On the morning of the 31st of January General Thomas was directed to send a cavalry expedition, under General Stoneman, from East Tennessee,to penetrate South Carolina well down toward Columbia, to destroy the railroads and military resources of the country, and return, if he was able, to East Tennessee by way of Salisbury, N. C., releasing our prisoners there, if possible. Of the feasibility of this latter, however, General Stoneman was to judge. Sherman's movements, I had not doubt, would attract the attention of all the force the enemy could collect and facilitate the execution of this. General Stoneman was so late in making his start on this expedition, and Sherman having passed out of the State of South Carolina, on the 27th of February I directed General Thomas to change his course, and ordered him to repeat his raid of last fall, destroying the railroad toward Lynchburg as far as he could. This would keep him between our garrisons in East Tennessee and the enemy. I regarded it not impossible that in the event of the enemy being driven from Richmond he might fall back to Lynchburg and attempt a raid north through East Tennessee. On the 14th of February the following communication was sent to General Thomas:
CITY POINT, VA., February 14, 1864.
Major General G. H. THOMAS:
General Canby is preparing a movement from Mobile Bay against Mobile and the interior of Alabama. His force will consist of about 20,000 men, besides A. J. Smith's command. The cavalry you have sent to Canby will be debarked at Vicksburg. It, with the available cavalry already in that section, will move from there eastward in co-operation. Hood's army has been terribly reduced by the severe punishment you gave it in Tennessee, by desertion consequent upon their defeat, and now by the withdrawal of many of them to oppose Sherman. (I take it a large portion of the infantry has been so withdrawn. It is so asserted in the Richmond papers, and a member of the rebel Congress said a few days since in a speech that one-half of it had been brought to South Carolina to oppose Sherman.) This being true, or even if it not true, Canby's movement will attack all the attention of the enemy, and leave the advance upon your stand-point easy. I think it advisable, therefore, that you prepare as much of a cavalry force as you can spare, and hold it in readiness to go south. The object would be threefold: First, to attack as much of the enemy's force as possible to insure success to Canby; second, to destroy the enemy's lines of communication and military resources; third, to destroy or capture their forces brought into the field. Tuscaloosa and Selma would probably be the points to direct the expedition against. This, however, would not be so important as the mere fact of penetrating deep into Alabama. Discretion should be left to the officer commanding the expedition to go where, according to the information he may receive, he will best secure the objects named above.
Now that you force has been so much depleted, I do not know what number of men you can put into the field. If not more than 5,000 men, however, all cavalry, I think it will be sufficient. It is not desirable that you should start this expedition until the one leaving Vicksburg has been three of four days out, or even a week. I do not know when it will start, but will inform you by telegraph as soon as I learn. If you should hear through other sources before hearing from me you can act on the information received.
To insure success your cavalry should go with as little wagon train as possible, relying upon the country for supplies. I would also reduce the number of guns to a battery, or the number of batteries, and put the extra teams to the guns taken. No guns or caissons should be taken with less eight horses.
Please inform me by telegraph, on receipt of this, what force you think you will be able to send under these directions.
U. S. GRANT,
On the 15th he was directed to start the expedition as soon after the 20th as he could get it off. I deemed it of the utmost importance, before a general movement of the armies operating against