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General Sherman’s Surprise Christmas Present for President Lincoln

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This short telegram, from William Tecumseh Sherman to Abraham Lincoln, is dated December 22, 1864. “I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the city of Savannah with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition and also about 25,000 bales of cotton,” Sherman wrote. The brief message came as a huge relief to Lincoln, who had been out of touch with Sherman for several weeks, since the major general had embarked from Atlanta on his March to the Sea.

Sherman had fought for this plan, which involved severing 62,000 Union troops from supply lines and communications. His two columns of Union men conducted a campaign of fear, moving toward Savannah while destroying military targets and punishing civilians who tried to resist. 

In a reply to the telegram that’s dated December 26, 1864, Lincoln wrote: “Many, many thanks for your Christmas gift.” He admitted to having been “anxious, if not fearful” when Sherman left Atlanta, but had decided to trust his general: “Feeling that you were the better judge, and remembering that ‘nothing risked, nothing gained,’ I did not interfere.” The plot having succeeded, Lincoln added, “the honor is all yours.”

Georgians, naturally, saw things differently. Although Savannah surrendered relatively easily, the March to the Sea, with its psychological tactics designed to undercut civilian support for the Confederacy, lives in Southern memory as one of the cruelest campaigns of the Civil War.

Sherman telegram to Lincoln

Telegram from General William T. Sherman to President Abraham Lincoln announcing the surrender of Savannah, Georgia, as a Christmas present to the President, 12/22/1864. National Archives Identifier: 301637. National Archives Record Group 107: Records of the Office of the Secretary of War, 1791 - 1948.