare the Union Army for the coming year. For example, Lincoln called for an additional five hundred thousand enlistees to join the military and appointed Ulysses S. Grant as commander of all Union forces.

Grant officially assumed his new position of lieutenant general on March 12. He immediately made big changes in the Union's war strategy. Convinced that Union military superiority had too often been wasted on unimportant missions in the past, Grant made it clear that he wanted to take a different approach. Rather than weaken his armies by diverting divisions all over Confederate territory, Grant proposed to keep his two primary armies together. These armies were the Army of the Potomac in the East, led by George Meade (1815-1872), and the newly created Military Division of the Mississippi in the West, led by William Sherman. Grant wanted to use these armies for the sole purpose of hammering the Confederate military to pieces.

The two primary rebel armies in 1864 were Robert E. Lee's famous Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of Tennessee, commanded by Joseph E. Johnston (1807-1891). Grant knew that these armies were dangerous. But both forces were operating under increasingly severe troop and supply limitations, and Grant wanted to squeeze the remaining life out of them. The Union commander recognized that if he could wreck these Confederate armies, the South would have no choice but to return to the Union under conditions set by the North.

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